Noam Chomsky on Fundamentalism

This excerpt is from the book Perilous Power by Noam Chomsky and Gilbert Achcar.

“It’s the same story all over again: The U.S. government let some kind of genie out of the bottle, but they can’t control it and after a while, it turns against them…
Islamic fundamentalism was a religious ideology that was tolerated and even used and encouraged by the local regimes and by the United States, and that became the channel to which the resentment against the United States and the regimes themselves finally transferred…
Without trying to draw the analogy too closely, I think there is something partially similar in the U.S. Christian fundamentalist situation. ‘Fundamentalism’ is a Protestant term; it comes from Princeton in the early part of the last century. But what we call fundamentalism had very deep roots in the United States from the early colonists, and it’s always been there. There’s always been an extreme, ultrareligious element, more or less fundamentalist with several revivals repeating over and over; there was another one in the 1950s. That’s why we have ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘One Nation Under God’ and all this stuff. But in the last twenty-five years it has been turned for the first time into a major political force. And that I think is conscious exploitation… to try and undermine, in this case, progressive social policies. Not very radical policies but, rather, the mild social democratic policies of the preceding period are under serious attack—under neoliberal attack, under neoconservative attack.
The Christian fundamentalists who were always there were mobilized into a political force for the first time to provide a base for this, and also—to the extent that the political system functions, which is not much—to shift the focus of many voters from the issues that really affect their interests (such as health, education, economic issues, wages) over to religious crusades to block the teaching of evolution, gay rights, and abortion rights. These are all issues, for example, about which CEOs just don’t care very much. They care a lot about other issues. And if you can shift the focus of debate and attention and presidential politics and so on to questions that are quite marginal for the wealthy—questions of, say, gay rights—that’s wonderful for people who want to destroy labour unions, construct a social/political system for the benefit of the ultrarich, while everyone else barley survives.
This fundamentalist mobilization has occurred during a unique period of American economic history—there’s never been anything like it—where, for about twenty-five years, real wages have either stagnated or declined for the majority. Real median family incomes for the majority are sady or maybe declining. That’s never happened before. There were things like the Great Depression, but never twenty-five years of stagnation for the majority through a period with no serious economic disruptions. Working hours have been going way up, social benefits way down, indebtedness growing enormously. These are real social and economic crises. And the way it’s been dealt with, to a large extent, is by mobilizing what’;s always been there, the Christian fundamentalist sectors, and turning them into an active political force. And in the same period, shifting the discourse, and the focus and so on, to those issues that are of concern to the fundamentalists, but of only marginal concern to the people who own and run the society.”

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