Now that the fuss has died down about that insanely pathetic knife attack at Leytonstone tube station by a supposed “fundamentalist”, it is worth a little bit of Zizek to calm our nerves and self-congratulation and sense of defiance.
What is a fundamentalist?
My former Principal once made a dismissive passing comment that fundamentalism these days is all ‘mental’ and no ‘fun’! I thought it was a clever way to carve up the word, but this comment has stayed with me over the years and actually, has more truth than I thought possible.
As that wonderful, instantaneous phrase suggests, the man carrying out a cowardly, random act of violence, is no Muslim. But what I think would be more shocking for the perpetrator, is to discover that even if he is a Muslim (which he obviously is, even the liberal West can’t take that away from him), he ain’t even no fundamentalist!
Slavoj Zizek, a philosopher I love and hate to read, captures the heart of this issue in his magnificent book Living in the End Times, when he writes,
“…, are the so-called fundamentalists, be they Christian or Muslim, really fundamentalists in the true sense of the term? What they lack is a feature easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the American Amish – the absence of resentment or envy, rooted in a deep indifference towards the non-believers’ way of life.
If today’s so-called fundamentalists really believe they have found their way to Truth, why should they feel threatened by non-believers (emphasis mine), why should they envy them? When a Buddhist encounters a Western hedonist, he hardly condemns him. He simply denotes benevolently that the hedonist’s search for happiness is self-defeating.
In contrast to the true fundamentalists, pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued, and fascinated by the sinful lives of non-believers. It can seem that, in condemning the sinful other, they are struggling with their own temptation. This is why the so-called Christian or Muslim fundamentalists are a disgrace to true fundamentalism” (emphasis mine). p.469-70
So despite our current political language, fundamentalists today are not fundamentalists, and actual fundamentalists are nothing like this present perversion of fundamentalism, or diet-fundamentalism. As one Australian comedian said regarding the war on terror, “I can’t believe it’s not terror!”
Prophetic comedian truth aside, it is not merely that Islam has been hijacked; it is far worse – fundamentalism itself has been hijacked! And that is no joke!