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.
How do oppressive ideologies take hold despite the devastation they cause? Dinyar Godrej looks behind the news headlines.
Consider the perplexing tale of a mass murderer who once went by the snigger-inducing name of General Butt Naked. That is perhaps the only funny thing about Joshua Blahyi, whose role in the first Liberian civil war in the early 1990s is marked by atrocity.
Claiming he had been given special powers that made him invisible by Nyanbe-a-weh, a high-ranking deity of his Krahn ethnic group, Blahyi would unleash mayhem with his gang of thugs – wearing just his shoes.
‘Before leading my troop...
Simon Fairlie and James McWilliams go head to head.