The principles of free (usually democratic) societies are *inclusive* in nature: different faiths, different lifestyles, different value systems coexisting in relative peace. There is generally a seperation of Church and State, as well as freedom of speech.
A fundamentalist society is *exclusive* in nature: it is based on unquestioning faith in one value system, be it religious or economic, with no room for dissenting thought. It is this extremism which is at loggerheads with western ideas of a free society.
Fundamentalism itself is the problem, whether it’s based on the Quran, Nazi psuedo-science, the Communist Manifesto or the Bible. We must not forget this when we discuss the religious aspects of the current world situation.
The issue of religion is by neccesity the subject of much debate in the war against terrorism.
Osama Bin Laden would like nothing better than to turn this conflict into a religious war. Tony Blair and George W. Bush will do everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Andrew Sullivan who writes for the New York Times has written perhaps the best summation of the religious aspects of this war:
"The terrorists’ strain of Islam is clearly not shared by most Muslims and is deeply unrepresentative of Islam’s glorious, civilized and peaceful past. But it surely represents a part of Islam — a radical, fundamentalist part — that simply cannot be ignored or denied.
In that sense, this surely is a religious war — but not of Islam versus Christianity and Judaism. Rather, it is a war of fundamentalism against faiths of all kinds that are at peace with freedom and modernity. This war even has far gentler echoes in America’s own religious conflicts — between newer, more virulent strands of Christian fundamentalism and mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism."
This gets at the root of Bin Laden’s evil. In many ways, Bin Laden shares much with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Jerry Falwell.
Bizarrely, this article was, in my opinion, completely misread by Charles Johnson on his Little Green Weblog. This led to a discussion between Charles and myself. By arguing that we must not allow this conflict to be religious in nature, I found myself in the unusual position of defending George Dubya’s statements (there’s a first time for everything).
Charles has his point of view. I have mine. We debated. We argued. In the end, we agreed to differ. That’s something that can only happen in a free society.