Extremism is the root cause of the proliferation of violence
throughout the world. It is the impetus pushing lawlessness, gluttonous greed
and downright disregarding of human rights. It is a massive boulder blocking
the path to peace.
As in terrorism, there is an array of opinions dictating
what constitutes extremism. So, in order to be more specific, I would define
extremism as any attitude, action or reaction that leads to the absolute
deviation from the norms that make human coexistence possible. It is the
malfunction or the breaking of the valve that calibrates our emotions,
intellect, decency, bigotry, greed, and self-righteousness.
Today extremism manifests in all fronts of life. On the
religious front, the promotion of puritanical zealotry and the moralization of
hate continue to divide faith communities and set the stage for religious wars.
On the sociopolitical front, tribalism, ethno-centrism, patriotism and such
have been galvanizing brutal violence and paving the way for genocidal
campaigns. Likewise, on the economic front, the corrupted attitude of �What is
our oil doing in their land?� has set the stage for a perpetual war aimed to
facilitate for the privilege of the fittest.
Furthermore, on the political front, the concept that a
nation has the exclusive right to wage war against another under the
�preemptive war doctrine� and/or impose �regime change� has paved the way for
brutal occupation, radicalized insurgency, civil war and chaos. On another
front, the Enronization of corporate America and the recently exposed predatory
subprime mortgage lending schemes have set the stage for economic blowback and
are likely to handicap the world economy.
Little over a year ago, I framed this debate question
�Religious and Secular Extremism: is one lesser �evil�?� on the Foreign Policy
magazine forum. This ignited an on-line discourse that generated over 40
postings and over 16,000 hits.
The gist of my argument was that as al- Qaida is the epitome of
modern day religious extremism, neoconservatism is the quintessence of modern
day secular extremism. And because of their runaway fanaticism and militarism
they are the two sides of the same coin.
The two abhor dialogue and find comfort in the
violence-first approach to solving problems. Both glorify zero sum modus
operandi where each promotes its self-centric ideology that not only rejects
the other, but demonizes it as an entity that is impossible to coexist with. And
while one is driven by a �holier-than-thou� attitude and righteous hysteria and
is more reckless with its rhetoric, the other is driven by �mightier-than-thou�
attitude and sheer hubris. What�s ironic, however, is that, though the latter
group is more conniving and arguably more deadly, the former seems to bear the
brunt of the blame for global mayhem.
Contrary to their gown-wearing counterparts, the
suit-wearing extremists are more sophisticated and more illusive. They consult
with image makers and PR specialists and speak the language of the dominant
with seductive eloquence. As such, the suit-wearing extremists are more prone
to fly under the radar of public sensibilities and media scrutiny, and this not
only gives them the leverage but the impunity to go for the kill -- painting
all Muslims and Islam with one broad, negative paintbrush.
Exploiting the post 9/11 climate of fear and suspicion, the
neocons started to fan the flames of hate and bigotry against Muslims. Neocon
pundits such as Charles
Krauthammer and so-called Islam expert Robert Spencer continue to
argue that it is not the fringe outfits such as al-Qaida that are extremists
but the whole religion of Islam. This vocal camp insists that it is the Quran
itself that is to blame. Never mind that that spiteful condemnation declares
over one billion Muslims as the enemy. And never mind how the propellers of
such propaganda fail to explain why an estimated 7 million Muslims in America,
who consider the Quran
as their principle authority, have not created pandemonium, especially in light
of what has been happening to their brethren in recent years.
Relentlessly pursuing their objective of creating public
apprehension against Muslims, the same special interest characters and their
cronies have been pushing books such as Oriana Fallaci�s The Rage and the
Pride, despite its
negative reviews of bigotry and Islamophobic biases.
Michael Ledeen, one of the most notorious neoconservative
pundits, hailed Fallaci�s venomous diatribe as �a terrific book.� He claimed
that she has a �wonderful way with words,� in reference to one of the most
caustic and indeed provocative statements in the book in which the author
writes, �The children of Allah spend their time with their bottoms in the air,
praying five times a day."
Reacting to the Islamophobia driving the book, Cathy Young,
in her article on Reason magazine, entitled �The Jihad Against Muslims: When
Does Criticism of Islam Devolve Into Bigotry?� criticizes Fallaci for her
wholesale condemnation of Muslims. Fallaci �hardly [makes] any distinction
between radical Islamic terrorists and Somali street vendors who
supposedly urinate on the corners of Italy�s great cities."
However, by no means is Fallaci�s kind of demonization
exclusive to secular extremists. Others use similar though less vulgar
language. Extremists on both sides of the fence find justifications in their
myopic vision and dogmatic interpretation of their respective ideologies. They
set up programs and apparatuses to create an environment conducive to
groupthink where they could coerce freethinkers, limit the scope of their
independent analyses, and zealously suppress the emergence of any new paradigm
that could threaten the status quo. And nothing illustrates this better than a
project known as Campus Watch that blacklists freethinking professors and
scholars in academia --- the very institutions that supply the market place of
ideas (courtesy of two of the most belligerent neocons and most notorious
Islamophobes in the U.S. , David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes).
Meanwhile, the neocon propaganda machine continues to
tarnish the image of Islam, and the �Armageddonites� or the Evangelical
Zionists, such as Pat
Robertson, Rod Parsley, and John Hagee, continue fanning the
flames of hate. However, like al-Qaida, this collaborative group seems to have
forgotten that the ultimate fate of extremism is self-destruction!
So, Senator Barry Goldwater was wrong when he, in his 1964
acceptance speech of the Republican Party presidential nomination, declared,
�Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.�
Extremism only creates equal or worse reaction. The alleged
attack by al-Qaida
was an extreme act of aggression, the reaction it generated was even more
extreme, and the subsequent trend of violence and chaos is leading to
collective suicide. And until the world comes to the understanding that it is
extremism, and not terrorism, as some fallaciously argued, that is the most
dangerous challenge facing the world. We are in an environment where some
suit-wearing extremists are openly advocating dropping a nuclear bomb on Iran .
In the meantime, eyes remain selectively fixated on the gown-wearing
Granted religious extremism, as in al-Qaeda, the Crusaders, and the
inquisitors, has caused many deaths and destruction; however, make no mistake,
it was secular extremism that was responsible for some of the most atrocious
crimes against humanity with profound impunity. From the holocaust, the
on-going systematic genocide of the Palestinian people, the ethnic-cleansing in
the Cambodian genocide, the Rwandan genocide; and never mind slavery,
colonialism, Stalinism, etc.
In fairness, however, there is one category that makes
religious extremism much dicier than the rest: its potential for rousing
Therefore, Prophet Muhammad said, �Beware of extremism in your
religion.� True Islam is the middle way between excess and neglect, between
zealotry and apathy.
Arman is a freelance writer who lives in Ohio.