Fundamentalism and 20th century European Fascism

Religious fundamentalism is the belief that social and political life should be organized on the basis of what are seen as essential religious principles that are supported by a belief in the literal truth of scared texts. 1 Fascism, on the other hand is a totalitarian ideology that centers itself upon the leader and possesses the 'anti-factor' whereby it rejects a whole lot of other ideologies such as liberalism and communism.

At first glance, there seems to be not much connection between 21st century religious fundamentalism and 20th century European Fascism; however a more detailed comparison between the two ideologies will reveal similarities that caused the former to be viewed by some as the "new fascism" and differences that made this view irrelevant. In the first half of this paper, I am going to compare and contrast the various similarities and differences between 21st century religious fundamentalism and 20th century European Fascism and then show that to deem religious fundamentalism as a new form of fascism is really unjustified.

In the remaining half of the paper, I will make an argument for my belief that 21st century religious fundamentalism should indeed be considered as an ideology and also the basis of its mass appeal. Due to the complexities and varieties of 21st century religious fundamentalism and 20th century fascism, the similarities and differences listed below can be seen as generalizations and thus proven wrong by certain sects of religious fundamentalism or certain style of fascism. However, this is inevitable as this is the only way to compare the similarities and differences between these two complex ideologies.

The first similarity between 21st century religious fundamentalism and 20th century European Fascism is the emphasis in both ideologies upon charismatic leadership. Many of the fundamentalists believe in the embodiment of 'truth' by their leader who will in turn implement it. 2 For instance, in the Catholic faith, the pope is seen as the Vicar of Christ and can do no wrong. 3 Furthermore, Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Islamic Iran was recognized first as Ayatollah (a 'reflection of Allah') and then Grand Ayatollah.

4Fascism is based upon the cult of personality built around its leaders and it is effectively crafted to exploit this cult. For instance, Hitler effectively cultivated the Fuhrer cult through Nazi propaganda machine under the expertise of Goebbels and through films such as 'Triumph of Will' by Leni Riefenstahl. 5 Perhaps fascism's huge emphasis on charismatic leadership is best embodied by Mussolini's proclamation, "Fascism is Mussolinism… what would Fascism be, if I had not been? "6 The second similarity between these two ideologies is the intolerance shown by both ideologies upon conflicting elements that goes against their principles.

For instance, some sects of religious fundamentalism such as evangelicalism or Islamic fundamentalism exhibits little tolerance for other faiths and in some instances even prosecute and victimize minorities that believes in other faiths in a largely Islamist or Christian country. This intolerance also translates into the belief that religious views can be coercive and religious views ought to have a role in politics thus cementing the power of the religious fundamentalists in their country.

This is comparable to the racism and anti-semitism present in European Fascism whereby the proclaimed enemies of the ideologies were shown no mercies and prosecuted and victimized through no faults of their own. The most extreme illustration of this is the holocaust which was brought about systematically by the Nazis. These two similarities certainly contributed to 21st century religious fundamentalism been branded by some as "the new fascism". However, the more important contributing factor should be the increasing role that religion is playing in world politics.

Judaism has produced its own militant "nationalist" terrorists; Buddhists show a militant and violent side in their politics in Sri Lanka against Hindu Tamils. 7 A few American evangelists have engaged in murder and violence on the abortion issue. 8 Islam-inspired terrorism also received much publicity especially after the 911 attack. Furthermore, religious fundamentalists have tried their best to exert their influence through proper channels of government. For instance, American fundamentalists fielded candidates for elections.

9 Thus the increasing influence that religious fundamentalists are trying to exert in politics and the adverse violent happenings that they brought in the 21st century doubtlessly brought echoes of the 20th century European Fascism which brought about not only the 2nd World War but also the holocaust. However, to brand 21st century religious fundamentalism as the 'new fascism' is not only incorrect but also unjustified. In the following paragraphs, I will proceed to show the differences between 21st century religious fundamentalism and 20th century European Fascism.

21st century religious fundamentalism does not contain elements of racism, anti-semitism or the belief in the possibility of a master race. It also holds no faith in eugenics. Furthermore, it is also an ideology that does not preach upon imperialism, militarism or world domination. All the above elements are defining attributes of 20th century European Fascism. The mere evidence that religious fundamentalism does not believe in all these attributes made the branding of it as a new form of fascism unjustified.

Many religious fundamentalists believe that political power should be subordinated to religious power whereby the Bishop, the Rabbi, or the Ayatollah should be able to make the final decision on social issues. 10 The best case scenario for religious fundamentalists would be as in the case of Iran where they actually govern however, compromises are made between religious fundamentalists and secular authorities. 11 This belief that political power should be subordinate to religious power is of course the direct opposite of fascism whereby churches (religion) should be subordinate to the state.