India, the country I grew up in, experiences fundamentalism in tides. Upsurges are not spontaneous. They tend to be orchestrated by a particular party’s bid to gain and hold on to political power.
But then the tide goes out a bit, when the populace tires of the usual political mismanagement and the appeal to hard-core religion begins to be seen as the dangerous distraction it is. Meanwhile, the usual havoc has taken place – communities insulted, angry and driven asunder, rioting and murder, and the growth of a jackbooted assertiveness. Ready for the next eruption.
Why do people fall for it again and again? We could go right back to the colonial British administration’s policy of divide and rule. But maybe even they were only spreading a disease that already existed. When I asked one journalist what attracted ordinary people to such extreme thinking, I received the equivalent of an email snort: ‘So that they can lord it over the rest of us.’
One thing is certain, the bigotry and dogma of the fundamentalist mind takes no prisoners. Every religion is susceptible, not just those featuring in this edition, because fundamentalism is organized religion’s will to power. It is deeply political, of human rather than divine agency, and not in the least spiritual.
Preparing this edition has given me a new appreciation of the values of scepticism and doubt.
We also have two despatches this month from the fossil fuels frontier. One is a report on growing tensions in the Arctic as nations jostle to stake claim to undersea reserves. The other is on BP’s see-no-evil cosy relationship with Azerbaijan’s autocrats – what a gas!
Dinyar Godrej for the New Internationalist co-operative.