Monday, July 31, 2006

Bush, fundamentalism and the Middle East

Karen Armstrong, in a piece about apocalyptic fundamentalism, asks whether there is, "a connection between a religiously motivated mistrust of science, glaring social injustice and a war in the Middle East?" No, of course she isn't talking about Iran; the only form of 'fundamentalism' she believes to be significant is the one she imputes to George Bush. She argues that a belief in the 'rapture' may be behind the US Administration's position regarding the present situation in Lebanon and that it is this kind of apocalyptic vision that also leads them to be indifferent to social reform and the environment. She suggests, for example, that this is behind the Bush Administration's rejection of the Kyoto treaty:
"It has, for example, persistently ignored scientists' warnings about global warming. Why bother to implement the Kyoto treaty if the world is about to end?"
Why indeed? But then, if the world is about to end, why bother with such this-worldly concerns such as pressing for prayer in schools, restricting abortion, banning stem-cell research and all the other concerns of the Evangelical Right?

I thought this article remarkable for three reasons. Firstly, there is the complete absence of any form of materialistic explanations for what is happening in the present situation. Nothing about states and their economic and strategic regional interests. Nothing about the impact that historical alliances have on these today. And nothing about how decisions are made in a bureaucracy and the various institutional pressures that are brought to bear on them. Rather, Armstrong contends, Bush's theology is the decisive factor here. I appreciate that Ms Armstrong is essentially a theologian with little understanding of politics or history but I think it is significant that these days people who would describe themselves as 'Marxists' repeat arguments very similar to hers.

Secondly, her hypothesis is - as is the custom in CiF - rather lop-sided. Bush's apocalyptic theology, she insists, is driving world events. Given that her view of history, in as far as it is possible to identify her as having one, is essentially idealistic - you'd think the Israel-annihilating eschatology espoused by Nasrallah or Ahmadinejad might also be worth considering as a significant variable. But apparently not.

But the main problem with the article is the complete absence of evidence for her central hypothesis. She has apparently no proof to support her assumptions about Bush's supposed eschatology. But more importantly, she provides no evidence at all that this has any bearing on US policy in relation to the Middle East. Does Paul Wolfowitz believe in the 'rapture'? I don't think so.

In other words, this is a completely evidence-free article. An impressive achievement for someone posing as a defender of rationality and science, I think you'll agree.

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