& International Policy
It is common, at least here in the US, to constantly hear references to Islamic fundamentalism as if it were an inherently bad thing that came out of nowhere. I'm sure it would be an exaggeration to say the media never considers what has caused the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, but it would be easy to conclude from listening to them that it is "just the way things are" or that it is because "those people" are ignorant and need to be enlightened by "us".
The usual solution suggested by politicians and the media is to make those societies more like ours. One rarely, if ever, hears anyone ask, "How much better would those countries behave internationally if their governments were headed by someone like Pres. George W. Bush, who ignores the international community's wishes in starting wars?" Or if its government leaders' strongest backers were religious conservatives who don't like teaching evolution in public schools but would like prayer in school, oppose stem cell research, and generally want to make their religious beliefs government policy. Would their armies be properly civilized if their soldiers not only abused prisoners, but the soldiers thought the abuse was so amusing they took photos of it and sent copies of the photos to their buddies - and the spread of those photos did not lead to swift action against those soldiers? And if the government held some captives at special centers and claimed those prisoners were not covered by the Geneva Convention? Is this what would make us feel better about the Middle East?
Part of what is being ignored is the spread of religious conservatism among Christians and Jews, as well as in the Islamic world. And the prevalence of political conservatism as well. And this is not just a phenomenon "over there" but here as well. Yes, fundamentalists in a number of places "over there" have successfully instituted measures that Christian fundamentalists here can only dream of - so far. But it is the same kind of threat and tomorrow is another day Christian fundamentalists will try to impose their beliefs on the US.
According to a 2005 Harris Poll the number of US adults who accept creationism rather than evolution has risen significantly since 1994. Christian fundamentalism is not only more visible in the US today, it is becoming a larger part of the population. These forces are turning more people away from sciences they previously accepted.
The Roots Of Fundamentalism
As Adam Smith said in 'Wealth Of Nations', "Wherever there is a great property, there is great inequality. ...affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many. ...acquisition of valuable and extensive property, therefore, necessarily requires the establishment of civil government." If government can't protect wealth democratically, it does it otherwise. There is a correlation that poorer countries (and even poor regions within countries) are less likely to be run in a free and open manner than more affluent countries. In affluent countries it is easier to maintain democratic forms while still letting the "haves" keep their position. In poor countries where this doesn't work as well, the government is more likely to be less democratic. We live in a period where the gap between haves and have-nots is growing.
One way or the other, we live in a time where more conservative and business-friendly governments are the rule of thumb to a greater extent than during the 1960s and 1970s. This reflects a shift in the world economy. This is an atmosphere where more business interests find religious conservatism helpful, and in which more "have nots" seek comfort in promises of traditional religion. Because of these forces, it is unlikely that either an ebb of fundamentalism or the continuation of stable democracies in poor countries will take root either by outside decree or lecturing.
Whether one believes this is the primary cause of Islamic fundamentalism or not, it is wiser to approach the question assuming there is some worldly cause for such a wide-spread pattern of fundamentalism in a variety of religions. We need to understand the underlying factors if we want to intelligently deal with it.