Southern Evangelicalism, Arabic Islam and the power of religious communities over individuals

Reading up on alcohol Prohibition, I was struck by the fact that it was mainly a Protestant affair. Support for it was strongest in the US Bible Belt and still is. In Canada, the province where there was the least support for it was Catholic Quebec and in Europe, it was mainly in Scandinavia. Even today, tight control over alcohol is more common in Protestant-majority areas. The only major world areas where you have at least as much suppression of alcohol is Muslim countries, especially Arabic ones not colonized by formely Catholic/always drinky France.

Then it also hit me that both the US South and Arab countries have what’s known as “honor culture” which should perhaps rightly be called “intimidation culture” of which prison and criminal gangs are exemplary microcosms.

On many issues, US Evangelical whites and Muslim Arabs stand together against a modern world that increasingly sees them as backwards. What I saw of Jihadis, especially ISIS ones in Syria, made me think of them as Muslim rednecks. The Jihadi combination of religion with terrorism is reminiscent of the KKK’s combination of religious iconography with the terrorism they chiefly inflicted on blacks.

Maybe it’s all random coincidences I’m seeing as meaningful patterns. How much can we draw parallels between the two cultures?

Relatedly, both Southern Evangelicalism and Arabic Islam seem pretty keen to have the State impose many rigid rules about how everyone should conduct their own lives. Many Catholics might think that alcoholism is a terrible thing and that we should keep alcohol consumption low but they would balk at the idea of using criminal penalties to stop people from having a cocktail at a bar or a glass of wine at home. As a further example, the effort to suppress dancing, “bad influence music” and anything-but-married-vanilla-sexuality-in-media is characteristic of Southern Evangelicalism and Arabic Islam.

They are the biggest present examples of this political philosophy but not the only ones. The Puritans also wanted to establish a shining city upon a hill where conformity to extensive communal restrictions trumped individual choice down to details. You can see the same attempt in Hasidic Judaism, the Amish and the Mormons. It would be hyperbole to call it “totalitarian” and “theocratic” but it’s not compatible with liberal democracy and human rights either.

My hypothesis is that they’re tribalistic, inward-looking, ossifying reactions to religious/ethnic diversification and the unsettling questions raised by the Enlightenment. For example, the Amish and Hasidic Jews want to preserve their ways as they were when they were founded although I’m not sure what’s particularly Jewish or Christian about Europe in the 18th century; It has the fairly ridiculous effect of Hasidic Jews walking around Israel during summer while dressed in full length black coats and fur hats because… being dressed for Northern Europe is more Jewish than being dressed for the Middle East?

I agree with most of what you say; I object only to calling them honor cultures. These arise in areas of government breakdown when people are forced to defend their own. The honor cultures of, e.g., WVA (Hatfield and McCoy) are among people descended from the English/Scottish border counties not under control of either country. You see it among rum-runners during prohibition, drug dealers today, gambling syndicates, prisons, any place where the government cannot (or will not) get involved because the entire activity is illegal or, in the case of prisons, the government has abdicated its responsibility and, anyway, they deserve what they get.

I don’t think it’s necessarily so much about totalitarianism as it is a desire for religious purity and the keep a society free of “immoral contamination.” Sure, totalitarianism usually arises a necessary offshoot of that mentality, but the primary motive is to keep things pure inside and to keep the dirty out.

You are absolutely right.

The Arab world used to be among the most advanced in the world. Then they got surpassed by Europe. By 1800, Arabs were reduced to purchasing Europe’s second-hand equipment and were getting stomped on the battlefield. At the extreme macro level, the Arab / Muslim world has generally failed to keep pace with the rest of human civilization and is now in a subordinate position. Their only real value to the rest of the world is their oil. They have made absolutely no social or political innovations, no military achievements, and nothing in art or literature of interest to Westerners.

There are a few reasons for this which have been much debated. Partly it is owed to the diversity of life in Europe, the geography of the Middle East, and increasingly unfavorable climate. Partly it is due to the failure of the Arab world to cohere into Supra-tribal or Supra-National entities. And partly it’s a failure of education.

The bottom line is that the Arab / Islamic world has two choices: They could evolve into new structures that are capable of competing with the modern world, or they could increasingly double-down on rejecting the modern world and invoking fanaticism as a panacea.

Southeast Asia had a similar choice. Places like China, Japan, and Korea were extremely backwards and often resource poor. After WW2, Japan and Korea modernized and instituted reforms, and turned themselves into industrial powers. China has since done the same. The difference is that these societies valued education, conformity, and top-down hierarchy. Most of the Arab world does not. Middle Eastern countries are often divided into tribal structures that reject outside or top-down government control and resist the authority of the state. Some Arab countries have adopted modern, European lifestyles but most have not. Most people, asked to admit that their society and religion has failed, have doubled down on religion and fanaticism. They reject the modern world as evil and thereby retain their honor and self-respect (at least, according to their own standards.)

Of course, all of this is cyclical and we see the same jihadist violence and waves of fanaticism at other points when the modern world has rubbed up against the Arab traditionalist world. Anyway, I agree 100%. Both groups are largely composed of luddites and imbeciles who are social and religious dinosaurs, and would rather throw a temper tantrum than adapt to the modern world.

Interesting comparison. But you need to distinguish those groups who want to push their moral rules on everyone from those who want to push them on on their members. Prohibition is a case of the former, I agree, but Amish restrictions are a case of the latter. Some groups do both. Mormons seem to be okay with other people drinking (it’s not hard to get a drink in SLC) but did have a big problem with SSM for anyone.

Alcohol is probably irrelevant to this. Anti-alcohol fervor in the US was largely driven by a combination of the women’s rights movement and xenophobia. Catholics weren’t involved partly because Catholics have never particularly cared about alcohol, but more accurately, they were the actual target of the later temperance movement.

I think that you also are looking at it from your own subjective point of view. Both groups would likely say that they are not all that interested in using the government to project their will so much as they are a reaction against various governments imposing its will upon them. Especially in the case of Evangelicals who probably would bristle at the idea of a “Christian Caliphate” as it were.

Alcohol is actually a required element in Catholic worship, so I don’t think it’s fair to say that “Catholics have never particularly cared about alcohol”.

No, what senoy meant is that Catholics are cool with alcohol and were not at the center of the prohibition movement. They didn’t make a big stink about it.

I meant in the sense that they have never cared about the practice of banning alcohol. Catholics have been drinking since the beginning. The Temperance movement in the south was largely based on the fact that recent immigrants were from Catholic countries and drank, so it fed off of fears of these intemperate newcomers.

Got it, thanks!

There was definitely an element of that in the US but alcohol is relevant. It wasn’t just anti-Catholicism and opposition to Catholic immigrants, otherwise there wouldn’t have been prohibition or very tight restrictions on alcohol in Scandinavia and Canada.

The Taliban can justify blowing up statues of Buddha, the ayatollahs can justify stoning adulterers, the Saudis can justify lashes for immodest dress and evangelicals can justify criminalizing homosexual sex any way they want, it’s nothing but gas-lighting.

and then they’d keep talking about how the US should go back to being a Christian country.

Correct, as I said it was a combination of the women’s rights movement and intolerance. In the north, it was the women’s rights movement that dominated the temperance movement and in fact started it. There was a belief within the women’s movement that alcohol was harmful to families and just as importantly, saloons/bars/beer-gardens provided male-only spaces that served to concentrate power in the hands of men. The women’s movement throughout the world was really the driver of the temperance movement.

That denies the history of these movements. For instance, if we look at the Taliban, it didn’t arise from some sort of need to implement repression on a free people. It came from the jihadi movement that was a reaction against the Soviet backed overthrow of the Shah in 1973 and the subsequent turmoil after the assassination of the horse they were backing by the PDPA. The west encouraged religious extremism as a bond to recruit mujahadeen. The Taliban as a subset of that group arose due to Pakistan recruiting mujahadeen in Kandahar to set up a faction to pacify the Pakistani border regions. It was a reaction to decades of instability and sure, that led to religious repression, but to pretend that it was a bunch of people who just wanted to inflict their will and oppress people is a misreading of history. It was a movement of the oppressed that reacted against what it saw as the forces that caused the oppression.

We can see a similar narrative in the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was literally exactly what I said, “a reaction against government imposing its will on them” In this case, the Shah was a totalitarian who was violently suppressing the religion on the people in order to turn them into a Western, secular state. The Islamic Revolution was a reaction against this oppression. The fact that it later became oppressive itself is not particularly a surprise, but neither should we ignore that it wasn’t the Ayatollahs that started it and that they enjoyed widespread popular support in the aftermath of the Revolution.

This is typical of groups that feel marginalized. They appeal to what they see as an earlier more-just time before the arrival of the oppressor in whatever form it takes. You see it for instance in the Black Power movement of the 1970s with its idealization of African culture and rejection of what it sees as the dominant oppressive culture. You see it with the Hindu nationalist movements prior to Independence and their rejection of Anglicization. You can see it with the various African Independence movements overthrowing colonial regimes. It’s fairly common among marginalized groups to appeal to these narratives of earlier times when things were better. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that if Evangelicals feel marginalized that they would appeal to a previous mythical time of justice.

You can provide background understanding as much as you like and that may indeed be important but the statement you made was:

Alright, both groups would say that. And other governments imposing their will on those groups has indeed happened and was an impetus for the popularity of those groups. Now, remember the statement in the quote “they are not all that interested in using the government to project their will”.

You say I am looking it it from my own subjective point of view. Alright, so let’s not make it about subjective points of views.

Are they or are they not trying to use the government to project their will in the way I described in the OP?

More generally, you can usually find some reason why an individual or a group is messed up or acting destructively. Russians were rolled over by the Mongols and have poor lands. The Germans got treated too harshly by the Treaty of Versailles. Ted Bundy had a messed up family. A rapist whose police interrogation I saw hated women because his mother wouldn’t protect him against his violent father. All of which are true and would be relevant to prevent more of the same but change nothing to the destructiveness of their behavior. Especially when you consider all the other individuals and groups who also got a bad deal and yet managed not to enter a self-destructive spiral that was a threat to others.

Sure, but that’s the basis of government. ALL government uses its power to impose its will on others. That’s pretty much the only reason it exists. A government that didn’t impose its will on the people would be a lack of government. So the question becomes why these groups want access to the government and the reason is generally because they feel marginalized or oppressed (whether they actually are or not is a matter of debate, but they feel that way.) The OP seems to imply that simply wanting to impose rules is a human rights violation that violates democratic principles, when in fact it’s the way that every government on earth functions.

Right, and when forming a society if you believe that alcohol, fornication, and/or homosexuality are net negatives for society or believe that these activities are immoral and cause ill effects in the community, it is not necessarily oppressive to outlaw these things or to discourage things which promote them.

If the objection to these laws is that these are things that I really want to do, then every government is oppressive. If the objection is that these type of morality laws are not proper in a modern society, then that is what we have a democracy for: to change these laws to reflect modern sensibilities.

If you are arguing that fornicating and alcohol consumption are basic human rights, then that belief must stem from something other than your own personal views, lest anything be simply decreed to be such a basic right. Throughout history sex has been regulated in societies and typically channelled into heterosexual marriage because of child rearing purposes. If today a majority decides that is antiquated and that the law should be that whatever consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedroom should be permitted, then that is fine to change our laws to reflect that new understanding. But that new understanding does not transform into a basic human right by decree.

Only if you read it while really wanting to come away with that reading.

The OP doesn’t merely talk about imposing rules (that’s the paraphrasing you used). It more specifically says:

" have the State impose many rigid rules about how everyone should conduct their own lives. Many Catholics might think that alcoholism is a terrible thing and that we should keep alcohol consumption low but they would balk at the idea of using criminal penalties to stop people from having a cocktail at a bar or a glass of wine at home."

“the effort to suppress dancing, “bad influence music” and anything-but-married-vanilla-sexuality-in-media”

“conformity to extensive communal restrictions trumped individual choice down to details”

“You can see the same attempt in Hasidic Judaism, the Amish and the Mormons”

No, the OP doesn’t imply that simply wanting to impose rules is a human rights violation that violates democratic principles, it’s the all-encompassing, down-to-cult-living-details that goes too far. That’s you wanting to read it that way so you can talk about about bastards feeling victimized.

The ancestors of Trump voters felt marginalized and oppressed when Northern troops stopped them from owning slaves. They felt marginalized and oppressed when they couldn’t lynch a black man for looking at a white woman. They felt marginalized and victimized when they had to stop putting homosexuals in prison. There are people who are always going to feel marginalized and victimized and use that as a pretext to be shitty to other people, even if they’re rich and powerful, like a billionaire who gets elected President.

I’ve lived in the South my entire life, and I know a lot of evangelicals. Comparing them to Jihadis from the Middle East or Islamists is more than a stretch. You would have had a point 50 to 100 years ago. But things have changed in the South, and even within evangelical churches. It’s not the backward place it was decades ago.

White Southern Evangelicals would be equivalent to Arab Muslims rather than Jihadis and Islamists. The equivalent of Islamists would be the Moral Majority, Liberty University, Pat Robertson and the like. The equivalent of Jihadis would be Timothy McVeigh, abortion clinic bombers, black church shooters and all the militias eager to rise again. Admittedly, the Jihadi-like element has been quieter since the fall of the KKK. It’s like Russian dolls that get gradually worse.

Turkey and Jordan seem to be doing ok (with big caveats since it’s still the Middle East). In the case of Turkey, it’s at least partly because they got a mix of Washington and Robespierre in the person of Ataturk. For Jordan, I’m not sure but it’s not because Jordan is in a particularly advantageous geographic position or wasn’t subjugated by outside powers.
Arab - Asian comparison: One thing that struck me was the contrast between the defensive preparations of the Vietcong vs Bin Laden’s compound. Ordinary Vietnamese peasants would extensively prepare booby-traps, sniping positions and tunnels. Imagine if Bin Laden had bothered to carve some concealed firing or grenade-dropping ports to the exterior and lower level. It would have forced US soldiers to proceed more cautiously and Bin Laden might have had a chance to take a tunnel to some nearby house or exit. Just hiding in a tunnel for a while might have been good enough because clearing a tunnel could take more time than US soldiers had before they had to leave. It’s like his plan in case of being attacked was “Inshallah”.

No. I’m doing my damnedest to stay out of this thread, but this phrase really bugs me. ‘Arab Muslim’ if it is equivalent to anything is closer to ‘English-speaking Christian’ or in other words it is so broad as to be virtually meaningless. It includes everything from cultural Muslims who are happy to meet you down at the bar for a drink after work, to whackadoo Salafist jihadis and everyone in between.