Friday, July 29, 2011

Fundamentalism still

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The terrorist attack in Norway perpetrated in a calculated manner by a 32 year-old Norwegian extremist has put the issue of fundamentalism on the floor again. Western governments and media have led the world public to associate fundamentalism and terrorism almost exclusively with radical elements of Islam. Barack Obama in the United States and David Cameron in the United Kingdom were quick to express solidarity with the Norwegian government and reinforced the idea of fighting terrorism to the death, assuming that it was an act of Al Qaeda. Prejudice. This time it was a native, white, blue-eyed man, with higher education and a Christian, although The New York Times presents him as "unremarkable and easy to forget."

In addition to resolutely rejecting terrorism and fundamentalism, we must try to understand the reason for this phenomenon. Sometimes I have addressed the issue in this column, which resulted in a book Fundamentalismo,Terrorismo, Religião e Paz: desafio do século XXI ("Fundamentalism, Terrorism, Religion and Peace: challenge of the century" -- Vozes 2009). There I refer to, among other things, the kind of globalization that has prevailed since the beginning, a fundamental globalization of the economy, markets and finance. Edgar Morin calls the current one, "the iron age of globalization." It was not followed, as the situation called for, by a political globalization (global governance of peoples), an ethical and educational globalization. I mean, with globalization we open a new phase in the history of the Living Planet and humanity itself. We are leaving behind the narrow limits of regional cultures with their identities and the figure of the nation-state to go deeper and deeper into the process of a collective history of mankind, with a common destiny tied to the fate of life and, in a certain way, of the Earth itself. The people were moving, communications put everyone in contact with each other and, for different reasons, multitudes began to circulate around the world.

This transition was not prepared, as a confrontation prevailed between two ways of organizing society: the state socialism of the Soviet Union and the liberal capitalism of the West. Everyone had to support one of these alternatives. When the Soviet Union was dismantled a multipolar world did not emerge but rather the dominance of the United States as the largest economic and military power in the world, which began to exert an imperial power, making all align with its global interests. More than globalization in a broad sense, there was a kind of westernization of the world. It worked like a steamroller that ran over respectable cultural traditions. This was compounded by the arrogance typical of the West of believing itself to be the bearer of the best culture, the best science, the best religion, the best way to produce and govern.

This global standardization generated strong resistance, bitterness and anger in many peoples, who saw their identity and customs being eroded. In such situations identitary forces typically arise that are allied with the conservative elements of religion, the natural guardians of tradition. From here originates the fundamentalism that is characterized by giving absolute value to its point of view. Whoever claims an absolute identity is bound to be intolerant of those who are different, to despise them, and, in the end, to eliminate them.

This phenomenon is recurrent throughout the world. In the West, significant conservative groups feel threatened in their identity by the penetration of non-European cultures, especially Islam. They reject multiculturalism and cultivate xenophobia. The Norwegian terrorist was convinced that the democratic struggle against the threat of foreigners in Europe was lost. So he took a desperate solution: making a symbolic gesture of removing the multicultural "traitors".

The response of the Norwegian government and people has been wise; they have responded with flowers and calling for more democracy, ie, more living together with others, more tolerance, more hospitality and more solidarity. This is the way that ensures humane globalization, through which it will be harder for such tragedies to happen again.

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