Chapel Hill: Opinion

Jacqueline Allen: Fundamentalism, not a particular religion, the real threat

When Emmett Till was tortured and murdered, no one demanded that Christians state that this crime was not committed in their name.

When Pat Robertson suggested that someone should “blow up” the U.S. State Department (under George W. Bush), no one demanded that Christians state that this was not in their name.

When Timothy McVey blew up the federal building in Oklahoma, no one demanded that Christians state that this crime was not committed in their name.

When the Ku Klux Klan committed countless atrocities, no one demanded that Christians state that these crimes were not committed in their names.

One of the best aspects of our country is that we have historically respected the rights of people to have a different religion or a different set of ideas. That diversity is a huge asset in problem solving; 10 perspectives are better than a single angle. We are a great nation because we continue to be a nation of immigrants.

Rather than focus on the claimed religion of those who commit terrorism, a more helpful distinction is whether the individual is a fundamentalist. Fundamentalists from different religions have much more in common with fundamentalists of other religions than with moderate members of their own religions. The great religions, in their moderate forms, have remarkably similar teachings.

And one need not look far back in history to see the damage fundamentalists from many religions cause. Yigal Amir’s assassination of Yitzhak Rabin is a glaring recent example. Fundamentalism, not a particular religion, is the problem that we are now facing.

Having grown up in the old South where the 11th commandment, which applied only to women, was “thou shalt not wear anything too revealing,” and the idea of women as equals was farfetched – we called for help when a neighbor repeatedly beat his family and were told it was his household and nothing could be done – I’m not convinced that we can pass judgement on others’ customs.

I certainly don’t condone oppression of women or violence against women and children. I just know that it goes on every day in this country in households that range from very poor to very well to do. Violence is, unfortunately, as American as apple pie. That too is part of the problem we face.

The suggestion that a list of people belonging to a particular religion be maintained is inappropriate; we made a similar error in World War II when we decided to single out those from Japan and send them to internment camps solely because of their national origin. It is easy to single out someone with a different style of dress or a different skin color. This sort of discrimination solves no problems. It simply creates new problems. We are quite capable, as a nation, of a more effective and just approach, which involves the pursuit of those whose radical ideology leads them to plot acts of violence.

Jacqueline Allen lives in Carrboro.