Kiera Cavalleri’s Reflective Essay

All people smile when they are happy, ticklish people will always laugh, and babies will cry when separated from their caregiver.  Most people prefer sweet to sour and youth and good health are admired worldwide.  Naturally, certain cultural practices differ but there is an underlying universal biological inheritance – despite how one is raised, certain things will always tie together all of humanity.  And, in addition to the behaviors listed above, all people hold to ability to be passionate.  Reza Aslan’s Beyond Fundamentalism covered a range of topics – many of which were the social modern results of religion, and social constructs from religion and ideas surrounding several modern groups.  But one theme that transcended all else in his book was passion, especially religious passion, as a motivation.  Soren Kierkegaard said, “Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further.”  Aslan brings the reader through the inner psyche of the most extreme, fundamentalist groups associated with Islam, Christianity, and Judaism today.  From there, especially in his last chapter, he shows how these mentalities are more than polarizing – they breed irreconcilable feelings of distrust and hate towards not only the rival groups, but anything that may be vaguely associated with them.

While most of the criticism against Christians in Beyond Fundamentalism seems to be the inextricable knotting of the religion into American politics, Aslan also raises a few examples of fundamentalists trying to push their beliefs outward.  The American military not only protects, but represents, a variety of cultures, races, and religions, however select groups are exploiting their positions to spread their own, personal message.  America was built upon the idea of Separation of Church and State, so it is the job of our military to maintain that balance, but it has become all too common for their personal beliefs to interfere.  Aslan said, “Military personnel are particularly valuable targets for conversion because, once converted, they have the ability to ‘spread the gospel as they move from assignment to assignment.’  The fact is, the systematic efforts of evangelical groups such as Cadence International, Christian Embassy, and Campus Crusade for Christ (to name a handful of such organizations) to convert members of the military in a time of war is part of a larger, coordinated initiative to use American soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan—countries where Christian missionaries are not welcomed—to convert Muslims to evangelical Christianity” (Aslan, 97).  The passion these cadets feel for their religion is the reason it has permeated into other aspects of their lives, and they feel responsible to use the ideas associated with it when out in the field.  Additionally, this is very deeply rooted in that they see a superiority in their religion, and a danger in the other.  There is that immediate association with Islam to terrorism, and they need to use their peaceful Christianity to stop it.  Their passion for their religion supersedes their patriotic devotion to the Separation of Church and State.

The passion coming from Muslims is a lot more prominent because it is expected of all practitioners.  Islam expects complete compliance and renunciation of inhibitions towards practices – a true Muslim needs to be completely devoted, without hesitancy or doubt, or they risk being tagged as an unbeliever.  The use of reason in thought tarnishes piety and is therefore condemned.  Now my argument may seem to contradict Reza Aslan’s commentary on Jihadists – the group often tied to Islam.  “Jihad implies a struggle against the self, against one’s passions and instincts and the temptations that oppress the soul” (Aslan, 24).  But Jihad can be considered the battle against one passion in the pursuit of another passion.  They may be acting against what they consider to be negative qualities, but they would not be doing that in the name of god unless they felt strongly for it.  Exactly as Bruce Lee says, the Jihadist creed is “a creed of great purity and intensity capable of inspiring [their] followers with a degree of passion and principled conviction that no secular movement in the Arab world has ever matched” (Aslan, 122).

Jewish groups must be taken into consideration as well.  As discussed in class, Rabbi Shlomo Goren led his Israelis to reclaim the Temple Mount in a fit of passion – heavily symbolized by the presence of his shofar, or ram’s horn that is traditionally used in celebratory practices.  As he carried that horn through his journey and finally sounded it at the top, the reader was fully able to understand how meaningful this whole experience was.  The shofar is said to embody the “primitive man”—that the entire history of their religion and everyone who came before them was travelling with them to the top of that mountain to claim it – and that was not only a feat for them but a victory for god (Aslan, 176).

Reza Aslan made it very clear that each of these groups feel very passionately for their causes – and that passion is the petri dish for negative feelings towards opposing groups.  As George Bush said, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”  Each group is guilty of stereotyping and overgeneralizations, which can only be dangerous.  Political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote in one of his books, “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism, it is Islam” (Aslsn, 164). Within America, Muslims are not respected or trusted – to the point where Aslan claims them to have been “demonized” (Aslan, 171).  Because we are unable to separate Muslims from Jihadists, we automatically assume they share the same views.  However, Aslan points out that Jihadists are the only ones who feel political participation to be an abandonment of their religion; many other Muslim groups are actually working in democratic ways.

While America is unable to give everyone a fair chance, some Middle Easterners automatically views western ideals as bad.  In the Middle East (even though I mentioned above that some groups are working democratically, some still do not) the word “democracy” has become tainted because of its immediate association with the over-Christianized Bush administration (Aslan, 169).  In addition to this, 80 percent of Muslims worldwide believe that America wants to “weaken and divide the Islamic world” (Aslan, 164).  There is no basis for which to build upon trust because each individual group is fully occupied with negative versions of the other.

One beauty of humanity is its ability to act and feel so strongly for beliefs, but it is also a dangerous fault.  Each group should have the ability to hold these feelings but all too often it infringes on the rights of others.  From here hatred forms and the ability to respect other groups disappears.  This was a prominent theme throughout Beyond Fundamentalism.  Despite the topic, his writing was constantly commenting on the actions of these people and the hidden drives behind them, so clearly it was something he wanted the reader to take away from the book.  Without the passion of each group Aslan discussed, there would have been no fuel for their actions.  When acting so extremely, an individual needs to feel wholeheartedly that what they are fighting for is indeed the best and most important way.  From topic to topic throughout the book it was clear that passion within religion is an unparalleled force, and even though it is beautiful it can also be detrimental.


Works Cited

Aslan, Reza, and Reza Aslan. Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization. New York: Random House, 2010.





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One Response to Kiera Cavalleri’s Reflective Essay

  1. wallace15 says:

    The author, in making the argument that passion is the most important theme in Beyond Fundamentalism, has undertaken a large topic. Not only is it undeniable that passion is a large theme of the book but it is obvious from Kiera’s many examples that it is practically the entire basis of the book. By taking on such a large topic we almost lose the authors own views as it is overwhelmed by attempting to summarize such a dense book. Despite this Kiera’s voice dose sing out clearly in both the introductory and closing paragraphs.

    The authors belief that passion is a shared part of the human condition is clearly evident. Not only that but she uses this shared passion as the basis for a pathos based argument, drawing us in and making us believe that what Aslan has to say must be important to us all.

    While her own voice could be stronger the argument that passion is an important theme in Beyond Fundamentalism will not easily be refuted.

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