Usually used of Islamic enthusiasts, for example the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan and suicide bombers. Do they express the fundamental beliefs and practices of the religion? Many main stream scholars of Islam and Muslims would argue they have distorted the message considerably.

A psychological explanation is that the Taliban arose in the refugee camps where Afghans lived on the Pakistan frontier. They tended to be orphans brought up without women, taught by men from the Deobund sect who themselves had restricted their reading to the Quran and Hadiths. Supported by a similar group in Saudi Arabia, followers of the 18th century Abdul Wahab, they reject the philosophical and scientific developments associated with Islam - Sufism - in the years following the life of the Prophet, which gave rise to the flowering of science and literature. Moreover, in the name of "back to basics" they ignore the known behaviour of the Prophet with respect to women. It can be argued that the attitude to women was not present in the early days of Islam but arose by contamination from earlier cultures.

However, the phenomenon can be found in other religions and even in non-religious situations. Pol Pot had a similar attitude which gave rise to a regime similar to fascism. Osama bin Laden and people like him seem to hate "the other".

There are Christian sects in the United States with similar attitudes - hatred of the "other" and of science and rational thinking. Sikhism, Buddhism and Judaism can also develop this problem. The condition is a variety of cult behavior.

Is there a solution? Studying cult behaviour and the means by which people grow out of cult mental conditions would seem to be the most useful approach. Irrationality unfortunately is very common in all human cultures. Powerful interests like to encourage it to undermine democracy, even in western countries. We should consider such phenomena as the right wing "talk radio" hosts in the United States. Who benefits from encouraging irrationality?

Last revised 2/09/09


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