Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 243 | Octubre 2001



Fundamentalism, Exclusion, Identity and Annihilation

We can find fundamentalism, or fundamentalist characteristics, in Nicaragua’s youth gangs, some of its rearmed groups and its Evangelical sects. We can also find it in the expressions of our political culture.

José Luis Rocha

Fundamentalism has existed in all parts of the world throughout humanity’s long and stormy history. It is not the exclusive patrimony of any religious, political or military group, nor is it confined to certain places. All regions and ages have proved fertile for its cultivation, although undoubtedly certain eras provided more suitable socio-cultural conditions, made it explode with greater virulence and led it to assume a more destructive, more warlike nature.

Fundamentalism is fueled by two of the greatest human passions: war and religion. Its project, which has been repeated millions of times over, is the holocaust of concrete human beings on the altar of the great "ideals": Catholicism, Islamism, the Reformation, the Counterreformation, the Republic, the Monarchy, Communism, National Liberation, Democracy, Globalization. It has been driven by a dichotomizing mania in which everything is seen as black and white, good or evil. Its method is the hermeneutics of the simpleton, the literal interpretation of texts revealed by the gods, the words of a leader, the sharp remarks of a tyrant and the drunkenness of power.

In search of a definition

In the absence of any good dictionary definition of fundamentalism, Scottish philosopher David Hume’s thoughts on superstition and enthusiasm, written in the mid-18th century, provide a useful starting point: "The mind of man finds itself subject to certain unjustified resentments and apprehensions, born out of the situation of public or private affairs, bad health, a solemn and melancholy disposition or the concurrence of all these circumstances. In such a state of mind, infinite unknown evils are feared from unknown agents; and when there are no real objects to be scared by, the soul, drawing on its prejudices and following its dominant inclinations, finds imaginary ones of unlimited strength and evilness. It engenders the most extreme resolutions, particularly when elevated to heights capable of inspiring in the wayward fanatic the belief he is illuminated by the Divinity and contempt for the common rules of reason, morality and prudence, producing the cruelest disorders in human society."
Of course, concrete examples of these unknown enemies to whom "unlimited evil" is attributed are sought out, and that is where a scatterbrained malaise ignorant of the nature of its causes takes an aggressive turn. From this perspective, those illuminated by divinity, or by any other great cause, seek to subject the demonized object by any means at their disposal. Although fundamentalism—particularly religious fundamentalism—has existed throughout human history, social scientists are pointing out that at the turn of the millennium it has been shown to provide a surprisingly strong and influential source of identity. Fundamentalist social groups have sprung up across the planet, their common denominator being their capacity to generate identity. That is, in fact, what gives them such drawing power. Before going on to identify and describe some of today’s fundamentalisms right here, let’s take a quick look at those of elsewhere in the past.

A precursor of Osama bin Laden

In the year 1090 a new extremist group emerged from Ismailism and was added to the 72 Muslim sects that existed at the start of the 11th century. Its founder was Hasan bin Al-Sabbah, known as the "Old Man of the Mountain" because he had established his group 150 kilometers northwest of Tehran in an inaccessible mountainous zone. Born in Persia—today Iran—in 1034, this businessman, scholar, heretic, mystic, ascetic and revolutionary was soon surrounded by numerous fanatics ready to sacrifice their lives to carry out his orders, certain that dying for the glory of Allah would earn them a place in paradise.

Their willingness to sacrifice their lives to fulfill their mission made them extraordinarily effective in eliminating kings, sultans, caliphs and generals opposed to Hasan. As the Old Man of the Mountain gained the loyalty of his followers by making them smoke hashish, they earned the name "hashshashin," which is the origin of the word "assassin." Despite harassment by both Moors and Christians, this sect survived for over two centuries until 1273, which proves that even the smallest fundamentalist groups have an extraordinary capacity for survival.

A very interesting parallel can be drawn between the lives of Hasan bin Al-Sabbah and Osama bin Laden, one of them hidden away in the mountains of 11th century Persia and the other in the mountains of 21st century Afghanistan. Both underwent a religious conversion, organized widespread political activity in various countries, came from wealthy families, received a good education, applied the Koran with fundamentalist rigor, became famous as a terrorist, surrounded themselves with many followers willing to sacrifice themselves to fulfill their mission and fought against the empires of their particular times. Both also led groups of a religious, political and military nature that were willing to eliminate "infidels" who did not respect the customs, territories and ideals of their devotion.

The crusades of Pope Urban and Bush Jr.
divided by 900 years of violence

So that we Westerners don’t feel so superior, let’s also take a quick look at the activities our ancestors were getting up to during the same period. Hasan’s sect coincided in both time and area with the activity of another, no less euphoric group of fundamentalists. On November 27, 1095, just five years after the emergence of the Old Man of the Mountain’s sect, Pope Urban II called on all good Christians to go to Jerusalem and liberate the empty tomb of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It is said that even groups of bandits came down from their hideouts and set out on the road to Jerusalem, with the cross sewn as a badge onto the shoulder of their clothing.

The First Crusade lasted three years and resulted in the conquest of Nicacea, Antioch and Jerusalem and the death of thousands of Christians and Muslims. In the first two months alone, before the crusade had even passed Sofia in what is now Bulgaria, 13,000 Christians and many more "infidels" had already died. Praying to God and putting to the sword, the Christians advanced raping women, murdering children and eating them, sacking cities and sowing any towns and villages unlucky enough to stand in their way with corpses.

And as it was a question of finishing off infidels, they also attacked those closest at hand: the Jews. Those who could not make the armed pilgrimage to the Holy Land but didn’t want to miss out on the action undertook their own small domestic anti-Jewish crusades.

The crusades spanned two centuries of human history, coincidentally as long as Hasan’s sect lasted. As Hasan had sympathizers in various courts and cities on the routes taken by the crusaders, the latter undoubtedly clashed with Hasan’s followers on more than one occasion. Thus Christian and Islamic fundamentalists had the chance to cross swords and scimitars.

The crusades were called because the West was worried about the crumbling Greek Byzantine Empire, which had been forced to cut a deal with Seljuk Turks. The Seljuks, originally from Asia Minor, had converted to Islam and at the time of the crusades controlled a large area including most of what we now call Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. The divided caliphs had also ceded their power and the Persians preserved only religious control.

This Turkish domination was affecting trade. While petroleum had already been discovered, it was exploited for its medicinal properties and was not so hotly contested as it is today, but the region offered other attractions. Baghdad, whose university is the oldest in the world, was the center of a magnificent civilization. Muslin from Mosel in Iraq was highly sought after in Europe and the Seljuks were not facilitating its supply. In addition to these commercial interests, Pope Urban II calculated that the crusade would increase his legitimacy against an anti-Pope who was undermining his authority.

Of course most of those who set out on the adventure offered by the crusades were unmoved by such factors and were only responding to a general social malaise for which Pope Urban II had created such a wonderful safety valve. Disseminated through the communication media of the time, with church pulpits playing a prominent role, the call to conquer Jerusalem found an immediate market.

While the Pope called that particular crusade, the President of the United States announced the current one, as befits the times. The two proclamations are divided by over 900 years, but both are marked by the confrontation of two forms of fundamentalism. While the intention in the 11th century was to propagate the Catholic faith and conquer holy sites at sword point, we are now being convinced of the importance of imposing democracy and safeguarding "Western values" through aerial bombing raids.

Annihilating cultural biodiversity:
An allergic reaction to anyone different

Certain historians are predicting a future plagued by religious and ideological wars. Just like today’s crusaders, those of the past felt that the worst crimes were fully justified if one was fighting for a holy cause. And there are many causes to choose from in any ideological showcase: the defense of democracy, of Western culture, of a territory, of a national ideal, of faith…any faith. Such defenses bring together the idealists of the moment and life-long fanatics, those who always fight in the name of God or some momentous reference. And it is in the name of such macro-projects that real live men and women are sacrificed.

The fundamentalists of today as well as the past concentrate their energies on those elements that most reinforce their identity, keeping their movement united, building defenses around their borders and keeping others at arm’s length. The most important thing is to separate themselves, differentiate themselves and distance themselves to create and reinforce their identity. In fundamentalism, "others" are anathematized; those who are "different" will be kept increasingly at a distance. The next step is to punish those who are different, be they women claiming the right to decide about their lives, homosexuals, non-Catholics, non-Muslims or non-Christians. The different orthodoxies condemn ideas and behaviors that diverge from their own particular religious, sexual, moral and political norms. For this reason certain social scientists have concluded that it is impossible for fundamentalists to reason or resolve anything with people who do not share their submission to the same authority. Apart from powerful economic mechanisms, the ideological basis of such positions is fueled by a desire to annihilate cultural biodiversity, by an allergic reaction to anything different and a highly developed pathological feeling of threat from anything that is not the same.

Most fundamentalist beliefs see women as the most different of all. If "other" males are feared, distanced and destroyed in various ways, what treatment is reserved for "other" females? Women never participate in the leadership of fundamentalist movements. Polarization and weapons are masculine products, as are armies and wars. The champions of the mega-theories about how to sort out the world have always been and continue to be men. Human sacrifices, whether individual or massive such as wars, have always been carried out and continue to be carried out in the name of male divinities and the fundamentalisms have always been at the service of patriarchal culture. In the expansive race of fundamentalisms, women are always marginalized and passive and only survive if they assume their subjection.

The wide and distanced world
of our own fundamentalisms

We in Nicaragua have also engendered our own fundamentalisms, or at least introduced fundamentalist elements into political and social movements that generate identity and have great popular appeal. Some are more visible than others, some more obviously fundamentalist, but all seem to develop in a world removed from that of the average citizen. We are generally as ignorant of the social outrages as the Londoner described by Keynes on the eve of the First World War, who could pick up the phone and ask for different products from all over the world in the quantity he wanted while drinking his morning cup of tea in bed. He considered such a state of affairs to be normal, certain and permanent. The aims and policies of militarism and imperialism, racial and cultural rivalries, monopolies, restrictions and privileges, which should have appeared to be the serpent in his paradise, were little more than newspaper entertainment and appeared to exercise very little influence on the ordinary course of social and economic life. Just as the average US citizen was stunned when the Persian Gulf violence was suddenly transferred to New York, many middle- and upper-class Nicaraguans think that youth gangs only exist in the sensationalist pages of the dailies, that rearmed groups patrol remote forests and that Evangelical sects attract superstitious and naturally extravagant people. For citizens living in rural areas and marginalized neighborhoods, however, these are day-to-day realities that they just have to learn to live with. Group rivalries of a religious, political or military stripe are commonplace because belonging to such groups and cultivating such rivalries provide a sense of identity to many members of the community. Catalan sociologist Manuel Castells describes the origin and nature of such movements this way: "People resist the process of individualization and social atomization and tend to group into territorial organizations that with time generate a feeling of belonging and in many cases ultimately a cultural and communal identity." This requires a social mobilization process in which the people discover common interests that produce meaning. "In many cases," explains Castells, "regardless of the movement’s explicit achievements, its very existence produces meaning, not only for those participating in the movement but also for the community in general."

Entrenched in the familiar
with a totally macho leadership

The failure of the political parties and great social movements to counteract economic exploitation, cultural domination and political oppression in Nicaragua has also left people with no other option but to give in or react, focusing on the most immediate source of self-recognition and autonomous organization: their locality. Globalization is placing the traditional world in crisis by imposing demands for which the social actors are unprepared. Localisms and micro-movements emerge as a reaction to people’s loss of control over their lives and surroundings. These multiple expressions follow the contours of each particular culture. In Nicaragua’s case, the failure of the Sandinista revolution has generated skepticism towards various manifestations of political power and their mega-proposals. According to Castells, "This explains the emergence of the production of meaning based on my neighborhood, my community, my city, my school, my peace, my surroundings. It is a defensive identity that seeks to entrench itself in the familiar to make it less vulnerable to the unknown and uncontrollable. Feeling defenseless against the global whirlwind, people closed in on themselves: what they had or what they were became their identity."
According to Castells, the construction of identities employs materials from history, geography, biology, productive and reproductive institutions, the collective memory, personal fantasies, the apparatus of power and religious revelations. But individuals, social groups and societies process all of these materials and rearrange them to form their own meaning, according to the social determinations and cultural projects implanted in their social structure and their spatial-temporal framework. Warmongering and political bossism, essentially macho features with a central place in Nicaraguan history, have been avidly swallowed, digested and assimilated by Nicaraguan fundamentalism. Macho leadership is evident in the different forms of fundamentalism, albeit in marginalized settings. The ideological make-up and leadership of the fundamentalist movements bears the unmistakable stamp of masculine domination.

Resistance: The excluded exclude the excluders

The form and origin of the construction of the fundamentalist movements’ identity described below is based on what Castells terms the "identity of resistance," which is generated by those social actors who find themselves devalued or stigmatized by the logic of domination. That is why they entrench for resistance and survival based on principles that are different than or opposed to those impregnating society’s institutions. In most cases, they are not by nature proposing change, but they do raise a flag opposed to that of legitimized power.

Nicaragua’s youth gangs, rearmed groups and Evangelical sects form trenches of resistance in the name of the neighborhood, revolutionary values and God. The identity of resistance is a way to build an identity that produces collective forms of resistance against oppression, which include ethnic nationalism, religious fundamentalism and territorial communities.

All these forms of resistance have been called "the exclusion of the excluders by the excluded." They are not reformist in nature, in fact they display and reinforce dominant elements of their cultural surroundings: male leadership, centralization of decisions, shameless oppression of women and the political and religious expression of ideological polarization. They are forms of organization focused on the micro level, with neighborhoods, parcels of land and the church representing spaces that must be defended because those are the only places the members feel real.

Youth gang fundamentalism:
Marginalization, enemies and tattoos

In youth gang fundamentalism, the gangs defend a micro area—the barrio—in an unconscious reaction against their rejection by the greater entity, or city. These young people are not included in the globalization process. They have no chance of entering the labor market or accessing the Internet and the many other mechanisms available to today’s youth. They can see what they are denied on television and their solution is to exclude the excluders. They turn their barrio into a no-go area for strangers and those who want to cross the territory have to pay a war tax. Anyone who goes through the barrio after a certain hour automatically becomes a declared enemy, a provocateur who is putting his or her life at risk. Anyone who does not belong to the neighborhood or who lives there but denounces gang members and obstructs the gang’s activities is considered "different."
The subjects of this fundamentalism are young people from marginalized neighborhoods who get into the youth gang scene. They’re bold, not scared of anything; they come on tough and put up with the roughness of gang militancy because they’re not wimps; they don’t miss a trick because they’re not asleep; and they are loyal to their friends because their code of ethics won’t allow them to be toads. It matters a lot what they are not, because it is how they distinguish themselves from "others." Building identity through contrast is evident in the many street terms gang members used to label and censure their enemies.

Gang members look to distinguish themselves from "healthy" kids or from vulgar thieves (tamales) and drug addicts who refuse to risk their necks in defense of the neighborhood. They can rob or get high, but such activities are not what mark them out as gang members. Defense of the barrio, on the other hand, is the genuine source of their gang identity, and distinguishes them even more from the gang members of other neighborhoods, their sworn enemies. It is only possible to be enemies with those who are equal in all senses except that they use a different sign. In this sense, tattoos are a way to reveal and reinforce the distinction between members of different gangs.
Indelibly etched into the skin, tattoos provide a lifetime distinction. Even when they change barrio, gang members carry with them the stigma of their past or continuing adhesion to a certain group. Reinserting themselves into ordinary life and passing themselves off as normal kids again is an aspiration monumentally undermined by the tattoos. Added to the physical mark is the record of their past activities carefully preserved and transmitted by the collective memory. This oral tradition, initially based around the members’ feats, imposes itself on them and builds them up. Yet it is an identity that imprisons them, a spider web they started spinning themselves but that ends up restricting certain movements. Gang members end up feeling trapped by an inescapable destiny, an historical determinism that confines them to a cultural prison.

Mega-fight for a micro-cause:
Dying for the barrio

Nicaragua’s marginalized barrios are the scene of bloody fights between young inhabitants. This is particularly true of the barrios in the capital city of Managua, which due to the macrocephaly typical of Latin American countries concentrates a fifth of the national population. Every single day the newspapers are full of reports of how young gang members cut each other’s stomach open, often accompanied by graphic photos. The barrio—often little more than one or two streets—becomes a kind of holy land to be blindly defended. Their fight is wholly focused around protecting their barrio. There is no need for a larger arena or a more sublime ideal. It is a mega-fight—a fight to the death—over a micro-cause—the barrio or street. Concrete individuals perish in defense of a micro-territory whose value is hyperinflated. This distortion of the real value of the object in dispute corresponds to the urgent need to create a recipient in which meaning can be placed. The barrio takes on a symbolic value that has little to do with its strategic or economic importance.

The barrio is an extension of the family because it is a space in which a new family is formed among peers to make up for the biological family affected by the context of social disintegration. "Brothers" and to an even greater extent "buddies"—a status that conveys a greater degree of identification—are the "equals" that make up this particular family. The barrio is vital because the street, that arena of secondary socialization, fulfills those functions traditionally reserved for the family. It offers a feeling of belonging, provides schooling and builds up relations of affiliation and brotherhood. The barrio is charged with meaning, which is why the greatest triumph is to destroy a house or scribble graffiti in an enemy’s territory, its barrio, which except for its gang sign is equal in every way. That’s why gang members from René Cisneros take on those from El Recreo and those from Hialeah fight it out with those from San Judas. Meanwhile, the Comemuertos scuffle with the Bloqueros and the Billareros tremble when the gang from Pablo Úbeda invades like a barbarian horde. Infallibly, rain stirs up the warlike frenzy. Every time a downpour hits and the barrios’ badly designed streets—devoid of almost any drainage—turn into uncontainable rivers, the gang members come out to celebrate a strange ritual involving rain and homemade mortar launchers. In Managua, the rain is knife-edged and the thunder the rumble of stones.

Gang members demonize the enemy, giving rival gangs the worst possible attributes. Dividing the world according to the Manichean division of good and evil, them and us, provides the license to kill. The totally evil deserve to die. Even when the gang member is influenced by the social censure against murder, a more vital law subject to no appeal negates this: it’s either him or me. Those with a different sign scratched into their skin are a constant threat to your own life and therefore have to be wiped out physically.

The gang members glean their ideological materials from various sources. At the beginning, they were taken from the experiences of the military service during the revolutionary 1980s. But as the generation of gang members who participated in the war has retired and been replaced by others, the gangs’ ideological pool had to be filled with other products, such as rap, violent Japanese cartoons, Holly- wood superheroes, cultural remittances (the transfer of ideas, habits and tastes from migrant Nicaraguans living in the United States), expanding political nihilism, skepticism toward the great causes, and an inclination to opt for today rather than place any hope in an uncertain future. All of these materials have been converted and placed at the service of a barrio fundamentalism that can ultimately lead to self-sacrifice in defense of the neighborhood.

They flirt with death and
reproduce the crassest machismo

Given that their enemies are equal in everything but their signs, all gang members are aware that a similar fate awaits them. They flirt with death in a kind of perpetual trial by ordeal that challenges the fates. The only transcendental thing that they venerate is death, which attracts them because it represents uncertainty about the future, negation of what is to come. In other words, it is the definitive realization of their present situation.

One source of security for them is the past, because it offers no uncertainty. In the past, the main influence was the mother, who often had to assume the role of both parents and is idealized to the extreme, her image even appearing in the tattoos. Gang members talk a lot about their mothers and regret the hurt they have caused them with their wayward lives. But if mothers are lavished with multiple positive attributes, barrio girls, the gang members’ contemporaries, are the bad girls of this particular movie. Gang members will claim, for example, that a girl’s snubbing of their amorous overture drove them to drugs, or classify them as loose, subject them to rape or obscene jokes. Gangs in Managua have no female members. Girls who regularly or occasionally hang out with them are "tramps," and are not treated with even minimal respect by their male friends. They are bed-fodder because they will sleep with anyone for a fix. A gang member who conquers a decent girl is after a trophy: her virginity. He then loses interest in her because once she’s been stripped of the attributes that the macho collective imagination demands of women "she’s ruined, not fit for anything." In this sense, gang members are loyal reproducers of the crudest kind of macho cultural package.

Leftover myths of Sandinista fundamentalism

Rearmed movements characterized and afflicted life in extensive rural areas of Nicaragua in the 1990s. The accelerated disarmament promoted by the Chamorro government in the early years of the decade was plagued by false promises to the two forces that had fought it out the decade before. This has left a monumental reserve of experts in the use of AK-47s, available to any leader with a minimal power of convocation and the capacity to identify the wounds that are generating discontent.

One of the most notable rearmed groups had singularly fundamentalist characteristics. The Andrés Castro United Front (FUAC) mainly operated in the mountains of the Mining Triangle (the municipalities of Siuna, Bonanza and Rosita) between 1995 and 2001. It attracted many followers, and not only because of any immediate benefits it might have offered, which were in fact uncertain and only obtainable at a high price. Rather it seemingly pressed all the right buttons about issues that were sensitive to the region’s peasant population. It evoked myths that represent an emotional horizon in the area.

These myths had been widely disseminated during the 1980s by Sandinista fundamentalism: the myth of the new man, of the guerrilla fighter who could transform society, of the sudden abolition of social injustices. Added to these was the myth of the "people," that sacred entity, capable of anything, all-knowing, all-deserving, a myth that in Wagner, Tolstoy and Sorel designated the whole community as they valued the people’s unlimited creativity and the social nature of any authentic act of creation. In the Mining Triangle, such myths did not need to be abstractly cooked into an ideology; people digested them raw. "We’re gunslingers here; the message of going to shoot off a few rounds proves very successful in these lands," admitted one former soldier deployed in the FUAC’s area of influence.

Armed heroes of a
micro-territory with no heroines

With a conception that was historically somewhat revolutionary—it did not seek to change the system but did seek to abruptly change certain conditions—the FUAC unleashed a struggle for the concession of new land and the legalization of land handed over during the Sandinista government’s agrarian reform. It also called for social and infrastructure improvements in the Mining Triangle, including highways, hospitals and improved wages, and even for improvements promised but not delivered by the Sandinista revolution. The FUAC’s project could be summed up as a desire to return to the paradise lost of revolutionary values. Although its struggle focused on a particular area, its message had high-flying pretensions. The means was the message: it is possible to be revolutionary in the 1990s by activating all the myths linked to guerrilla warfare.

This explains its opposition to both the FSLN and the army, to which many of its fighters had previously belonged. The FUAC saw the enriched members of both institutions, who had recycled themselves into entrepreneurs, as fulfilling Bertrand Russell’s law that rebels are destined to found new orthodoxies. The subject of this other form of Nicaraguan fundamentalism is therefore the revolutionary who embodies a foretaste of the new man. But not the new woman. Women were the great absentees in this particular struggle, except in their role of guaranteeing "the warrior’s rest." More striking still was that while the FUAC’s program contained many details about projects to be developed, women were again notably absent. Consequently, financing arrived for masculine activities and associations, such as a taxi cooperative, while the lands wrested from the government during the peace negotiations were assigned exclusively to men. The widows and mothers of guerrilla fighters were forgotten. They were not destined to become "new women." The FUAC’s paradise consisted of the same old already submissive women, who bore no signs of being the chosen ones.

For the FUAC there were no heroines, just heroes. And the hero was the social bandit who took on the role of revolutionary in a small territory and ended up achieving national fame. He sowed terror as a means of assertion, murdering those who were different—in this case counter-revolutionary. Again, enemies had to be demonized so that their heads could be cut off. Any political messianism that leads to a Manicheanism in which good is supposed to do away with evil ends up doing away with people designated as the evil ones, not through conversion but through murder. Real people over the centuries have had to die for revolutionary ideals, for the reinstatement of an original order that would lead to a society in which everyone has everything they need. The FUAC’s project therefore included a utopian arsenal, visions of Eden constrained by limited territorial dimensions. A utopia cut according to the times, in which the collective savior was to be the zone’s peasantry.

Mountains and parcels of land were reclaimed as a sacred space, and the promised land thus took on an immediate concrete form. Entrenching in the local arena meant renouncing the search for greater change and declining to subvert the whole country. Instead, the movement became the champion of a great cause placed at the service of a micro-region. FUAC militants did not present themselves as favored by any divinity, but they did see themselves as favored by history, by an unavoidable destiny. They were the chosen ones of the Cause, History and the Revolution.

The fundamentalism of the sects:
Chosen ones of an exclusive god

Nicaragua’s marginalized barrios and rural villages are abundantly endowed with Evangelical churches. Their megaphones and huge speakers rattle the eardrums of faithful and infidels alike, while their radio stations mass-disseminate their messages with Nicaraguan and Brazilian accents from early morning to midnight. There are more Evangelical churches in the barrios of Managua than there are hotels, gas stations, universities, police stations, parks and basketball courts put together. Their numbers easily exceed the number of youth gangs. There are also 129 more churches than there are health centers: spiritual health comes first and works out cheaper. The subjects of the Evangelical sects are those who have "accepted" Christ and have therefore been saved. Accepting Christ triggers the magical effect of salvation. The method is the magic of faith. As Luther said, "Faith alone saves." Many sects require nothing from you to prove your adhesion except participation in the services and the faithful acceptation of Christ. Other demonstrations of faith may occasionally be called for, but they are relatively marginal demands.

The sects’ catechism rejects good works as a means of obtaining salvation, though in practice they are dominated by a meticulous code that both prescribes and proscribes. It is very clear to the faithful that they must give up certain activities. This form of self-sacrifice involves denying themselves tastes, habits and amusements—typically smoking, drinking, etc.—that popular culture allows but the sect’s ethos has classified as vices. The obvious object of the sect is to turn itself into a counter-cultural factor and swim against the current, which is one of the strongest mechanisms by which to define oneself in distinction from the rest. The direct function of the number of censured acts is exclusivity, the group’s capacity for exclusion. The more activities classified as vices, the fewer chosen ones there will be. The identity of the strictest groups will therefore be more reinforced, providing them with a feeling of overwhelming superiority.

Although they appear to be accepting Christ, the chosen ones had been chosen back at the beginning of time. It was written that they would accept Christ and neither they nor anyone else would be able to stop it. This creates a feeling of security that the surroundings often tend to grind down, which is precisely what makes it more necessary. The most severe versions of this fundamentalism interpret literally the 144,000 people to be saved mentioned in the book of Revelations, despite everything suggested by the most serious attempts at exegesis.

This is why in Nicaragua and other Central American countries certain Evangelical sects—sometimes the Pentecostals or the Four-Square Gospel Church—have earned the nickname Four saved, because it is said that 20 enter and only 4 are saved. The status of chosen one, cornerstone of their identity, must attain the most unarguable backing, which is provided by the literal interpretation of certain biblical passages. To prove their condition, the chosen ones add ecstasy, mystical fits, miraculous cures and the uttering of long passages of unintelligible gibberish presumed to be exotic languages.

The threats are globalization’s advance
and the patriarchy’s retreat

As David Hume observed about such sects and their members in the 18th century, those who are inspired come to see themselves as a favorite of the Divinity, and when they reach that frenzy, which is the peak of enthusiasm, their extravagances are consecrated. Human reason, even morality, are rejected as fallacious guides, and the mad fanatic blindly and unreservedly surrenders to the supposed ecstasy of the Spirit and celestial inspiration. All kinds of fits that would cause a scandal in the street are tolerated and plausible in the church. Excluded from other privileges, members of the sects can at least exhibit the singular and supreme privilege of being chosen by God. And although not all of them have fits, belonging to a group that includes inspired members provides a feeling of strength, identity and power.

As with any other Christian fundamentalism, the sects face two threats: the forces of globalization and the crisis of the patriarchy. In response, the fundamentalism of these groups strengthens both its isolationist disposition and its control over women. The cult isolates them and the church protects them. The church is the territory in which they are fully realized as individuals and where they can evade what is going on in the world by undervaluing it. The locale for the celebrations is a timeless space where they can witness the glory of God and act as if they were already enjoying paradise. The services open a window on an eternity that is conceived as uniform and endless time.

The sects reject any insertion into global matters and aim to restore the patriarchal system. To succeed in this undertaking, they loudly and repeatedly advocate women’s submission to men. Greater demands are placed on female sect members than on male members. They have to be careful to wear decent clothing and refrain from wearing makeup; they cannot go to parties, accept marriage proposals from "others" who are not sect members or remain in the street for too long; and they must not work outside the house.

Unlike youth gangs and rearmed movements, they do not see "others" as the enemy but do see them as radically different. Their annihilation thus requires more definitive treatment. Those who are different are ideologically suppressed and denied the chance to be among the chosen few; in other words they will be eschatologically annulled. The consummation of a spiritual death, which is already a fact and will be definitively realized in the hereafter, is the mark born by the unchosen. In a certain sense, the services celebrate the exclusion of those who are different and though the sect does not advocate physical suppression of the enemy, it opts for a form of annihilation no less radical for being innocuous.

After all, their annulment is imminent. The sects have a tendency to see signs of the end of time in the smallest gestures and events. As in other countries, those in Nicaragua also read such signs into the destruction of the twin towers. Many of their proposals are fueled by the myth of the "unavoidable" future, which in this case tends to be apocalyptic. This apocalyptic vision of history is opposed to the rearmed groups’ revolutionary vision and its results are even more devastating, as they would not change the world so much as destroy it. The task of eliminating those who are different falls to the Absolute Being, who will eliminate them all forever. Absolutely.

The fundamentalist reaction:
The overwhelming power of power

In Nicaragua as in the rest of the world, legitimized power has for the most part reacted severely to these and other forms of fundamentalism. Preserving power requires expeditious methods. The institutions responsible for crushing this kind of fundamentalism born out of the identities of resistance are located within the constellation of legitimizing identity, introduced, according to Castells, by the dominant groups of society to extend and rationalize their domination over the other social actors.

Those groups in power employ the army, police, judicial apparatus and economic sanctions to dissuade, punish and repress those who have deviated from the path. Public opinion also censures them in the name of a well-assimilated ethic. Meanwhile, society, the media, institutions and the Catholic Church, in the name of what is socially admitted, disqualify youth gangs, rearmed groups and sects as temporary pathologies. The way the youth gangs are demonized in the media largely explains Nicaraguan public opinion’s censure of them. It also explains why the rearmed groups are described with no attempt to explain them or place them in their historical setting and why the Catholic Church maintains a distant hostility toward the Evangelical sects, which only ends up reinforcing their isolating mechanisms.

The fundamentalism of progress
and its human sacrifices

The emotional horizon that can be discerned behind these distinctions, censures and moral codes is the myth of progress. Like any legitimate myth, it is the order of the day. The myth of progress, which is accompanied by a blind faith in technology, assumes that history is a straight line rising steadily toward a higher stage. The squandering and pillage of nature have sheltered behind the confidence that science will be able to solve everything. We are thus faced with another kind of fundamentalism as deaf as those described above. This one also causes and carries out human sacrifices whose legitimacy is provided by the effectiveness of their results. It is assumed that disturbances in the system must be suppressed in order to carry on advancing. Its economic version is expressed through market fundamentalism, which sacrifices the least adapted in a Social Darwinist-style natural selection. In the fundamentalist wars of yesteryear, the least combative gods and the least ferocious warriors were defeated and subjected. Those now excluded and subsumed are the least competitive countries, the least profitable companies and the least solvent human beings—or, in some cases, those not powerful enough to ask for special privileges when they fail to compete, turn a profit or remain solvent on their own. A legitimate holocaust conforms to the existing ground rules.

The modern West presents itself as the only society that carries out justified human sacrifices. Other sacrifices, as observed by economist Franz Hinkelammert, are inefficient and do not lead to suitable modernization. Efficient sacrifices include the industrial revolution in England or the modernization of Russia by Czar Peter I (1682-1725), projects that converted swamps into enormous metropolises and cost hundreds of thousands of workers their lives. Hinkelammert associates the sacrifices of Western modernization with the myth of Iphigenia, the Greek maiden who was sacrificed so that her father Agamemnon would triumph and become a hero.

Those who are different must be
sacrificed, annihilated and ignored

Not only workers must be sacrificed. It is even more important for those who are different, or in this case who appear as anomalies of the system, to be sacrificed. The most trivial case is that of the unemployed, a labor force expelled by the system because it cannot absorb them. There is just no post assigned to them. The extreme case is that of thieves, gang members and rearmed groups who have not adapted to the expectation of submission bearing down on them. They are first labeled as criminals, making it then legitimately possible to kill, incarcerate and exclude them. Indifference and disrespect are enough for the sects because they exclude their excluders with inoffensive radicalism.

The FUAC was the victim of a dirty war, with the police organizing paramilitary groups and the army mounting special operations to eliminate its leaders, starting with those who had already reinserted into civilian life in the framework of previous negotiations with the government. The army refused to answer accusations made by the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center and some officers even bragged about the success of their operations. The fundamentalism of progress calls for sacrificing those who would bend the rising straight line.

Youth gang members are incarcerated for their heterodox forms of organization. Such is the medicine reserved by society: reclusion or death. During the November 2000 municipal elections, one candidate for mayor of Managua said that under his administration youth gang members and young people from marginalized barrios would collect garbage. The comparison was obvious: the social garbage would collect the other garbage on the streets.

The "end of history":
A terminal fundamentalism

The extreme manifestation of the myth of progress is expressed in the terminal fundamentalism—"end of history"-style—that advocates a society devoid of dissention. Philosopher Hannah Arendt shrewdly pointed out that while the philosophy of knowledge does not want knowledge to come to an end and cosmological philosophy does not hope to abolish the universe, political philosophy curiously enough seems to imply that true success will only be achieved with the suppression of politics. Reflecting on the same theme, Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater concluded, "Philosophers have always treated politics as an undesirable conflict that must be corrected, not as an expression of creative freedom that must be protected and channeled."
It is in this elegant way that the myth of progress suppresses those who are different. It presupposes that at a certain time absolute consensus will be reached, suppressing cultural, ideological and political diversity and finally resulting in a sterilizing homogeneity. In Nicaragua, the local version of this policy culminated in a forced two-party electoral system in which the PLC and the FSLN proclaimed themselves the only suitable participants, the only ones with the ideological density and popular draw necessary to compete in the elections. The rest of the parties were "microparties," "dregs," the "others" who had to be placed in political limbo by means of a thousand legal frauds. Bolaños’ hacienda-owner style and Ortega’s fighting disposition make them more similar than either would like to admit. Both are confrontational and both are sexists, the one using his granddaughter as a propaganda tool and the other hiding from justice over a pending court case for the rape of his stepdaughter. Both feel at home with the prevailing atmosphere of Manichean polarization and both believe their messianism will be the true provider of progress.

By their initiatives shall we know them

Born in Khorasan in Persia around 1044, the poet, astronomer, mathematician and above all humanist Omar Khayyam was probably a classmate of Hasan’s. But he was totally removed from the Old Man of the Mountain’s fundamentalist ravings as he happily blasphemed: "I despise the hypocrite who murmurs a prayer," "Close your Koran, think of freedom and face the sky and the earth without fear" and "Which is worth more? Examining our conscience seated at a tavern table or prostrating ourselves in a mosque with the soul absent? I’m not worried about whether God exists or what destiny has in store for me."
Pursued by the orthodox, the fundamentalists and the religious, political and philosophical fanatics, Omar Khayyam managed to transmit a moderate vision of life in his Rubaiyat that took the side of what is tangible and free, mocking theological presumptions, religious fanaticism and all kinds of absolutisms. Khayyam’s tolerance is the best antidote for the fundamentalisms of today and yesterday, both here and elsewhere. Khayyam urged us to celebrate what was different, embrace real, tangible things and not seek refuge against freedom or hide behind predetermined destinies. His advice in one of his best verses could have enabled us to avoid a great many holy and not so holy wars: "Control yourself, control yourself. Never abandon yourself to anger. If you want to win definitive peace, smile at the fate that is lashing you and never lash anyone."
At this time of political fundamentalism revolving around the elections, we could well do with such a healthy doctrine. We need to seek out men and women in Nicaragua who share Omar Khayyam’s vision, not to blindly follow them and create ghettos of the new "pure" who have found the right path, but rather to adopt some of their traits and keep on searching. By their initiatives shall we know them, both men and women. They will be peasants, professionals and free thinkers, journalists and researchers, craftspeople and seamstresses who denounce false promises, strip away with their humor the cunning packaging offered by policymakers, pour caustic on the lies of our political bosses, embrace tolerance, love the diversity of ideas and know how to laugh at themselves.

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