Islam in the Age of Extremism
April 10, 2008 -- 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.
Like 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. 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 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, 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 also
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 on one broad negative
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. 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 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
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 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 mean time, eyes remain selectively fixated on the gown-wearing!
Granted religious extremism as in Al-Qaida, 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, 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,
In fairness, however, there is one category that makes religious extremism much more potent than the rest - its potentiality for rousing popular appeal.
Therefore, Prophet Muhammad said “Beware of extremism in your religion.” True Islam is
the middle way between excess and neglect, between zealotry and apathy.