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Orlando and Religious Fundamentalism

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen entered the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and opened fire, killing 50 people and wounding 53. In the press coverage that followed, it has been widely reported that Mateen had pledged allegiance to ISIS shortly before going on his killing rampage. As if to corroborate the connection, ISIS and other jihadist groups celebrated the massacre on the internet the following day. Yet they weren’t the only ones who approved. Texas Lieutenant Governer Dan Patrick (R) responded on Twitter with the Biblical verse Galatians 6:7, which reads, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (after strong backlash from the tweet, he removed the content and claimed it was not a response to the attacks, but the message was nonetheless clear).

In other words, official spokespeople of both Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism publicly expressed their approval that LGBT people of primarily Latino and African American descent had been slaughtered and maimed. Never before has the ideological link between the Christian Right and Islamic fascism been so clear. The singular face of religious fundamentalism was predictably laid bare in the wake of this abominable tragedy. It is twisted, violent, and cruel.

What has not been emphasized enough, even on the left, is that Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism are manifestations of the same essential impulse. This is the impulse to impose an archaic and oppressive worldview on others through violence and terror. We do not have to choose between struggling this problem within our own culture or opposing it in others. Indeed, such an approach is bound to fail, because the disease of religious fundamentalism must be fought in its entirety or not at all.

In the U.S. and Europe, the proto-fascist Christian Right is on the rise. In Israel, an already racist and murderous regime is increasingly coming under the control of violent Jewish extremists. In India, the Hindu nationalist party BJP is being more and more brazen in its ethnic and religious antagonism towards Muslims and other minorities. In the Middle East, ISIS and its ideological father Saudi Arabia are spreading Islamic jihadism throughout the region and beyond. Buddhist fundamentalist violence against religious minorities, most of whom are Muslim, has been steadily growing in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

All of these forces feed off of each other. One way they do this is by reinforcing exclusionary practices. Islamophobia and U.S. imperialism in the Muslim world breeds Islamic terrorism, and the latter begets further Western military violence in turn. Thus the vicious cycle of death continues. Another way religious fundamentalists foster mutual growth is through direct military and political ties across religious boundaries, such as with the not-so-secret alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Either directly or indirectly, the fundamentalisms of each religion supports those of others.

Of course, the fact that Omar Mateen barely practised his faith does not mean that he is not a religious fundamentalist. On the contrary, a common feature of killers like Mateen who try to justify their sins with religion is an absence of religious commitment or understanding. It is well known that most ISIS soldiers are ignorance of the faith on which their state is supposedly grounded. This is why the term “religious fundamentalism” is inherently misleading, because if any its adherents understood the fundamentals of their religion, they would realize that their actions cannot be condoned.

The greatest lesson to be learned from Orlando is that religious fundamentalism is not only essentially the same in every religion, but that its various manifestations must be opposed simultaneously if they are to be defeated. Their victims are often the most oppressed members of society. In Orlando, this happened to be LGBT people of colour. If these atrocities are to be resisted, we must strengthen solidarity between progressive peoples of all religions and none. Unless we do, the political, economic and military destruction wrought by religious fundamentalist is only going to worsen.

Eric Tweel is a law student in Toronto, Ontario.

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