Last week there was a news story from Israel about an IDF soldier who was sentenced to two weeks in the stockade for eating a non-Kosher sausage on a military base. The sentence was later rescinded, but not before it raised concerns about the growing enforcement of Jewish orthodoxy in the IDF, and worries about the next battleground in the efforts of the ultra-orthodox establishment in Israel to root out all forms of halachic impurity.
Is this more evidence that hard, unyielding religion (which we henceforth, somewhat inaccurately, call fundamentalism) is on the march everywhere? Societies like Israel that were built on a firm foundation of secularism seem to be increasingly in retreat from their founding principles. At least this is the argument in the new book by the distinguished political philosopher, Michael Walzer, The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions. Walzer focuses on three examples, three countries that fought for and gained independence in the years after World War II: Algeria, India, and Israel. All three countries were originally governed by largely secular and more or less socialist governments that were, if not anti-religious, then a-religious, treating religion with a combination of tolerance and condescension, convinced that religion represented a dying past that would slowly ebb into extinction. As Walzer describes it, all three countries were dominated by an ideology of liberation. First the external enemies (the French for Algeria, and the Brits for Israel and India) had to be defeated and then the liberators wanted to rescue their people from backwardness, ignorance, passivity, and submissiveness, and wanted to help their people by transforming them, by overcoming or modernizing their religious traditional religious beliefs and practicesto which many of them are firmly attached. And so the liberated come to resent their liberation, and turn on their liberators. And in all three countries, hard, orthodox, fundamentalist religion is in retreat, while it is the secularists who find themselves unsure of their values.