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.