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Fundamentalism and Violent Extremism

By Vexen Crabtree 2016

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Polytheistic religions such as Hinduism are naturally more inclusive towards others' beliefs and practices and this bears out in international statistics, and is an argument seized upon by Hindus to argue that their religion does not have a problem with extremism1. Indeed it tends to get ignored by the Western press and Hindu fundamentalism is simply "less well known than Christian or Muslim fundamentalism"2. But over the last few decades Hindu revivalism in India has shown fundamentalist tendencies3. "Some among India's Hindu nationalist reformers have also insisted on the need to establish a nation-state grounded on Hindutva, or 'Hinduness', presented as the authentic culture of the majority"4 and "Hindu nationalists have at times taken violent action against Muslims and Christian missionaries, in defiance of official state policies"5. For example in India an Islamic mosque called Babri Masjid (mosque of Babur) was built in the town of Ayodhya in the 16th century. That town is also said to be the birthplace of Lord Rama, an incarnation of the great god Vishnu. In 1949, Hindu activists sneakily placed an image of Rama inside the Mosque. This caused communal rioting between Hindus and Muslims which resulted in deaths. Various compromises (including allowing Hindus to worship in the mosque once a year) all broke down. Hindu activists campaigned in 1989 to build a new Temple at the site which attracted support and donations from all over India, and in 1992 they forcefully destroyed the mosque. Riots erupted in various cities as Muslims protested. Thousands of Muslims lost their lives in a very one-sided series of mob fights. What was demonstrated wasn't just that one group of activists can be violent, but, that inter-religious struggles are almost automatic flashpoints of general upset and aggression across the country.6

Hinduism ... in recent decades has ... come to be mobilized in ways incompatible with human rights. [...] Hinduism has been mobilized by right-wing nationalists, under the label of Hindutva (Hinduness), exacerbating the recurrently violent communal struggles between Muslims and Hindus.

"Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice" by Jack Donnelly (2013)7

One author argues "that Hindu fundamentalists have had more political success than most others because they were able to put their leaders into government in the period 1999 to 2004" and points out particular bodies responsible for encouraging the discord, "the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), and certain key individuals, especially ideologues like M. S. Golwalkar (1906-1973) and Deendayal Upadhyay (1916-1968)"2. Recent years have seen this trend continue. When a 2007 Indian film was released covering incidences of communal riot, it wasn't shown in one state (Gujarat) for fear of retaliation by Hindu activists8. Take, for example, an incident in 2015 that saw a mob of 1,000 Hindus attack a small family of Muslims in India: A rumour had broken out that a cow had been slaughtered. Vigilantes from Save the Cow prompted a mob to appear on site, and proceeded to, amongst themselves, blame a nearby Muslim family (no slaughtered cow was found). They appeared at the house, where the family were sleeping, and beat the husband to death and left his boy in critical condition in hospital. The press got involved and Save the Cow explained their religious duty as Hindus to protect cows, which are sacred. A local politician from the Bharatiya Janata Party, Lakshmikant Bajpayee, defended the mob saying that there had a been a failure of local police to respond to the rumour adequately9. The issues are (1) that the slaughter of a cow - even if it had actually happened - is none of the business of local Hindus. It doesn't matter that they consider it sacred - other people do not. And (2), they should not be trying to force others to follow their own superstitions. Likewise, politicians should not be encouraging them - they should be representing all citizens including those with non-Hindu beliefs. Entire communities and cultures are being negatively affected by religious nonsense. Jack Donnelly in "Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice" (2013) highlighted that Hindu extremism has become "an impediment to the exercise and enjoyment of internationally recognized human rights"7

Extremism in World Religions10

Current edition: 2016 Apr 1311
Originally published 2015 Nov 08
Parent page: Hinduism

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References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See for some commentary on this source..

Antoun, Richard T.. (1932-2009). Professor of anthropology at the State University of New York at Binghamton (USA).
(2001) Understanding Fundamentalism. Subtitled: "Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Movements". Published by AltaMira Press, Lanham, MD, USA, a division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Brass, Paul R.
(2003) The Production of Hindu Muslim Violence in Contemporary India. Published by University of Washington Press, Seattle, USA.

Brekke, Torkel. Professor of religious history. University of Oslo.
(2012) Fundamentalism. Subtitled: "Prophecy and Protest in the Age of Globalization". Published by Cambridge University Press, UK.

Clarke, Peter B.. Peter B. Clarke: Professor Emeritus of the History and Sociology of Religion, King's College, University of London, and currently Professor in the Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford, UK.
(2011) The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion. Paperback book. Originally published 2009. Current version published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Donnelly, Jack
(2013) Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. 3rd edition. Published by Cornell University Press.

Hefner, Robert W.
(2011) Religion and Modernity Worldwide. This essay is chapter 8 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages 152-171).

Ruthven, Malise
(2007) Fundamentalism. Originally published 2005. Current version published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. New edition now published as part of the “Very Short Introduction” series.

Wright, Theodore P.
(2001) "The Muslim Minority Before and After Ayodhya". In Arvind Sharma (ed.), Hinduism and Secularism after Ayodhya, 1-24. Published by Palgrave, New York, USA.


  1. The Economist (2007 Nov 03) A special report on religion and public life p14.^
  2. Brekke (2012) p10.^
  3. Antoun (2001) p2.^
  4. Heffner (2011) .^
  5. Heffner (2011) cites Brass (2003) and Wright (2001).^
  6. Ruthven (2007) ch.6 "Fundamentalism and Nationalism II" p21, 104, 111.^
  7. Donnelly (2013) p157.^
  8. The Times of India article "Parzania not screened in Gujarat" (2007 Jan 26), accessed 2016 Apr 13.^
  9. The Hindu mob attack reported in NYTimes 2015 Oct 04.^
  10. Added to this page on 2017 Feb 27.^
  11. 2016 Apr 13: Text extracted from my page on Fundamentalism, and expanded to form its own page here.^

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