Posts Tagged ‘fundamentalism’


Those who take themselves too seriously will not like satire. Those who cannot laugh at themselves will not understand satire. Those who believe they have a hotline to truth cannot appreciate life’s ambiguities and absurdities as well as individual foibles, inconsistencies and peculiarities that make up human personality. The human condition is a carnival. This is the way cartoonists, who above all are satirists, view men and events.  Laughter is healthy for body and soul.

Although they claimed to kill in the name of the prophet Mohammed, the fundamentalists who murdered the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris on January 7, did not comprehend the essence of the religious spirit inherent in all cultures. On top of their lack of understanding of the religion they claimed to profess and the religious impulse in general, they lacked a sense of humor. Satire uses comedic techniques such as irony, parody, caricature, and exaggeration. Hypocrisy is one of satire’s favorite targets. Consequently, satirists lampoon politicians, celebrities, clerics and anyone else who needs his mask uncovered. When others are too afraid to expose deceit or corruption, satirists state the emperor wears no clothes.

Writers such as Chris Hedges (American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, 2007) and Susan Jacoby (The Age of American Unreason, 2008) have pointed out the danger of fundamentalist thinking (or rather I should say non-thinking) to democracy. Authoritarianism, intolerance, xenophobia, and self-righteousness characterize fundamentalism. These characteristics undermine democracy. With the rise in fundamentalism a virulent nationalism can flourish in which no value is seen in other societies or ethnic groups. From that can flow racism and ethnic cleansing. In short, fundamentalism is unhealthy in the way the inability to laugh at oneself is unhealthy; or indeed, the inability to self-examine, to examine one’s premises, to scrutinize one’s society so that real change is facilitated. Satire does this. Satire forces us to examine our cherished beliefs and perceptions. Satire must jar sensibilities and shake perceptions. Those who cannot abide having their cage rattled stick to material that supports their prejudices and preconceptions.

In the past few years fundamentalism has been a subject of my fictional writing. In my novel Delayed Reaction I satirize the Christian brand of fundamentalism. When I wrote it, I feared it would offend Church-going friends. In poking fun at fundamentalism I aimed to illustrate that the examined life is worth living. Is it any wonder that the terrorist deals death and then chooses death for himself?  The life-giving choices are to love and to forgive.  These choices set us free and grant us peace.




Cleaning Out Drawers

When I can no longer jam one more sheet of paper into a file, I clean out my drawers. Some pieces are condemned to the garbage can Gulag; other archival documents retain historical value, and I cannot consign them to oblivion. What is trivia to someone else is a precious relic of the past for me. I save magazine and newspaper clippings that for one reason or another I once found particularly informative or provocative. I single out two articles from among those that escaped my latest purging operation.

The first such article that missed the cut (print-out copy of 10/16/02) is a commentary by Abdelrahman Munif for the online Pacific News Jinn Magazine titled “Other Voices-Saudi Bomb attack an Act of Despair” and dated 7/2/96. Munif’s fictionalization of an oil-rich Arabian Gulf kingdom in his novels Cities of Salt, The Trench, and Variations on Night and Day has been likened to Faulkner’s creation of Yoknapatawpha County. The presence of U.S. soldiers in Dhahran in the aftermath of the Gulf War fueled the attack on the housing complex for American military personnel. Munif correctly predicts in 1996 the rise of violent Islamic fundamentalism and its dire consequences because of U.S. misguided policies in the Middle East. He writes in this short article: “Fundamentalism will spread in the Gulf region and possibly turn more violent because no political movement or party offers a formula for acknowledging ordinary people and engaging them in the political process.” He further states: “The Dhahran attack is not an event orchestrated by outside forces but rather an expression of deep internal feelings of bitterness and injury . . . Unless a more balanced and less biased policy is adopted, anti-Americanism will spread, leading ultimately to total estrangement at the popular level . . . Absent such a process I am more apprehensive about the future than ever.”

Stripped of his Saudi citizenship for political reasons, Munif lived in Damascus, Syria, where he died in 2004. I don’t need to chronicle here all the events that made Munif’s worst fears a reality since he wrote those lines in 1996. How much greater would his heartache be, if he had lived to see the chaos and destruction in Syria of the last three years!

Of a completely different nature was the second long-forgotten item that I discovered buried in my drawer. A favorable book review! Whoopee! These are few and far between and are worth keeping. A holy relic that an obscure, unknown, unsung, insignificant hermetic author would certainly want to laminate and to preserve from the silverfish and other depredations that unprotected archival material suffer. For posterity! For grandchildren! The review of my novel The Pluperfect Phantom appeared in Midnight Mind Magazine, No. 4, Sept. 2002. It’s sweet when a reviewer reads correctly a writer’s intent. Here are excerpts from the book review: “The Pluperfect Phantom defies categorization. It doesn’t fit neatly into any commercial slot. That’s because it does so many things at once. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a love story. It’s a ghost story. It’s a Chicago crime novel. It takes the reader down not only the real streets of Chicago, but also through some dark Chicago history . . . . Aunt Adele is the dear, elderly psychic aunt who holds the book together; she is matchmaker and believer of things seen and unseen . . . This is a tale of spiritwalkers intrigue, creepy chilling mystery, love, friendship and history all wickedly thrown together in that witch’s brew called Chicago.”

This tells me I’ve achieved my purpose: to be uncategorizable. I think I can rest in peace.