The Florida Quran Burning Incident and the Clash of Fundamentalisms

The mixing of fundamentalist religion and right-wing politics is where we’re at today in America; it’s our cultural Zeitgeist.

And this 30-year-old documentary foreshadowed it all. Hosted by Burt Lancaster and produced by the liberal group, People for the American Way, it’s chillingly current. What was once marginal is now mainstream. We had been warned.


But what this video doesn’t anticipate is the clash of American fundamentalism with Islamic fundamentalism (thereby threatening the political stability of the globe as a whole). As Andrew Sullivan wrote on Saturday concerning the Florida Quran burning that led to Friday prayer crowds murdering UN workers in Afghanistan:

The interaction between Christianism and Islamism could take us all back to the dark ages. Both acts are, to my mind, egregiously unhinged. What on earth does it achieve to burn a holy book? And how screwed up is a religion which responds to this by murdering UN workers? Both mindsets are sick versions of religious fanaticism.

My fear of a Huckabee or Palin as president is precisely their ability to inflame this kind of thing still further, and identify the entire United States as representative of Christianist excess.

Such candidates for president as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin (both of whom reject, like their Islamic fundamentalist counterparts, the scientific theory of evolution and are not above fanning populist paranoia and resentment toward the United Nations) would never have been considered seriously for president in 1980. Of course, today they are.

And another fanatic, Michelle Bachmann, has raised more funds for president than any of her early Republican competitors.

Thus, like the fascist movements that emerged in the run-up to World War II, Islamic and Christian fundamentalists represent a populist Herderian backlash against the Enlightenment, urban modernism, and globalism. It’s not a coincidence that a Florida pastor’s Quran burning led to the death (as targets for outrage) of UN workers. Both incidents are born of a group’s desire that outsiders should be eliminated from their land’s midst; that an international community (in which everybody tries to get along) is not really a community at all. True community entails purity. Here’s a voice from an earlier era, anti-liberal German legal theorist (and Nazi Party member in the 1930s) Karl Schmitt:

Every actual democracy rests on the principle that not only are equals equal but unequals will not be treated equally. Democracy requires therefore first homogeneity and second—if the need arises—elimination or eradication of heterogeneity. To illustrate this principle it is sufficient to name two different examples of modern democracy: contemporary Turkey, with its radical expulsion of Greeks . . . and the Australian commonwealth, which restricts unwanted entrants though its immigration laws, and like other dominions only takes immigrants who conform to the notion of a ‘right type of settler.’ A democracy demonstrates its political power by knowing how to refuse or keep at bay something foreign and unequal that threatens its homogeneity.

What Karl Schmitt wrote in 1926 (just seven years prior Adolf Hitler coming to power) is something to be absorbed with sobriety because it is exactly the politics of contemporary Islamic and Christian fundamentalists. This is what the Tea Party means by “We the People”: homogeneity enforced by populist democratic demand; the will of the people channelled through authoritarian nationalist politicians. This is what the Islamic Brotherhood also threatens to bring to Egypt. 

And wherever these two fundamentalisms clash, rationality and moderation necessarily go out the door. An African saying applies here:

When elephants fight the grass gets trampled.

This is what happened in the Quran burning incident. Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism are the bull elephants of our time.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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21 Responses to The Florida Quran Burning Incident and the Clash of Fundamentalisms

  1. Let’s not let Terry Jones distract us too much. What about Molly Norris, who now lives in hiding under an assumed name because she dared to propose “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”? And what about Comedy Central’s censorship of the South Park episode “Cartoon Wars Part II”, or the censorship of the “Non Sequitur” cartoon strip in October of last year over fears of offending Muslims? And what about the dozen European writers (including Salman Rushdie) who warned against Islamic totalitarianism in a public statement issued in 2006 in response to the violence triggered by a Danish newspaper’s decision to publish cartoons of Muhammad.

    Of course Terry Jones does fit into this overall picture, since he is basically a cartoon character. But we shouldn’t for one second think that the real conflict is between crazy fundamentalist Muslims and crazy fundamentalist Christians. The conflict is between Islam and freedom.

    • santitafarella says:


      I think your category is too broad—Islam v. freedom. For example, Egypt needn’t be seen as a Muslim country that represents a threat to the West so long as the Muslim Brotherhood does not achieve control of its political culture.

      And the startling difference between the South Park creators and Terry Jones (and like-minded fundamentalists) is that the liberals and libertarians that the South Park creators represent are not prepared to go to war with Islamic civilization on the pretext of a local outrage (like cartoonists being threatened or harmed by jihadists). In other words, there will never be a liberal push, in response to Islamic extremism, for total war against Islamic civilization.

      With someone like Sarah Palin in the White House, that might be different. She could conceivably bring a local incident to an escalatation that results in a third world war. Conservative paranoia on both sides could reach a boil.

      Maybe you want this. I don’t. And that’s why I link Islamic and Christian fundamentalism. They are capable of feeding each other (and on each other) in a way that is uniquely dangerous. I want someone in the White House who can make distinctions and is not panicky. Think of what would have happened, for example, if General LeMay (Kennedy’s hawkish advisor) had persuaded Kennedy to bomb Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed in the room.

      As fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims move closer to the center of power in various countries, the chances of a global war go up markedly. That’s the analogy to fascism in the 1930s—it’s the fanatics who raise temperatures and go for the grand military gestures.

      Here’s the Wikipedia article on LeMay:


      • concerned christian says:

        In the last three months you were bringing up many interesting but harmless subjects for discussion, and I did not want to bring up the bad news from Egypt. But since you mentioned it in your response, here’s a sample of what happened since the January uprising.
        1. The Army formed a committee to review the constitution, most of it were hardline Muslims and there was a discussion to repeal Article 2 which stated that
        “Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic its official language. Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.” But there was a heated debate and liberals and non-Muslims were told not to touch this article, end of discussion.
        2. A rumor of an affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman set the village “soul”, that’s how the name sounds, on fire. Muslims destroyed the only Church in the village under the watchful eyes of Army, and there was even a talk about relocating all Christians out of town. The uproar in reaction to this act of ethnic cleansing forced the military to retract and started rebuilding the Church.
        3. Sunni fundamentalists started to flex their muscles and started to attack Christians and Sufi’s Mosques. The Salafi’s Sunnis believe that any tomb of a Muslim saint is a form of paganism and should be demolished, they tried that few times in various Egyptian towns in the last three months..
        4. Muslim brotherhood is on the move trying to seize political power in Egypt.
        And speaking of ElBaradei, he was called infidel by some Muslim fundamentalists because his daughter is married to a Christian from Britain. ElBaradei defended himself by stating that his in-law converted to Islam before the wedding!
        Liberals and non-Muslims are trying to counter this onslaught by radical Muslims but no body knows what will happen next. Stay tune. BTW similar Islamic currents are sweeping Tunis, Syria, and Bahrain.

      • Paradigm says:

        Isn’t this global war already taking place in the form of terrorism versus various military defence actions? Sweden and Japan, two of the most atheist countries in the world, have troops in Afghanistan.

        I think most people at the forefront of this conflict are not Christians at all – Theo van Gogh, Lars Vilks, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Kurt Westergaard and eleven of his colleagues – as far as I know, none of them are Christians and certainly not fundamentalists.

        It is just like Apuleius says a conflict between freedom and Islam.

        “What on earth does it achieve to burn a holy book?”

        It illustrates the restricted freedom of speech imposed on us by the Muslim community. Unless you are ok with that you are a part of this conflict.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Here’s the key paragraph on LeMay and Cuba at Wikipedia:

    During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, LeMay clashed again with U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Defense Secretary McNamara, arguing that he should be allowed to bomb nuclear missile sites in Cuba. He opposed the naval blockade and, after the end of the crisis, suggested that Cuba be invaded anyway, even after the Russians agreed to withdraw. LeMay called the peaceful resolution of the crisis “the greatest defeat in our history”.[19] Unknown to the U.S., the Soviet field commanders in Cuba had been given authority to launch—the only time such authority was delegated by higher command.[20] They had twenty nuclear warheads for medium-range R-12 ballistic missiles capable of reaching U.S. cities (including Washington) and nine tactical nuclear missiles. If Soviet officers had launched them, many millions of U.S. citizens would have been killed. The ensuing SAC retaliatory thermonuclear strike would have killed roughly one hundred million Soviet citizens, and brought nuclear winter to much of the Northern Hemisphere. Kennedy refused LeMay’s requests, however, and the naval blockade was successful.[20]

  3. Colin Hutton says:

    I’m with Apuleius on this one. It seems to me that what is implicit in the points he makes is the disparity between the action (a book burnt by a small group of a minority christian sect) and the reaction (a murdering rampage by a congregation of hundreds of mainstream muslims). Andrew Sullivan conspicuously glosses over this. (For instance “Both acts are, to my mind, egregiously unhinged”).

    And I haven’t read reports of widespread condemnation (of the killings) by muslim clerics and governments.


  4. santitafarella says:


    I don’t disagree with you that the two acts are not equal, but I think that Sullivan’s “unhinged” reference is to the pastor’s knowledge that burning a Quran in America and putting the act on the internet (and with Arabic subtitles!) was an open invitation to mayhem—and almost certain death for non-Muslims caught in the rampage.

    There really is blood on the hands of that pastor. He knew exactly what he was doing and that people would die because of it.

    There are people to which you cannot reason with, but only contain and wait out. And you certainly don’t incite them with the desecration of their symbols. When you send messages out into the world, especially on the internet, you have to know who you’re speaking to and why.

    In this instance, the pastor isn’t communicating with middle class UCLA graduates capable of discussing Thomas Jefferson, free speech, and the Rights of Man. Instead, he’s sending messages to people who are impoverished, largely illiterate, untravelled, and deeply resentful of Western interference in their country. The head of the Afghan government, when he made a public issue of the pastor’s actions, is also responsible—inciting ignorant populist violence.


    • Paradigm says:

      “There really is blood on the hands of that pastor. He knew exactly what he was doing and that people would die because of it.”

      Jones expresses his opinion and people get killed. Who’s fault is it? Clearly not Jones because he didn’t kill anyone! Let’s put the blame where it belongs – on those who actually committed the killings. You might as well say that free speech is to blame and that everyone supporting it has blood on their hands.

      Even from a purely strategic point of view the idea that we’ll be ok if we duck and cover is wrong. What fundamentalist will just ask for a little respect and then be content? That’s almost wrong by the very definition of fundamentalist. And most Muslims are fundamentalists.

    • Colin Hutton says:

      Santi :

      Yes, that all sounds very reasonable; but:

      “There are people……………you cannot reason with, but only contain and wait out”

      Oh, and also, as the ‘accommodationists’ would say to the ‘gnus’, “don’t antagonise them while you are waiting” and waiting…and waiting…and waiting…………………………………………………….and waiting.

      The problem is to rationally judge at what point liberal ‘virtues’ of courtesy, tolerance, accommodation, compromise …………… tip over into ‘vices’ of appeasement, surrender and Darwinian suicide.

      Not easy.

      At this stage I’m still siding with Apuleius ….. and also with Paradigm.

      – Colin

  5. Scott Edwards says:

    Well, I don’t know where to begin. Michele Bachman a fanatic? Christianity a bull elephant? I’m very saddened by these descriptions. If you place Michele Bachman in America 30 or 50 or 100 years ago, I can only believe that she’d be considered a very decent and mainstream lady. Place yourself in this same time portal and I can easily see you fitting in nicely with Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane while popping acid, or, 100 years ago, being viewed with sincere disdain. I’m hurt that you, santitafarella, view Islam and Christianity as anything but incomparable. As a Christian with Muslim friends, who has welcomed Muslims into my home, loaned them money and then watched as their children turned away from the West and embraced their chador, and as a Christian with Christian friends, both American and African, I’ve seen up close how Islam settles on nothing less than submission and occupation of religion, culture, art and life itself. I’ve spoken to those persecuted and those who have watched murders and executions and have had their homes invaded because their terrible crime is that of not being Muslim but instead being Christian or Bahai – and I’ve asked them what the true religion of peace is – and their answer is most certainly not Islam. Indeed, Christians are those who will stand and defend you, the non-Christian, when the tide of Islam comes knocking and demands that your California cirriculum is not convenient or worse, blasphemous to Islam and an abominiation to God. Christians are those who have spurred most things charitable on the planet and, to your convenience, prohibited a specific organized religion from being the centerpiece of American democracy while, interestingly, celebrating their overwhelmingly Christian heritage and beliefs. Bachman a fanatic? No, my electronic friend, she is only a victim of ad hominen attacks by supposed intellectuals who would seemingly be able to offer some stinging analysis but fall far short of the mark.

  6. santitafarella says:


    If you have a moment to respond to this, could I get your opinion on this Dissent article on the Muslim Brotherhood? It made the whole issue seem rather complex:


    • concerned christian says:

      Thank you Santi for this link, I agree with every point mentioned in the article. Unfortunately, as you said, it made the whole issue seems rather complex, but that’s the reality of what’s going on the Muslim World today. I checked on the author, and he have many postings dealing with Islamic issues. While I did not read everyone of them, and I may possibly disagree with some of his opinions, I believe that he is a good source of information reflecting a more liberal Muslim point of view.

      • Scott Edwards says:

        A lucid view from Bernard Lewis. From one who would also not think Michele Bachman a fanatic nor subject her to poorly defensed ad hominen attacks.

      • santitafarella says:


        Thanks for the input. I’m still trying to figure out what to think about the whole Middle East situation. I, personally, find it hard to believe that such an uprising of mostly young people (first in Iran last year and now in so many other places) is the harbinger of a spread of fundamentalist Islamic states. If anything, young people are trying (again, it seems to me) to enter the 21st century with democratic and human rights. Elderly mullahs might well hijack the direction of these movements, but I doubt it. The milk has already spilled. There are not many places left to hide from the modern world.



  7. concerned christian says:

    Bernard Lewis is definitely one of the most knowledgeable experts on Islamic cultures, and this article is a good example on his insight. I like the fact that he gave great attention to the role played by Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi in the recent events in Egypt. This complicated character plays a major role in modern day Islam, but he is almost an unknown figure to the Western observer. To avoid stereotyping him in few sentences, I am posting his Wiki biography.

    • Scott Edwards says:

      Wow, complex. Almost more than the mind can handle. Thanks for sharing. Interesting, I don’t recall that Jesus specifically addressed homosexuality but the shiek seems to know? At any rate, there is no apparent path of peace between certainly any Jew and this noted intellectual.

  8. concerned christian says:

    One way of understanding the Islamic world today is to think about Europe before WWI, there were liberals and conservatives; socialists and anarchists, nationalists, not to mention nihilists. Today old guards such as El Azhar, the Soufis, and Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi are fighting radical Muslims such as the Salafis. As for the youth, while there are the facebook generation who played a major role in the January uprising, there are also the hard core young Salafis. One of the Salafi’s leaders is Dr Ahmad Farid who while studying medicine was getting more and more into the Salafis’ movement. I listened to him talking about his transformation and how he started preaching in Mosques, giving an example of a Friday sermon that lasted for an hour and made people cry. Taking over the Mosques, especially in Alexandria, is one of the battle grounds for the Salafis. Here’s a summary of his life
    Ahmad Farid: a political activist and advocate of Islamic Egypt, of the elders of Salafism in Egypt, was born in July 1952 City Qamh . His father was an employee of the Department of Agrarian Reform Venco Ahmad Farid in the simple family, his mother died, a young He lived with his father and moved to Sanblawin in Dakahliya and completed the study until high school then joined the Faculty of Medicine, Mansoura and spent by the Foundation Year (Prep Medicine), and then moved to Alexandria and got the Bachelor of Medicine , Alexandria University . During his study he met Abraham Za’farani a leader the Muslim Brotherhood , and formed together Jemaah Islamiyah, which was an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria University, he became interested in politics after graduation and dedicated his life to political activities.
    And here’s a translation of one of his web pages.

  9. shaukat awan says:


    By Allama Muhammad Yousuf Gabriel

    It will be learned with no mild surprise that the Quran has only and exactly translated the term THERMONUCLEAR as is applied by the scientist himself when it (the Quran) says, that the nuclear energy is a fire which leaps up over the hearts. How is it? It is thus: The word Nuclear is the adjective of nucleus, which means heart, thus the word nuclear means something connected with heart. The complete term that is Thermonuclear would then mean a fire which is related to the heart. The scientist has coined this term with amazing aptness and has indeed said exactly what the Quran has said in this respect. The scientist says, “a fire related to the heart”. The Quran says” a fire which appears over the hearts”. Such an act of anticipation on the part of the Quran would seem nothing short of a marvel. We prove the view of the Quran by merely uttering the term nuclear indeed.
    The nuclear radiations, Alpha, Beta, Gamma rays and neutrons are nicknamed by the scientists as bone seekers, because of these radiation’s tendency that of reaching the bones through the blood steam. There they attack the bone marrow. Now the function of the bone marrow is to generate the blood. They render the bone marrow incapable of generating blood; they attack the blood and destroy its red as well as white corpuscles, depriving it of its nourishing qualities, and rendering it rather a source of torment to the heart due to its poisoned state. Now, the relation of the bone-marrow and the blood, and further the relation of blood and the heart is well known. The attack of the radiations therefore is being directed towards the heart. The next attractive target of these radiations happen to be all the blood-forming organs of the body. The connection of these organs with the blood and through the blood with heart also is well known. Again the symptoms of radiation sickness are leukemia, a disease of blood, hemorrhages, that is blood-leaking, also a disease of the blood, fever; also connected with blood, nausea and vomitting also linked with the heart. The radiations by attacking the blood-forming organs in truth play something of a war strategy with the heart. They besiege it and stop its blood supplies, by destroying the existing quantities, and preventing the replenishment by destroying the blood producing capacities of blood-forming organs, till at last the heart succumbs to disease and starvation and expires in acute agony. Further, it is now known, that all the multi-cellular organisms with more perfected heart and lungs and more elaborately developed circulatory and respiratory systems are far more prone to the effects of radiations than all the unicellular organisms with less perfect heart and lungs and less elaborated circulatory and respiratory systems. This proves a decisive affinity of radiations for the heart and all that is directly connected with it. It has also been discovered that in the absence of oxygen, the action of radiations is noticeably retarded. Now the connection of oxygen with his heart, in virtue of its role as the purifier of blood in the lungs is a fact of common knowledge. Lastly the recent researches on the effects of radiations have revealed that, brain, nerves and muscles are the least sensible parts of the body to the effects of radiations. This again would establish the fact of radiation’s greater relative affinity for the heart and all that is more directly connected with it. Again radiations attack the nuclei (hearts) of atoms in inanimate matter and cause transmutation of atoms, while in the living body they attack the cell nuclei and break the chromosomes thereof.
    Last but not the least is the fire of discontent. Frustration and anxiety, which today are furiously raging in every heart without exception, throughout the whole vast world. This fire, although it has in every age, area and epoch, pestered and tormented poor human heart, yet in this particular, modern age of atomism, due partly to the peculiar set up of this exclusively materialistic age, and partly due to the absence of faith and moral and spiritual values, it has assumed alarming proportions. To the problems of necessities of life are to be added of atom bombs, and even more than the atom bombs that of nuclear radiations. Worst even is the plight of those to whose lot have fallen more thorns but little fruit or flower of modern science and its progress. It is not without some aptness, if the first cry emitted by the new born baby at its birth be interpreted in this age saying’ ALAS FOR ME WHAT SHALL I DO TO SAVE MY BODY. HOW SHALL I EVER EXIST TO SOLVE THE PAINFUL RIDDLE OF MATERIAL NECESSITIES IN A WORLD POISONED BY RADIATIONS”. While first cry of a baby born in some pre-modern age, generally could have been interpreted as saying ‘ALAS FOR ME WHAT SHALL I DO TO SAVE MY SOUL IN A WORLD FULL OF SNARES, AND PITFALLS.OH. HOW SHALL I BE ABLE TO GO SAFELY BACK TO MY HOME IN HEAVEN, WHENCE I CAME”.
    Allama Muhammad Yousuf Gabriel
    Adara Afqar e Gabriel QA Street Nawababad Wah Cantt Distt Rawalpindi

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