Time to Tell the Truth About Conservative Religious Extremism

The fact that Republicans in the Senate have just voted to deny healthcare to women by defunding Planned Parenthood while allowing individuals on the terrorist watch list to continue to buy guns should give us pause. In particular it should cause us to evaluate the conventions by which we analyze what sort of political statements are acceptable in the polite public square.

The world of political writing is often divided between the “serious” and the “unserious.” There are basic things that one is allowed to say on both sides of the red-blue line and remain an acceptable invite to a DC cocktail party, and there are essential truths that to speak them makes one a pariah destined for exile. On the left, one is allowed to say that gun violence is a sweeping problem, that Islam itself has no connection to terrorism specifically, and that we should focus on specific policy fixes to gun proliferation and lack of mental health services. The right’s palette of acceptable discourse is broader and more extremist, but generally limited to arguing that Americans need even more guns to defend themselves from the tidal wave of mass shootings, that Muslims should be specifically profiled and barred from the country, and that any other social factor except for gun proliferation should be blamed for America’s unique gun violence problem.

What one is not allowed to do while remaining a member of good standing is tell to the truth: that to most rational people there is very little dividing line between the agendas of conservative Muslim extremists and conservative Christian ones. Both groups are strongly in favor of weaponizing the public, both are devoted to the imposition of theocracy, and both are opposed to expanded rights for women and those of alternate sexual orientations.

Extremists aligned with ISIS believe that they are fulfilling the greater glory of Allah in order to punish Western decadence and promote the great final caliphate. Extremists aligned with conservative Christianity believe that they are compelled to act because abortion doctors are killing the fetal vessels of immortal souls, because Muslims are subhumans aligned with Satan, and that without an arsenal of deadly firepower the forces of darkness will come to imprison them and take their God-given freedoms.

These two groups believe that they are polar opposites who could not be further apart. Islamist extremists tend to despise moderate Muslims even more than they do Christians. Hardcore conservative Christians have the same contempt for their own politically aligned moderates. They believe that they are engaged in all-encompassing battle for survival and world dominance against the other, both on this earth and in the beyond.

To the rest of us, they are simply two sides of the same coin–a set of Hatfields and McCoys who look and act alike in their backwater patriarchalism, have entirely too many guns between them, and remain convinced that their survival rests on the elimination of the other even as innocents die in the crossfire.

To a dead woman at Planned Parenthood in Colorado, it matters little if the murderer acted to deny women their reproductive rights in the name of Jesus or Allah. To the dead in San Bernardino–of whom at least one of the victims was Muslim–it matters little in which God’s name the murderers acted in their apparent combination of workplace and religious outrage.

What matters is that both despise modernity. And both had all-too-easy access of legally available weapons of mass death.

To a conservative Christian Republican, the Planned Parenthood killer was a lone nut who was either simply crazy, or went too far in his righteous conviction. Many conservative Muslims have the same reaction to those who kill in the name of Islamism.

The Taliban in Afghanistan see themselves as righteous defenders of the divine when they deny women and girls the right to go to school, lest they disobey their fathers and husbands. The Christian conservatives in America see themselves as righteous defenders of the divine when they deny women and girls the right to reproductive services, lest they have too free a sex life contrary to the wishes of their fathers and husbands.

To each other, they couldn’t be any different. To the rest of us they’re all the same: dangerous extremists drunk on a toxic brew of misogyny, anti-modernism and extremist hatred.

And all of them armed to the teeth, aided and abetted by laws designed to cater to the most fearful self-declared civilian “warriors” who refuse to allow the rest of us to live in peace, doing the greatest good for the greatest number while leaving their antiquated ideologies of violent religious dominance in the dustbin of history where they belong.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.