Islam in the Age of Extremism

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Contrary to their gown-wearing counterparts, the suit-wearing extremists are more sophisticated and more elusive. They consult with image-makers and PR specialists and speak the language of the dominant with seductive eloquence.ImageExtremism is the root cause of the proliferation of violence throughout the world. It is the impetus pushing lawlessness, gluttonous greed, and downright disregard of human rights. It is a massive boulder blocking the path to peace.

Like with 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 itself in all fronts of life. In 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. In the sociopolitical front, tribalism, ethno-centrism, patriotism and such have been galvanizing brutal violence and paving the way for genocidal campaigns. Likewise, in 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, in 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 Enron-ization of corporate America and the recently exposed predatory sub-prime 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 the 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, neo-conservatism 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 elusive. 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 on one broad negative paintbrush.

Exploiting the post-9/11 climate of fear and suspicion, the Neocons have 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 Qur'an 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 Qur'an as their principle authority, have not stirred state of 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. She "hardly (makes) any distinction between radical Islamic terrorists and Somali street vendors who supposedly urinate on the corners of Italy's great cities, writes Young."

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 analysis, 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 Noecons and most notorious Islamophobes in the US, 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 that "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."

Extremism only creates equal or worse reaction. The 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. The world must come 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 mean time, 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 destructions; 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 to the on-going systematic genocide of the Palestinian people, the ethnic-cleansing in the Balkans, 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 potentiality for rousing popular appeal.

Therefore, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) said, "Beware of extremism in your religion." True Islam is indeed the middle way between excess and neglect, between zealotry and apathy.

Abukar Arman is a freelance writer who lives in Ohio.

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