Saturday, January 02, 2010

Fundamentalism And Violence As Government

The NYT reports on Iranian unrest. What stands out is not so much the political clash as the religious aspects of it. The Iranian government bases its legitimacy on religion, a sort of theocracy based on a sort of Islamic Republic. Their problem is religion and its versions as government. There doesn't seem to be any real force in favor of doing away with theocracy, rather the version of it.

History has some rather general lessons regarding theocracies and the one that stares at Iran regards fundamentalism. Theocracies that liberalize tend to be overwhelmed and degenerated into secularism by the forces of secular concerns of the populace and the political concerns of the rulers. The spiritual tends to be overwhelmed by pocketbook and social issues and the maneuvering of rulers to address those concerns which fly in the face of concern with a distant Paradise. In the distant past such a progression was gradual with communication being the limiter. Things have changed.

Fundamentalism offers a stop gap. The concerns of daily living can be submerged by the hardcore adherence to a dedication to achieving Paradise and the rules that determine its achievement. There is a tricky balance required here, people will exist who are independent thinkers that will not adhere blindly and will act as a voice for those frustrated by economic and social failures or weaknesses. Adherents will shake loose if their own particular foible gets stepped on. Fundamentalism depends on strict rules and nasty consequences and this presents several opportunities for perceived over interference in people's lives. Fundamentalism only seems that way if it addresses social issues as they emerge and keeps a lid on existing ones which means more and more rules - nastily enforced. The flip side is that as the populace is exposed to the outside norms the intolerance begins to seem dated or capricious.

Iran's government has bet on fundamentalism. This means they are being pushed in the direction of violent reaction. This isn't to downplay the violence already occurring, it is to point out that the levels will increase. Once fundamentalism is chosen as a route there is no backing down, the opposition must be demonized and persecuted - there can be no deals with demons. What is left is to smash them and people don't like being smashed and push back. There is your cycle.


Zak Johnson said...

Again it strikes me as odd and unthoughtful that those in the U.S.A. who proclaim to mistrust & even hate government the most are more or less the same ones trying to make religion a fully incorporated branch of government in their theocratic day dreams. Sure you want that, guys?

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