Looking at fundamentalism as a product of Islam seems to me a serious error for two main reasons. Firstly, it empowers the fundamentalists even more, as it validates their interpretation of Islam, while to weaken them one needs to invalidate their arguments and strip them of Islam as a pretext.
The second reason why we should not see fundamentalism as a product of Islam is that it hinders the study of how fundamentalist discourse is used for indoctrination. That is to say, fundamentalist streaks have always existed in all religions, but the question facing us today is why the Islamic fundamentalist discourse is holding ever greater sway over a certain number of young people?
A speech holds sway when it makes sense and when we study this type of discourse, we realize how closely it resembles cult speeches. The Islamic fundamentalist speech uses religion to separate the young from others, all others. He is at first cut off from non-believers, then from other believers, then from other Muslims, and finally from his social milieu and his family.
It offers the young man a tantalizing alternative to his current situation: young people who feel they have no place in society are given the possibility to feel themselves superior to all others. He is told that despite his apparently hopeless status, he is in fact elected, he is superior, superior to the Americans, to the Europeans, to the Arabs even; he is above everyone else, which is why he feels he has no place in society. This means, of course, that the young person who feels he has a Moroccan or Algerian identity, or who feels he is from Marseilles, is protected from the influence of the fundamentalist discourse.
The extremists hold sway over those who have grown up in memory holes. As Primo Levi said, "He who has no memory has no future." This could be applied to these young persons, who have grown up with interlocutors who have contributed to these memory holes.
Extremists explore and exploit these memory holes by giving the impression to the young if they join these groups, they will be the elite. The fundamentalist speech redefines the relationship of the young to himself and others. Like all other ideologies of rupture, it is based on an exaltation of the group: the leader, the guru indoctrinates his small group, accentuating their differences with those outside, exaggerating the similarities among members of the group. He tells his young followers that what they are feeling is not personal, but shared by all Muslims. Step by step, the contours of identity of the young person become blurred. The "I" becomes "we", and the young person no longer thinks for himself, no longer feels for himself. Little by little, the fundamentalist discourse tells the young recruit that the whole world is opposed to the idea that Muslims enjoy equality, because the world knows that Islam has the truth.
The next step is to tell the young recruit that because we own the truth, we must save the world and eliminate all those who want to prevent us from imposing this truth. It is therefore this relationship to the truth that sets off the relationship to violence. Add to this, of course, the conspiracy theory and you have a young man totally distrustful of all that surrounds him.
This process is exactly the opposite of the path that a believer would take. A believer, whatever his or her religion, knows that he or she does not own the truth. A believer, particularly a Muslim one, knows that only God is omniscient, that a human being does not know much, and that he could only be enriched by other world views, the world views of those who do not believe in God, the world views of Jews and Christians, to expand his angle of perception. It is thanks to other world views that he will understand better what his own religious texts tell him and help him comprehend, for example, new dimensions of the Koran.
Islamic fundamentalism works in reverse. It claims to own the truth, and it does not submit to God. In fact, it arrogates to itself the authority of God and places itself above other human beings. Ultimately, the fundamentalists want to take the place of God.
Ms. Dounia Bouzar is a French anthropologist of Algerian origin and Moroccan origin. She converted to Islam in 1991 and was appointed to serve on the principal organization for French Muslims, the CFCM, from which she later resigned. She is the author of several books, including "French and Muslim at once" and "Being Muslim Today".