This pearl of ineffable wisdom dropped from the mouth of former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as part of an interview she had for a special report on CNN. In it, she describes the trouble of hammering out a Mideast peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides, and discusses the problem of Jerusalem in the scheme of things.
Which brings me to the quote that titles this post.
Albright rightly points out that fundamentalism started out as a term used to describe American Christians who were extremely conservative and rigid in their religious views. Tolerance had no place in the fundamentalist viewpoint, either in religion (anti-Semitism), race (Jim Crow), politics (isolationism), or science (the Scopes Trial).
So we ignored it.
And look where we are.
I was watching the local news last night and saw footage of happy students at a local 'charter' school, one where the students get in on a 'voucher' program. Not a single African-American or Hispanic to be seen. Segregation forever, huh guys?
Shiite fundamentalism arose in Iran in 1979, and we made fun of it (I still recall "Shiitehead" jokes made over local radio stations), while at the same time our government and the chattering class spun dark scenarios of the end of the world. A film made back then about the prophecies of Nostradamus (narrated by Orson Welles) portrayed one future leader as a cross between a Turkish Sultan and a figure from The Arabian Nights - every Occidental's worst stereotype of an Islamic leader. So, while we were simultaneously denigrating and wetting our pants over this new fundamentalism, we ignored both our own homegrown extremists and Sunni extremists.
Which came back to haunt us at Oklahoma City.
And at the World Trade Center (twice).
So, do I agree with Maddy Albright?
You betcha. We ignore religion at our peril, because in a technological society, in a state governed by secular laws and reason, religion (particularly fundamentalism) is the greatest enemy we face.