[Note: This article was written before Bush/Cheney began their second regime.]

The Biggest Threat Is Not What You Think

There's been much talk lately in the US and around the world about the threat from Islamic terrorists. The US even has a color-coded "threat assessment" system. Just a few weeks ago, at the end of an Islamic holiday, the threat was elevated because it was the end of an Islamic holiday. Yet the threat assessment, which came about after 9/11, would have, on that criteria, failed to raise the "warning level" on 9/11 since it was not the end of an Islamic holiday. Many people seem to take comfort in this system, which merely gives a false sense of security. (As one example of this false sense of security, such a "threat assessment" plan ignores the very real threat of American terrorism on American soil like that perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh.) If we have learned anything about terrorism, it is that no one can predict when it will occur. That is part of the terror: you never know when it's coming.

But is terrorism really that much of a threat to humanity? Not at all. History is filled with stories of terrorism: from Christians being thrown to the lions to the Crusades to the Inquisition to the slaughter of indigenous peoples by mostly European "conquerors". In the 1900's, we had two world wars, the Holocaust, Viet Nam, countless ethnic cleansings around the globe (many of them funded by the US government), the IRA/British war in Ireland, the continuing terrorism in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict— the list goes on. Contrary to current popular opinion, the greatest danger is not from terrorism but from fundamentalism.

When someone says "fundamentalism", most people automatically think religion. And many think that fundamentalism and extremism are the same thing. But religious extremism comes in every faith and is not inherently dangerous to the rest of society. For example, there are Buddhist monks who wear masks when they breathe and sweep the ground in front of them as they walk so as to not inhale or step on (and therefore kill) any tiny organisms they can't see.

When most people in the west talk about religious fundamentalism and terrorism, it's almost always the Islamic terrorist that is discussed. Many envision the Islamic terrorist as a fanatic willing to die for what he believes. I think it would be safe to say that most think those beliefs are wrong and therefore it's an act of insanity to strap a bomb to one's body and blow oneself up while trying to kill one's enemies. Yet those same people who decry a Muslim dying for his faith will, in all likelihood, praise a Christian ready to do the same thing. A quick search of the web will reveal many "terroristic" Christian groups— some who publish their instruction manuals online. Instructions that tell their followers how to terrorize an abortion provider, for example. Or how to use vandalism to shut down businesses that provide products or services that violate the faith of the followers. The only difference between these Christian terrorists and Islamic terrorists is that most of those in the west are Christian and therefore can understand dying for something they believe is true. Most people are not able to understand that, as fervently as they hold their beliefs, there are others out there who hold different beliefs just as fervently (although, in truth, it is difficult to compare strength of belief.)

But even this inability to walk in another's shoes is not the problem because it's not the strength of the belief wherein the real danger lies. It's not even the belief that one's faith is the only path that will lead you to heaven because religion itself is not the problem: fundamentalism is. And a basic tenet of fundamentalism, regardless of what arena of life in which it's found, is the conviction that the way you do things is not only the best way for you, but is the best way for everyone else around the entire world. And in that sense, America is rife with fundamentalism since most Americans seem to think that the vast majority of the world wants to live exactly like Americans do. This "culturocentric" (I don't even think that's a word) belief is what has led most Americans to back Bush in his efforts to "free" the Iraqi people and to instill a democracy in a country that has never known democracy. That's like giving a 10 year old the keys to the car and telling him to be careful parking it in the lot with all the Jaguars in it.

America today is being run by fundamentalists. Religious fundamentalists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, who seek to take their first amendment right to freedom of religion and use that right to create laws that deny that same freedom to others. They're making laws that not only take away freedoms from those who disagree with them, but they're making medical decisions for doctors, banning "partial birth abortion" and physician assisted suicides, for example. They rant and rave against the "one world government" and yet, if they had their druthers, would have in place a government that was run by a Christian leader and they'd have every nation in the world a Christian nation.

In addition, we have a fundamentalist president who sees himself as God's right hand man. He's not only breaching the wall of separation between church in state, he's blowing holes in it that will take generations to repair. When his attempts at faith-based initiatives failed, Mr. Bush bypassed the checks and balances of the government and issued an executive order instituting faith-based initiative programs. Now he's taken his fundamentalism on a world-wide tour. Everyone who disagrees with him is automatically an enemy. Everyone who isn't "for" a war on terrorism is "for" the terrorists instead. The rest of the world should be grateful that the US has interfered in their right to self-determination and should simply ask "how high?" when told to jump by the Bush administration's hired guns.

It is not a coincidence that religious fundamentalists back the political fundamentalist heads of states not only here but in other nations around the world. Nor is it a coincidence that fundamentalist leaders the world over are some of the richest people on earth. Fundamentalism is about power and control: fundamentalists are convinced that their way is the only right way for every single person on earth. It is a very immature way of thinking and lacks imagination, creativity and inspiration. It is a very limiting way of thinking: it treats everyone as if they're a copy of the fundamentalist thinker who likes, wants, needs the very same things. And to put a fundamentalist political leader with the backing of the most fundamentalist religious organizations in the US at the controls of an arsenal of weapons in what is arguably the most powerful nation on earth is a recipe for disaster. There is news from Iraq that tonight the "coalition" forces will have a surprise for them. Another report speaks of something "unconventional" happening in Iraq tonight. Why? Because a fundamentalist leader chose to ignore his own advisers, who told him that another fundamentalist leader was unlikely to use weapons of mass destruction unless he was pushed into a corner, which is just where Bush has pushed Saddam. Whatever happens in the days, weeks and months ahead, I hope Americans remember this during the next election.

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