Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Nov/11

14

The rise of fundamentalism

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As ultra-Orthodox flex muscle, Israel feminists see a backsliding:

“Women walk down the street as though they are at the beach,” said Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim, a spokesman and leader for an umbrella group of ultra-Orthodox factions. “If in the past this was typical only of Tel Aviv, today it has reached Jerusalem as well. They encroach on our way of life, prompting our people to impose new restrictions, deepen separation and erect higher barriers to keep it away.”

The conflict is gaining intensity, he said, because of the rising influence and numbers of the haredi community, once a small, scattered minority that today numbers 1 million, about 15% of the population. The ultra-Orthodox live mostly in separate cities and neighborhoods where they have been free to practice their beliefs without interference. As their political power grows, they are demanding more accommodation for their way of life, Pappenheim said.

“We used to be a small minority fighting for survival,” he said. “Now we are a huge minority. As the saying goes, with food comes more appetite.”

He said the segregation was not intended to discriminate or oppress women but to “protect women’s honor and dignity.”

This is a general problem with highly religious subcultures which become prominent, and start to break out of their ghetto. The broader issue is that religious pluralism and tolerance are to some extent illusions born of the marginalization of some groups as the expense of others. The illusion is unmasked when the powerful and powerless invert positions.

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8 comments

  • mark e. · November 14, 2011 at 9:55 am

    The parallels between Islamic and Judaic fundamentalism are very disturbing – and particularly sad because Judaism had come to terms with Western thought in a way Islam never did (even if it was due to the relative powerlessness of Jews in Europe).

  • Author comment by David Hume · November 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    mark, the haredi never did integrate western norms. rather than assimilate like the ‘reform’ or engage like the ‘modern orthodox’ they ‘went amish.’ this is not an issue when separatist subcultures are small and marginal, but becomes problematic when they get numerous. israel has two non-western cultures within it now, a muslim and jewish one (from what i know christian arabs are pretty westernized).

  • Acilius · November 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    I don’t know if Israel’s Christian Arabs are so much Westernized as they are assimilated to the majority society within Israel. That’s been a subtle distinction up to this point, but it may prove to be a crucial one. If Israeli Jews by and large become less Westernized, then Christian Arabs will no longer be able to rationalize their position in terms of allegiance to an international ideal. Their choice would, under those circumstances, be between undisguised subservience to the majority in Israel, equally undisguised submission to a Muslim-led Palestinian movement, or exile in the West.

  • Author comment by David Hume · November 16, 2011 at 4:04 am

    then Christian Arabs will no longer be able to rationalize their position in terms of allegiance to an international ideal

    most of them have relatives in the west. hell, most palestinian arabs now live abroad!

  • Acilius · November 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    “most of them have relatives in the west. hell, most palestinian arabs now live abroad!” And for that reason, if Israel ever ceases to be recognizably a part of “the West,” the Christian Arabs who remain there today will likely join their cousins overseas. That would probably be good news in the the USA, since Arab Christians tend to be among the most productive and most rapidly-assimilated immigrant groups, but surely it would be a sad development for those who value the traditions that have developed in the Christian communities in and around Palestine, which are after all among the oldest such communities in the world.

  • Author comment by David Hume · November 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    but surely it would be a sad development for those who value the traditions that have developed in the Christian communities in and around Palestine, which are after all among the oldest such communities in the world.

    except the copts they’re history. the copts are too numerous to emigrate abroad en masse, and unlike levantines they don’t have as many overseas contacts on a per capita basis.

  • Acilius · November 18, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    That’s true, and ironic. The Copts started off by rejecting the idea that theology had to keep up with Greek philosophy, and thereby rejecting the idea that Egypt should be part of the Greek world in other ways. So what happened in Egypt after the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 was a little bit like what happens today when some Muslims deny evolution on the grounds that Islam has its own, superior science, and doesn’t need western science. In each case you see a marginalized group ostentatiously rejecting the most advanced intellectual enterprise of the dominant group as a way of signaling a break from that group.

    Of course, 451 was a long time ago. I’d be the last to say that if the Copts thought they could make it on their own back then, let’s see them face life in the new, post-secular Egypt without friendly attention from Christian groups elsewhere. Of course, I’d also be the last to recommend that such friendliness take the form of military intervention or other threats of violence against Egypt.

  • Author comment by David Hume · November 20, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    The Copts started off by rejecting the idea that theology had to keep up with Greek philosophy, and thereby rejecting the idea that Egypt should be part of the Greek world in other ways.

    there are two points to note about this:

    1) the anti-chalcedonian theological position is held by many syrian xtians, as well as armenians

    2) many monophysite thinkers were actually greek or greek-speaking. consider that the first ethnic greek byzantine emperor was a monophysite. the theology still uses greek terminology because that’s the terminology of philosophy.

    in other words, the ‘nationalist’ gloss put upon these anti-chalcedonian churches is probably anachronistic. they are less anti-greek than anti-imperial in any case. the theologically relatively unsophisticated western church was much more hostile to the ‘heterodoxies’ after all.

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