Wednesday, 10 February 2016

From Transcend Media Service - Fundamentalism-Extremism-Violence


EDITORIAL, 8 February 2016
Johan Galtung, 8 Feb 2016 - TRANSCEND Media Service
To navigate these difficult conceptual waters we need some rules. Here are three suggestions (the violence can be direct–as sometimes prescribed by the Abrahamic religions–or structural as by Hinduism):
  1. Anchor “religious fundamentalism” in religious scriptures taken literally according to the fundamentalists, not as “interpreted”;
  2. Anchor “extremism” in violent action, verbal or physical;
  3. Anchor “religious extremism” in violent action justified-legitimized by religious scriptures, by fundamentalists or not.
Fundamentalism has to do with inner faith, belief. Extremism has to do with outer violence against Other, and against Self (like flagellation for being a sinner). Keep them separate. And be careful.
We can have fundamentalism without extremism. The fundamentalist may believe much, beyond the beliefs of others, yet not cross the border to violence. We may say: let him-her do so; it is not obvious that fundamentalists are more violent than non-fundamentalists.
We can have extremism without fundamentalism. Most people exercising violence believe in nothing, beyond “doing their job”.
There are two criteria for “religious extremism”: violence and religious legitimation. That legitimation may be fundamentalist or not; could also be well-know quotes from the Scriptures. We might even speculate that for the fundamentalist faith may be sufficient.
The combination in “religious extremism” is vicious if it implies that violence will be supported by divine forces and/or that failure to be violent will incur their wrath. Probably a declining category.
Today’s secularizing, “enlightened” world brought us statism, nationalism, and their combination; secular fundamentalists and extremists, and their combination. They have given the world more violence for victory for whatever cause they design than religions. But with a rationality that may open for solving underlying conflicts.
How about the traditional “world religions” in this perspective?
The three Abrahamic and Hinduism with divine forces; and Buddhism, Daoism-Confucianism and Shinto without? Where do we find religious extremism as defined above; and where not? Obviously, some of it everywhere, nothing somewhere, but generally speaking?
Judaismn has religious extremism as right and duty to conquer and defend the Promised Holy Land (Genesis 15:18, wrath of divine forces in Deuteronomy, for structural violence Isaiah 2:1-4).
Christianity has religious extremism built as violence against non-believers (Luke 19:26)–hence also to spread Christianity–but has rules against retribution (turning the other cheek).
Islam has norms against spreading Islam by the sword, but uses violence against infidels, particularly against apostates, and uses violence for “retribution with moderation”.
Summary: Judaic religious extremism is territorial, Christian is missionary, Islamic is punitive. SUM: ex occidente bellum.
Hinduism has internal structural violence built into the caste system, with a history of direct violence to establish it and keep it. Nonviolence to cows serves as an opening to nonviolence in general.
Buddhism has violence in obscure texts but generally prescribes nonviolence. If Buddhists are violent (Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand) it is not qua Buddhists, but as defenders of a state with Buddhism.
Daoism is ambiguous: every human holon has forces-counterforces, not necessarily violent; but a rising yin or yang may be “helped”.
Confucianism deplores “bad emperor” violence, but is feudal structural violence, with rights and duties both high up and low down.     Shinto is peaceful, but state Shinto was a construction inspired by Christian state religions justifying warfare external violence under Sun Goddess Amaterasu-o-mikami and Her offsprings, the Emperors.
Conclusion: not good enough to declare ex oriente pax.
How about the secular counterparts to religions, the ideologies, the isms? Backed by human forces of rationality and compassion, and by social forces across the domestic and global faultlines nature-gender-generation-race-class-nation-territory. Religions see them as parts of the divine order; secularism sees them as changeable, for worse (slavery, colonialism, war), for better (human rights, Art 28).
Enlightenment came with capitalist growth against nature and the working classes; with the rule of Men, Old/middle-aged, White; class with competitive mobility; nationalism and statism. Isms emerged, as dualist-manichean as God vs Satan, promising Paradise vs Hell, pitting Self- good vs Other-evil, with mechanisms for picking winners-losers.
Nature fights back, now possibly winning. Women, young and old, non-whites struggle nonviolently for parity. Afterlife Paradise and Hell no longer available, political parties fight for paradise=upper class rewards from capitalist growth against hell=poverty-misery; meaningful only if inequality prevails over distribution. Nationalism and statism struggle for parity and dominance, even globally; the mechanisms being war by the military and negotiation by the diplomats.
Secular fundamentalism means strong attachment to one side in the one faultline seen as fundamental: with this issue (gender, race, class, nation, state) solved, the others will follow automatically!
Secular extremism, fundamentalist or not, uses violence against the Other in gender, race, class, nation, state; if fundamentalist for the salvation of humanity, with paradise on earth around the corner.
Secularism is Western. It is rejected by Islam and Hinduism. Buddhism focuses on means: nonviolence; China on process: yin-yang. Only Japan under Abe follows US war logic. Western secularism may actually turn out to be an episode, yielding to religious revivalism.
Rather work nonviolently on very many conflicts and traumas than on one giant step toward salvation-paradise, even with violence.
Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issuesof which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 February 2016.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source,TRANSCEND Media Service - TMS: Religious Fundamentalism-Extremism-Violence, is included. Thank you.


  1. An erudite comprehensive analysis. Thanks for the share. I have reposted on G+.
    Only yesterday I was told of the following history of extreme religious violence occurring in Antwerp Victoria. Perhaps this horrific history will give everyone pause.
    What I find curious is the then contemporary belief that these murderers who expressed no contrition for their acts were given such lenient sentences. Did the attending police, prosecution and magistrate or judge all belong to the same Lutheran sect? Or is it another extreme example of the Victorian folie en masse - denial of reality?

  2. From The Editor of Beside The Creek:
    I have considered seriously whether to publish the above comment. One of the things I have considered is whether this comment, if published, would do more harm than good. In the end, I have decided to publish and draw readers' attention to some points for consideration when reading and assessing this article.

    I verified the article on-line and found that it was originally published at >>> This a site for The Herald Sun, a popular Melbourne newspaper from the stable of NewsCorp and Rupert Murdoch. The Herald Sun is a resoundingly populist newspaper - not an erudite journal let alone one that would profess to have any qualification in religion studies or in theology or in interfaith issues. We live in a society in which large segments of the population have little, shallow or no knowledge of religion in the human condition whether it is Christian or otherwise. Such stories as this one will always arouse spurious interest. I have no way of establishing any ameliorating information. In short, if there were deeper and mitigating circumstances surrounding this story, it is not possible for these to be ascertained.


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