Confessions of a Contemporary Fundamentalist

wehavemet01Fundamentalism is an over used, dare I say abused, term. It is thrown around in elite circles with enough frequency to make its meaning all but vaccous. Noted philosopher Alvin Plantinga estimates that in academic circles when one calls someone a fundamentalist they are basically calling them an “ignorant sumbitch”. It is with much trepidation that I use the term self-referentially. I have met the fundamentalist and he is me so to speak.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t interpret the Bible in a wooden literal way. I believe in evolution. I’m not a cultural conservative. I never voted for George W. Bush. I protested the war in Iraq. I even voted for Nader once (it was a phase). My fundamentalism is of another sort altogether, different in content but not in form from the usual sort. Mine is a contemporary, cosmopolitan elitist brand which in the circles I tend to run is socially acceptable, even fashionable. The most recent occassion that served to reveal it to me was reading Matthias Kuentzel’s Jihad and Jew Hatred: Islam, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11.

Kuentzel is an accomplished German scholar who is by no stretch a cultural or political conservative (he’s served as a senior advisor to the Federal Parliamentary Fraction of Germany’s Green Party). He’s a German intellectual that has devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to understanding the horrific phenomena of German anti-semitism. Jeffrey Hurf, another scholar of German anti-semitism, argues that the anti-semitism of the Nazi’s has to be understood as being continuous with old European and traditional German anti-semitic traditions on the one hand while involving discontinuity as well, creating “an antisemitism of unprecedented radicalism.” Kuentzel’s work makes the case for a similar development in the Arab world after World War II, one that drew directly on Nazi ideology.

Kuentzel’s well researched little monograph focuses on the Moslem Brotherhood. He doesn’t just point out the strong ideological echoes and ressonances that exist between European fascism and Nazism and that of the Brotherhood, he also demonstrates the concrete historical connections whereby anti-semitism’s global center shifted from Germany to the Middle East. Kuentzel documents Nazi influence in Egypt in the 1930’s, which went from being somewhat tolerant of Jews to a hotbed for anti-semitic fervor. He discusses the Brotherhood’s decision to widely distribute an Arabic translation of Mein Kampf, as well as the channeling of money and resources to the anti-Jewish immigration movement in Palestine in the late 1930’s. Perhaps most disturbing is Kuentzel’s claim that the idea of using suicide bombers to descimate the New York City skyline originate in Berlin in the 1940’s. An architect and friend of Hitler, Albert Speer, says in his diary that he never saw Hitler “so beside himself as when, as if in a delirium, he was picturing to himself and to us the downfall of New York in towers of flame…[describing] the skyscrapers turning into huge burning torches and falling hither and thither, and the reflection of the disintegrating city in the dark sky.” A Weimar best-seller by Wilhelm Meister calls Wall Street the Military Headquarters of Judas from which, “his threats radiate across the entire world.”

Kuentzel’s previous book on the war in Kosovo consciously avoided issues like Islamism and jihad. By his own admission, the absence of such discussions was deliberate. Kuentzel wished, as an author “with roots in the political left, to avoid if possible terms that might have racist connotations.” After 9/11, Kuentzel’s “avoidance policy collapsed along with the Twin Towers.” He focused on a single question after 9/11: why? After a year of reading the bulk of scholarly research on the origins of Islamism, the Egytian Muslim Brotherhood, and the links to National Socialism, al-Qa’ida, Hezbollah and Hamas, he published Jihad and Jew-Hatred. His description of its reception is startling:

By then, most of my erstwhile politcal friends on the left had excluded me from their world-a world that had either greeted 9/11 with unconcealed gloating or interpreted it in an “anti-imperialist” framework, with the wicked USA on the one side and an understandable, if a misguided act of resistance on the other…the initial response of the wider German public to my book, which explains Islamist terror as a product of a delusional mind set rather than American foreign policy, was also hostile. It was described as “political propoganda,” to quote one example from Germany’s leading public service radio station, Deutschlandfunk. My book “follows in the slipstream of ultra-conservative warriors for culture and civilization of the Samuel Huntingdon type.” Apparently I had “replaced knowledge with ideas that would be music to the ears of the Bush camp and apologists for current Israeli policy.” My critics did not, however, point out any actual errors of fact or failures of logic. In fact, the first expert in the field to publically defend and recommend my book was a Muslim, the Syrian-born political scientist Bassam Tibi.

Kuentzel’s critics reject his work out of hand without engaging it. He is a heretic. He has challenged the dogmas of his community and thus was summarily excommunicated. Just as evolution can’t be taken seriously in some fundamentalist circles because it goes against what is perceived as uncontestably true and revealed, so in other circles one cannot point out the religious and ideological roots of Islamist aggression because it too challenges uncontestable truth. I find myself feeling guilty and self-conscious as I read Kuentzel’s well documented analysis. I find myself saying, “this can’t be true.” Dogmatic parochialism knows no bounds, geographic, cultural or political. We can all be fundamentalists now.