It’s not often I drift into philosophical ideas to help understand historical perspectives but as I was reading Clifford May’s piece titled “Is al Qaeda defeated?” in National Review Online today it occurred to me that the problem is not so much about ‘defeating al Qaeda’ to end extremism but, rather, getting the peoples of the world to ‘defeat’ extremism no matter where or from whom it comes. This led me to thinking about the bigger picture.
As many of today’s conflicts have evolved it has become clear that the ‘extremists’ of today are actually feeding off each other. To a certain extent, this has always been the case but today, instead of it being ‘political’, as it was during the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War when political ideas came into conflict with each other, often within the same overall cultural systems, today it is more definitively ‘cultural’ where religious and cultural belief systems have come into conflict with each other resulting in a different kind of polarisation of forces. Today the extremist forces of culture are at loggerheads with each other. The extremist forces of the West (American and Western Exceptionalism, Christian fundamentalism and Zionism) are in conflict with the extremist forces of Islam. And, just to complicate things further, there is conflict within Islam itself at two levels; there is conflict between moderates and extremists, and there is conflict between Sunni and Shia.
About Islamic extremism, what May calls ‘jihadi ideology’, he argues:
The jihadi philosophy/ideology is — no less than Nazism — “based on conquest and the subjugation of other people.” The late Father Richard John Neuhaus aptly defined jihadism as a religiously inspired ideology built on the teaching “that it is the moral obligation of all Muslims to employ whatever means necessary in order to compel the world’s submission to Islam.”
If that is supposed to define Islamic extremism then by the simple expediency of crossing out some descriptors and replacing them appropriately it also defines Christian fundamentalism and Zionism. It also defines the kind of extremist ideology inherent in the notion of American and Western Exceptionalism for is not Zionism based on the conquest and subjugation of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip or the Arab peoples of the Golan Heights? And is not this quest supported by Christian fundamentalists and Christian Zionists who are among the same people as those that are inspired by the notion of American and Western Exceptionalism? And do not these people see their cause as ridding the world of Islam so that the world of Islam reflects more the ideals and interests of the West?
A change to peace can only come about when all sides recognise the stupidity of feeding off each others hatreds and understanding that tolerance and respect is the only way forward. There will be no future for a world in which a never ending cycle of hypocrisy, arrogance and violence toward each other prevails as an ideology.
If Eric Hobsbawm were still around he would no doubt have written a second volume to his Age of Extremes work; one that reflects the history of the latest ‘Age of Extremes’ – the extremes of culture rather than of politics which his 1994 work described.
Perhaps there will come a day when the culture of tolerance, moderation and respect becomes the dominant culture in our world. I hope so because none of the others – the age extremes of the last century and the age of extremes in this century – seem to have made any difference.