Who Are You Calling a Fundamentalist?

About a year ago, I made a decision against my better judgment and went to a bar with a friend. He was interested in meeting up with a woman that he’d been dating for a while. I ordered my usual when going to a bar: a frothy cup of coca cola.

I was then asked a series of standard rapid-fire questions. Did you only order a coke? Don’t you want alcohol? Why don’t you drink? When my friend intervened and explained to her that I’m a Muslim, I received the strangest question of my life.

Are you like a Mozlum Fundamentalist? (stress on the way she said mozzz lummm)


ummm what?

I had no idea how to respond.

I laughed, desperately hoping that it was just a joke.

Ha, you must be joking!

She wasn’t.

This, I believe, is nothing less than a crisis. The fact that she would seriously ask me that question is evidence of the crisis of ignorance. I eventually explained to her that, despite her keen eye, she was mistaken. Unfortunately for her, I’m not a “Muslim Fundamentalist”.

Homeland Security’s vigilantes foiled again!

But this of course begs the question: What is a “Muslim Fundamentalist”?

Sure, I had a vague idea of what she meant. Probably some guys she saw on the news wearing black headwraps and messing around on monkey bars. When you really think about it though, can you give accurate definitions to any of these terms that are thrown around today? Islamism, Islamic extremism, Jihadism, Islamofascism, etc…

First of all, “Fundamentalism” is Christian terminology. Specific groups of Christians called themselves “fundamentalists” in some protestant movements around the turn of the 20th century. It was associated with getting back to the fundamentals of Christianity in response to all the secularism, decadence, and immorality. “Fundamentalism” really came to the fore in the United States during the Scopes Trial. So the fact that “fundamentalism” gets associated with Islam isn’t really an accurate use of the word.


Are you now, or have you ever been, the descendant of a monkey?

Secondly, all these terms get conflated and distorted so we lump different groups of people in with each other. Which, by the way, whether or not you’re a card-carrying communist or a neo-conservative nitwit, isn’t helpful at all. Is Saudi Arabia an “Islamic Fundamentalist” state? Then why do they work with the United States and issue rulings against suicide bombing? What about Iran? Was Osama bin Laden a “fundamentalist”? Was Saddam Hussein? Was Khomeini? Why are Syrian “fundamentalists” fighting Hezbollah right now?

This is why we’ve got to think critically for a second.

Saudi Arabia and Iran aren’t on great terms. Saddam Hussein wanted to kill Khomeini in the 70s (and subsequently fought Iran in a brutal war throughout the 80s, which, by the way, was totally bankrolled by the United States). And suicide bombing has been a tactic of plenty of non-Muslims. See: Kamikaze pilots in WWII or the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. Or how about the story of Samson in the Bible?


Definitely Muslim Fundamentalists.

Our language is at least inadequate and at most insidious and racist.

One thing’s for sure: our discourse today is profoundly unhelpful. Arguably, countless Americans wouldn’t have thought that Saddam and bin Laden were friends if they knew that Saddam was a secularist, while bin Laden was striving for something a little more religious. Maybe this information would have caused people to question the official line.

Maybe the U.S. wouldn’t have brutally invaded and occupied Iraq. But now that’s just getting into the realm of speculation.

Seriously, who the fuck ever thought that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were working together!?

It is clear that the way we talk about things shapes the way that we think about things. So when we talk about “Muslim Fundamentalism” or “Islamofascism” or whatever, it’s horribly important that we are clear and precise in exactly what we mean. This is why we need to change the way we conceptualize the other, because otherwise we’re doomed to repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

So who are you calling a fundamentalist?