[EAS]Naipaul on Fundamentalism

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Nov 21 23:38:56 EST 2001

Subject:   Naipaul on Fundamentalism

The attitudes Naipaul describes (esp. in the concluding paragraph) are
shared by many forms of fundamentalism.  --PJK

(from NewsScan Daily, 16 November 2001)

      V.S. Naipaul, the latest recipient of the Nobel Prize for
Literature, made this appraisal of modern day Islamic fundamentalism
based on his  first-hand observations made during extensive visits to
four countries then in the throes of "Islamization."
      "In Islam, and especially the Islam of the fundamentalists,
precedent is all. The principles of the Prophet-as divined from the
Koran and the  approved traditions-are for all time. They can be
extended to cover all  disciplines. The Prophet was reported to have
said that the best Muslims  were going to be his contemporaries, the
second best the generation after,  and so one, the decline continuing
till the end of time. Can that be read  as a condemnation of
'Darwinism'? It is what the new, educated  fundamentalists say. And it
is at once sound faith, and part of their rage  against the
civilization that encircles them and which they as a community 
despair of mastering.
      "In the fundamentalist scheme the world constantly decays and
has  constantly to be re-created. The only function of intellect is to
assist that re-creation. It reinterprets the texts; it re-establishes
divine precedent. So history has to serve theology, law is separated
from the idea  of equity, and learning is separated from learning. The
doctrine has its  attractions. To a student from the University of
Karachi, from perhaps a  provincial or peasant background, the old
faith comes more easily than any  new-fangled academic discipline. So
fundamentalism takes root in the  universities, and to deny education
can become the approved educated act.  In the days of Muslim glory
Islam opened itself to the learning of the  world. Now fundamentalism
provides an intellectual thermostat, set low. It  equalizes, comforts,
shelters, and preserves.
      "In this way the faith pervades everything, and it is possible
to understand what the fundamentalists mean when they say that Islam
is a complete way of life. But what is said about Islam is true, and
perhaps truer, of other religions -- like Hinduism or Buddhism or
lesser tribal  faiths -- that at an early stage in their history were
also complete  cultures, self-contained and more or less isolated with
institutions,  manners, and beliefs making a whole.
      "The Islamic fundamentalist wish is to work back to such a
whole, for them a God-given whole, but with the tool of faith
alone-belief, religious  practices and rituals. It is to seek to
re-create something like a tribal or a city-state that -- except in
theological fantasy -- never was. The  West, or the universal
civilization it leads, is emotionally rejected. It  undermines; it
threatens. But at the same time it is needed, for its  machines,
goods, medicines, warplanes, the remittances from Islamic  emigrants,
the hospitals that might have a cure for calcium deficiency, the 
universities that will provide master's degrees in mass media. All the
rejection of the West is contained within the assumption that there
will  always exist out there a living, creative civilization, oddly
neutral, open  to all to appeal to. Rejection, therefore, is not
absolute rejection. It is  also, for the community as a whole, a way
of ceasing to strive intellectually. It is to be parasitic;
parasitism is one of the  unacknowledged fruits of fundamentalism."

See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0394711955/newsscancom/ for
V.S. Naipaul's "Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, Knopf, 1981"
-- or look  for it in your favorite library. (We donate all revenue
from our book  recommendations to literacy action programs.)


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