- Fundamentalism's Future
Mark Juergensmeyer's The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State chronicles the recent rise of fundamentalist religious movements around the globe. He argues that religious nationalism has successfully defeated secular nationalism as the most dynamic and powerful "ideology of order" in the world that is emerging after the end of the Cold War. There has been a broad perception that secularism itself, whether it takes a democratic or communist/socialist form, has proven to be an empty and unsatisfying form of social organization. Those secular nationalist states established in the immediate aftermath of decolonization represented, in the eyes of the new religious nationalists, only a more subtle form of Western cultural imperialism. The author states: "What is striking is how unanimously religious politicians—be they Christians in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Latin America; Muslims and Jews in the Middle East and Central Asia; or Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists in South and Southeast Asia—reject Western-style secular political ideologies, in part because they reject their claims of universality"(p. 144). Anticipating a theme recently developed by Samuel Huntington in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, Juergensmeyer argues that while the ideological conflicts of the Cold War were essentially internecine disputes between rival systems born from Western culture, the conflicts of the future will be intercultural, following cleavages that are primarily religious. [End Page 125]
The examples of religious nationalism cited by Juergensmeyer are mostly, though not exclusively, from the Third World. He begins with the relatively familiar political challenge presented by Islamic fundamentalism to secular regimes in lran, Pakistan, Egypt, Palestine, and Algeria. He notes that Americans were taken by surprise during the Khomeini revolution in Iran because the prevailing Western social science paradigm had been one of spreading secularization; they continue to underestimate the desire of non-Western peoples to go "backward" into History and recover lost religious identities. The same phenomenon is evident in South Asia, where the secular, nationalist, and socialist Indian state founded by Nehru has been under daily assault from a variety of militant Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim religious activists, and where militant Buddhism has clashed both with Tamil nationalism and with the secular state in Sri Lanka. Religious nationalism, far from spending itself by the late 1980s, got a fresh shot in the arm with the collapse of communism. This unleashed a variety of suppressed religious movements, not only Islamic ones in Central Asia and the Transcaucasus, but Christian movements in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe.
Juergensmeyer for the most part presents a thoughtful and balanced analysis of these religious movements and their rather ominous implications for global politics. He notes, for example, that many religious nationalist movements are more incompatible with liberalism and the defense of individual human rights than they are with democracy. When divorced from liberalism, democracy can indeed be a useful tool for the spread of intolerant fundamentalism. The alarming title of his book, suggesting that the Cold War will be replaced by an equally apocalyptic clash of religious civilizations, is posed as a question rather than a definite prediction. While Juergensmeyer does not underestimate the threat that religious nationalism poses to liberalism and world order, neither does he adopt an attitude of simple-minded hostility toward religion itself. Noting the critiques that Robert Bellah and Alasdair Maclntyre have offered of the potentially atomizing consequences of Western liberal individualism, he explains that there is a potentially healthy aspect to religious revival.
As in the case of Huntington's "clash of civilizations" hypothesis, Juergensmeyer's analysis applies most accurately to the Middle East and South Asia. It is much less helpful in understanding other parts of the world, and as a general characterization of world politics it is woefully inadequate. Outside of Sri Lanka, for example, Buddhism has not taken either a militant or politicized form in recent years (with the partial exception of the Sokka Gokkai sect in Japan). Buddhism's tolerant doctrines easily coexist with Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, and Shintoism, and may...