Friday, March 11, 2005

Domestic Wahhabism

Tom Engelhardt, who is a national treasure, has a couple of excellent new posts over at his blog, TomDispatch. Tom's blog has a cool format: he always has a guest essay, to which he writes a long introduction -- indeed, Tom's introduction is sometimes longer than the essay he is introducing. It's always politically acute, and passionately written

Tom's first piece introduces an essay by William Dowell, and concerns the systematic, intentional effort of the Republican Party to erode the line between church and state, most recently in the battle of the right of states . Tom points out that this domestic effort calls into question the notion, promoted by neocons and liberal hawks, that Bush's GWOT represents a war of democratic liberalism against fundamentalist terrorism. It also underscores the point that Bush was being all too candid when he at first described the GWOT as a "crusade," in other words, as a battle between competing fundamentalisms. Here's Engelhardt:

Whether the Ten Commandments, graven in stone, sit on a lawn by a government building or in a courthouse, isn't for me exactly a life-and-death issue -- and I think I'm not alone on this, which is why the Ten Commandments cases at the Supreme Court right now are so dangerous. The Bush administration and its various fundamentalist allies (religious and political) have proven especially skilled at finding wedge issues that, because they only seem to go so far, successfully challenge and blur previous distinctions, thereby opening yet more possibilities. The Supreme Court's decision in these particular cases holds great promise for further blurring the lines that once separated church and state in our country.

We're in a period, of course, when lines of every sort, involving civil rights, privacy, foreign and domestic spying, presidential power, Congressional rules, the checks-and-balances that once were such a proud part of our political system, and so many other matters are blurring radically. We also have a President who is in the process of casting off the constraints of any presidency, while placing religion with powerful emphasis at the very center of Washington's new political culture. He is now adored, if not essentially worshipped, by his followers as he travels the country dropping in at carefully vetted "town meetings"; and the adoration is often not just of him as a
political leader but as a religious one, as a manifestation of God's design for us. It's in this context that the modest Ten Commandments cases are being heard; in the context, that is, of the destruction of what's left of an authentic American republican (rather than Republican) culture.

And then there's Dowell, making the key point:
The current debate, of course, has little to do with genuine religion. What it is really about is an effort to assert a cultural point of view. It is part of a reaction against social change, an American counter-reformation of sorts against the way our society has been evolving, and ultimately against the negative fallout that is inevitable when change comes too rapidly. The people pushing to blur the boundaries between church and state are many of the same who so fervently back the National Rifle Association and want to crack down on immigration. They feel that they are the ones losing out, much as, in the Middle East, Islamic fundamentalists fear they are losing out -- and their reactions are remarkably similar. In the Arab Middle East and Iran, the response is an insistence on the establishment of Islamic Law as the basis for political life; while in Israel, an increasingly reactionary interpretation of Jewish law which, taken to orthodox extremes, rejects marriages by reform Jewish rabbis in America, has settled over public life.

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