Chris Hedges brings his anti-fundamentalist diatribe to an end with these words (well, almost to an end):
There is no linear movement in history. Morality and ethics are static. Human nature does not change. Barbarism is part of the human condition and we can all succumb to its basest dimensions. This is the tragedy of history.
Which makes him part of the problem. However, this is not altogether true to the central message of his article. What he really means is that “barbarism is a part of the human condition and we will all succumb to its basest dimensions.” It is a growing conviction. When I first read John Gray’s Straw Dogs I thought it was one of those one-off sorts of things. Surely, I thought, Straw Dogs has not given expression to a wide-spread cultural mood. Yet every now and then I hear the same pessimistic conclusions being advanced as serious contributions to the human conversation. There is no further to go towards enlightenment or truth. We are simply doomed to go on forever dreaming dreams, and imagining that things could get better, that freedom could be extended to more people, peace could actually break out, and we would no longer need to think in terms of the inevitability poverty, famine, war and all their horrors.
In Straw Dogs, John Gray says this:
Modern humanism is the faith that through science humankind can know the truth — and so be free. But if Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true this is impossible. The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. 
As Chris Hedges says, history is not linear, and morality is static. Things will never get better, and to think otherwise is to be a fundamentalist, one of those poor sods who actually thinks that thinking and the search for truth can make a difference.
There was almost certainly someone who would take this message from Anders Behring Breivik’s rampage in Norway. It’s interesting (to me, anyway), and apparently uncharacteristic, but when I heard the news from Norway, the idea that it was an attack by Muslims never entered my head. I thought at the time, and still think so now, that the madness did not bear the hallmarks of the Islamic militant. But when it turned out to be the lunacy of an apparently fundamentalist Christian, it was clear that many commentators would immediately point out that, as they had been saying all along, Islam is not really the problem, and all people’s anxieties about “Islamification” are overblown if not hysterical.
Chris Hedges does not disappoint:
The gravest threat we face from terrorism, as the killings in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik underscore, comes not from the Islamic world but the radical Christian right and the secular fundamentalists who propagate the bigoted, hateful caricatures of observant Muslims and those defined as our internal enemies.
‘Secular fundamentalists’ shows such a nice light touch, a nuanced appreciation of the threats that face us, but how did Hedges get there from Anders Breivik? Well, of course, straight through the writings of Sam Harris with references to other “fundamentalist atheists” thrown in for good measure. Now, it seems to me that Harris did, in The End of Faith, give a number of hostages to fortune. Nothing was really gained by pondering over the morality of torture or the possibilities of nuclear first strikes; but it was at least couched in terms that should have prevented the misinterpretation that Chris Hedges imposes upon such ponderings. But, I suppose, Harris could scarcely have been prepared for the ravings of a fundamentalist pessimist.
However, why should the actions of one madman suddenly make us think that the madness of radical Islam is not a threat to us? It is a threat to Muslims in Britain, as Maryam Namazie pointed out, only last week, in her speech at the House of Commons, and an especially serious threat to women, where the misogyny of Islam has been given free rein in the establishment of Sharia courts which claim legal jurisdiction over family matters. It is a threat when completely isolated, monoethnic communities, where democracy is not encouraged or practiced, grow up in the midst of democratic jurisdictions. This sort of Islamification, where the misogynistic, patriarchal customs and norms of Islam are permitted to govern and limit the freedoms of so many in countries where those freedoms are founding values, is a danger to freedom and equality, and should be seen to be so. And Anders Breivik’s obscene violence and crazy manifesto should not be allowed to distract us from this.
Religion deprives people of freedom, but some religions limit freedom more than others. Any absolute, comprehensive ideology does so; nor does such limitation of freedom end at the boundaries of such religious ideologies. Roman Catholicism, for instance, is not content to rule on such things as abortion, birth control, homosexuality, assisted dying, and divorce only for its members. No, it seeks to extend its will to society as a whole. Islam is the same. It may seem, as we watch monocultural Muslim communities grow in our midst, that everyone should have a right to live in the way that seems best to them. However, quite aside from the fact that, within such communities, intense pressure is applied to people not to depart from communal norms, it is exceedingly doubtful that the pressure to conform will end there. As was seen recently in Britain, radical Muslims in Muslim majority areas of the country are demanding that Sharia law be applied to those who live there. Of course, some of the popular dailies, like the Daily Mail, have exaggerated the significance of these local movements, but to say that they have no significance, and that the introduction of large monocultural Muslim communities in the midst of free societies pose no danger at all to the public good, is simply wishful thinking.
Yet this is the conclusion that too many people are drawing from the Breivik atrocities. Because one madman confusedly expresses his extremism, and acts upon it, the unwarranted conclusion is drawn that Islam — and by extension, all other religions – pose no danger to free societies. Based on this unjustified conclusion, Chris Hedges would seem to be right, we do “live in a fundamentalist culture.” And Chris Hedges is one of them. Instead of making a thoughtful response to Anders Breivik’s madness, he writes like a fundamentalist, purporting to find the enemies of freedom and reason amongst those who value freedom and reason, and calling them fundamentalists, because they insist that judgement should be based on reason and evidence. This is reactionary religion talking. and religion does now pose an increased threat to the freedoms that have been won over the last few centuries, a long, winding road towards greater respect for human beings and their rights. The struggle is not over, and never will be, for Hedges is right about one thing — and possibly only this one — that human beings are given to over-simplification and egotism. We are, as Christopher Hitchens reminds us again and again, primates, and the tenuousness of our hold on reality is often singularly in evidence.
The conclusion to draw from all this is not that there can be no progress, but that the fruits of progress are very fragile, and the outcome is never certain. As John Gray says — and this is doubtless true: “Truth has no systematic evolutionary advantage over error.” (Straw Dogs, 27) Of course, it is hard to know what Gray means by ‘truth’, but at the moment the irrationalities of religion, and their confident distortions of what we know about ourselves and the world, seems about to engulf us once more, and reverse the trend towards greater freedom and respect for human rights. The religious, of course, do not see their beliefs as either irrational or mad, however loopy they may seem to outsiders; they pine for the day when power can be torn from the grasp of reason, and gods will rule again. Staving off that dark age is the responsibility of all those who strive to think clearly and rationally about the world, and we should not be misled by one act of faux-religious madness into thinking that religion is not a threat to us.