Fundamentalism is any system of all-embracing belief held with rigid certitude and coupled with the moral assurance of the right to impose it on everyone else. Thus understood, whatever its ideational content, fundamentalism will always be opposed to liberty in any form. Fundamentalists seek power over, variously, the family's reproductive practices and child rearing, the school, the seminary, the religious endowment, the denomination, the political party, the military, the government, and "outsiders," however the latter are defined.
The word fundamentalism, therefore, aptly describes the basic method of the modern fanatical leader who reaches into the sacred past, selects and develops politically useful (if sometimes obscure) teachings or traditions, and builds around these so-called fundamentals an ideology and a programme of action. Fundamentalism, in other words, is the blending of traditional beliefs and its politicized, ideological defence.
Fundamentalism can lead to fanaticism, a narrow-minded, passionate and combative attitude on the part of some people who are victims of propaganda and who then propagate exaggerated ideas which offer no compromise. It is often accompanied by ethnocentric nationalism, sexism, racism, even fascism. Fanatics may be adherents of religious and political sects, health cranks or heralders of a Utopian world, and are usually completely intolerant of discussions which debate their ideas. The advocacy of extreme methods by fundamentalists, particularly in the form of mass strikes and refusal to cooperate, may be practised by minority or special interest groups.
Religious extremism and fanaticism are a phenomena bound up with exclusive claims to divine revelation. Examples are best known in, although not confined to, the major worldwide religions. Religious purity has served as an excuse for censorship and destruction of books and works of art, attacks on intellectuals, artists, political or other spokesmen of rival ideologies, and destruction of meeting places and personal residences. Non-conforming individuals have been subject to economic sanctions, ostracized, tortured and murdered. Islamic extremism is a part of much of the Muslim world. The stability of Nigeria is threatened. Leaders in Indonesia and Malaysia are concerned.
Extremism in the west often takes racial overtones. The Order, a white supremacy sect in the USA, plans to create an Aryan homeland, eliminating blacks, Jews and white traitors. El Rukn, a black Chicago street gang is suing for recognition as a religious organization. Move in Philadelphia in a confrontation with the police led to 11 deaths and the destruction of 61 tenement houses leaving 250 people homeless. The Klu Klux Klan is still active in much of the southern, midwestern and western parts of the USA. The anti-nuclear peace movement has its violent fringe who sabotage or illegally attempt to occupy or interfere with nuclear power plants and with military bases, supply-lines and personnel. Hunger strikes in the former Soviet Union, Northern Ireland, and elsewhere direct the individual's extremism physically towards his own body and, morally, to those who he wishes to influence by the threat that those in power will be held responsible if he dies.
The worst enemy of human society is fanaticism (whether xenophobic, ideological or both) and the human capacity for an intelligent routinization of fanaticism.
Fundamentalism is nearly always a protest against social wrongs and an expression of political powerlessness. It must also be seen as a reaction against the disappearance of social cohesion in society.