Against Fundamentalism

Against Fundamentalism

Like most New Yorkers, like most Americans, the attacks of September 11 made me very angry.


The following is the text of a speech given at an antiwar rally in New York City’s Central Park on October 6.

Like most New Yorkers, like most Americans, the attacks of September 11 made me very angry. In the days after the attacks I was incredibly moved by the generosity and humanity that arose as people from all over the country drove instantly toward New York to help, to work, to dig, to rebuild spirits. Still I was angry. Why New York? New York more than any other city in the world encourages diversity of faith. The peaceful coexistence of different cultures and beliefs in this city is nothing short of a miracle.

A few years ago I did a movie called Dead Man Walking. I think the reason that film led to a dialogue about the death penalty is that it didn’t deligitimize the anger of the victims’ families. Although I would hope to not allow revenge in my heart, I recognize the legitimacy of this human emotion. So when our government went after Al Qaeda with massive bombing in Afghanistan I had a problem with the method but understood the motivation. For the first time in my adult life my country was involved in a military action that was reactive, and I sat silent.

I do not like fundamentalism of any kind. Any movement that connects violence with God loses me, whether it’s the murder of a doctor at an abortion clinic or the murder of busboys, firemen or businessmen in the World Trade Center. Radical fundamentalism at its core hates all the things I love: art, free expression, music, independent women, theater, good movies. We must be very wise in the way we frame our argument and how we proceed as we resist this new war.

This is not the chickens coming home to roost, Al Qaeda are not farmers looking for self-determination and land rights in Central America. Al Qaeda are not Vietnamese peasants dealing with the napalm from a government that purports to care about them. Al Qaeda will not stand shoulder to shoulder with those struggling to call attention to Third World sweatshop labor. In fact, Al Qaeda’s actions have hurt this burgeoning and important movement more than any other.

Let us find a way to resist fundamentalism that leads to violence–fundamentalism of all kinds, in Al Qaeda and within our own government. What is our fundamentalism? Cloaked in patriotism and our doctrine of spreading democracy throughout the world, our fundamentalism is business, the unfettered spread of our economic interests throughout the globe. Our resistance to this war should be our resistance to profit at the cost of human life. Because that is what these drums beating over Iraq are really about. This is about business. The business of distracting American attention from Enron and Halliburton, the financial scandals that directly connect this Administration to the heart of what is now wrong with the American economy. These scandals have disappeared from the front pages of our newspapers as we argue about this war.

In the name of fear and fighting terror we are giving the reins of power to oilmen looking for distraction from their disastrous economic performance, oilmen more interested in a financial bottom line than a moral bottom line, oilmen ready to expand their influence with new contracts on the soil our bombers have plowed, new contracts forged with governments that do not allow democracy on their soil for fear of losing control over the oil that governs their lives, that governs our lives. The majority in America knows this. A dormant majority in America waits with anticipation for the politician who will stand in front of the American people in defiance of the oil companies and advocate alternative energy as a way to extricate ourselves from this culture of violence that threatens our future.

Let us resist this war and our impending oil war in Colombia, and let us resist fundamentalism in all its guises. Let us hate war in all its forms, whether its weapon is a US missile or its weapon is a domestic airplane.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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