What is extremism?


What is Extremism?

I've been watching this series of videos and it is rather interesting to people dance around words. Words like inclusive, freedom, extremism. Yet, few actually define them. Maajid Nawaz does a pretty good job, but it is an indication of how often he is misunderstood when making these points, of how distorted our perceptions of these words are.

Is Extremism Just Violence?

A common statement is that only violence is extreme. You can believe what you what, think what you want, act how you want... as long as you don't use violence. Only violence is extremist.

So let me get this straight, the following views would not be considered extremist?
  • The white race is superior
  • Sharia/Islamic law should govern the world
  • Our laws should be based on religious books
  • Men are superior to women
  • Women are superior to men
  • Slavery is acceptable
  • People who eat meat should be charged with murder
  • Homosexuality is wrong
  • Poor people should be sterilized by the government
  • Breeding should only occur after both parties are approved by the government
  • Honor killings should be allowed 
  • Adulteress and per-marital sex should be outlawed/stoned/jailed
  • The holocaust didn't happen
  • Hitler was a great man and a visionary
  • People are to judged and burn in hellfire for eternity if they do not do as a religious texts commands
  • ...
 None of the above in itself is violent against the government. If anything, they are just views and possible political opinions. Even the last one about honor killings being allowed. Someone might say, well that has violence! Well all laws are violent. Even today, people can be arrested and jailed for doing drugs. Hundreds of thousands of normally young men or poor backgrounds are placed in jails for doing drugs. Is that not violent? What happens if I don't pay my taxes? What happens if I violate any law? You betcha, the government will use violence against me. If we were to pass a low stating that the honor of the family and religion is of significant importance, just as we have made drugs illegal, then what would be wrong with jailing people for it?

Yet, who of us would say the above views are okay or that they are not extreme?

Violence is Just a Tactic

Violence at the end of the day is just a tactic. As the often quoted phrase, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. If you were living in an oppressive regime like North Korea or Saddam's Iraq, people with good Values of freedom and democracy might use violence against the oppressive state. Would they be extremists? Not in any bad light, if at all.

Most nations and people would fight when they feel they are oppressed or the state is too far from their own value set or what they want to do.

Communists would go to war to defend/spread communism.
Capitalists would go to war to defend/spread capitalism.
Democracies would go to war to defend/spread democracy.

Ideas/Beliefs are Extreme

At its core, ideas and beliefs can be extreme as any of the above talk about.

Lack of Humility can also be Extreme

How strongly one believes in ones ideas/beliefs can also be a measure of extremist.  In this case, the use of violence is what can manifest. For example, at various point in my life, I would have said I was leaning towards communism or socialism or libertarianism as a belief system. Did I believe in any of these strongly enough to *know* they are right and that I should then give my all to fight for their being and kill or take someone's life based on it? The answer is of course no. A sense of doubt and humility is essential.

Beliefs and ideas can become violent when they lack of doubt and humility. If environmentalists/Islamist/insert political ideology are so sure of themselves that they're willing to bomb/kill/give up regular lives for the cause, it can lead to extremism.

Extreme Beliefs

Read the lists again of beliefs again. They are extreme by the fact they are so different from our norm or they violate key societal values.

There are simply extreme beliefs in any society.

Unfortunately, our desire to be inclusive and pretend we can support all beliefs in the west leads people to this false idea that is so obviously false. This easily leads extreme groups to actually think they are right and belong in the West merely because they are not actively committing violence.
So for example, Islamist will often expose extreme views be it Sharia law or blasphemy and believe they have a right to speak so as they are not violent. It is totally in accordance with democracy and they are not extremists.

Don't get me wrong, the Western World has adopted values of secularism and liberty and that is a very inclusive world view and allows many many many many many different types of people and beliefs to co-exist in relative peace. It is not tied to race. It is not tied to a particular religion. It is not tied to any language. It even permits a wide range of social, economic, and political policies.

It is because the values of secularism and liberty can work alongside a lot of other values.
But when values that challenge secularism and liberty are encountered, we should not pretend that they are not extreme beliefs or that they should be accepted as just another belief. We should not be afraid to call out such beliefs and educate people in accordance with how these beliefs are wrong. In the end, that is what a society is based on. Just because secularism and liberty can be very inclusive of many different types of lifestyles and beliefs, it does not mean it should permit contradictory lifestyle and beliefs.


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