Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Extremism as identity, in too many quarters

Often the source of religious extremism is not religion at all but economic misery, political oppression, a sense of national humiliation.
But once unleashed it seems, as in the Spanish Inquisition, to be unstoppable except by time and by the reassertion of ordinary, everyday, human common sense.
Which is why the issue today may be not that of the once-popular theory of a clash of civilizations but rather of a measured practice of the disengagement of civilizations. (From Richard Gwyn's piece in Toronto Star, October 15, 2012, below)
"Extremism in the cause of liberty is no vice," were the words megaphoned by the presidential candidate in the U.S. from the far right, Barry Goldwater , while he went down to one of the worst defeats in history.
Nevertheless, today's culture seems infected with/addicted to/obssessed with/drunk on....extremism. In sports the culture feeds up, and on, ugly physical combat. In video games, the core "action" is extreme violence. In political debate, the language has "fallen" to the depths of the acidic, acerbic and even toxic and libellous.
Hate crimes are painted on the sides of synagogues, and in some areas, mosques.
Movies flow from the factory floor to their commercial success, depending, too often, on the extremism of the cinematic techniques and the extreme conflict at their core. Newspapers and television news clammers for more extremes no matter the theatre, the participant, nor the outcome.
The cell phones buzz with private words and attidudes of disdain, derision, contempt and hate for classmates, neighbours, and public figures. Unleashed by some volcano of techie "access" and freedom, so we think, we have removed the restraints of decency, respect, honour and tolerance from our culture and it would seem, from our expectations of others.
Yesterday, I listened to an member of the auto sales force who complained of his customers' derisive, and barely noticeable habit of committing to "return after work" to discuss the possibility of purchase only to find those words meant nothing to their source, leaving the salesman ditched, trashed and ignored, without a hint of either an update or an apology. This may seem trivial to most; but it is another of the signs of how we treat each other, even when there is no political, cultural, ideological, religious or ethnic tensions.
We have come to equate extreme attitudes, feelings, vocabulary and action or the promise of action with "power" and anyone who does not subscribe to the program is a wuss, a wimp, a girlie, a sissy, a contemptible person, especially among males.
Romney parades as the candidate who is "stong on foreign policy" damning Obama for being "weak" while offering precisely the same answers as Obama has provided over the last four years. Even Condollesa Rice pilloried Obama for "leading from behind" in Lybia, in her address to the Republican Convention in Florida.
Power, the acquisition of weapons of power and destruction, and the deployment of those weapons, whether by the Pentagon or the Taliban (and the differences are only in sophistication of those weapons, not in the intensity or creativity of their deployment) or the Syrian regime or its rebels, whether by Hezbollah or Hamas, by the Iranian revolutionary forces or AlQaeda forces defines too much of our political and public discourse and for these stories too many lives are lost and too much chaos is generated, without adding an ounce of enhancement for the people involved, nor for the rest of the world.
We have sacrificed our hearts and minds, to a far greater degree than in the last hundred years to the appearances of power and status, and worshipped at the altar of "power over" in our schoolyards, in our classrooms, in our kitchens and our churches and our boardrooms, too often under the rationalization of "the pursuit of the profit that underpins capitalism.
While we are pointing fingers at Islamic radical extremism, we are drowning in our own gluttony of power, as we unconsciously project what we deem to be our own powerlessness. Our leaders, in Canada, no longer seek to find the best solution for the public good of the country, but seek rather the best solution to achieve their retention of power. Instead of houses for the people of Attawapiskat, for example, the government appoints an accountant to administer the books of the First Nations band, to take an example. And such a pursuit characterizes too many of the public decisions of too many public figures.
It is extremism in the pursuit of narcissism, whether that narcissism is rooted in religious, ideological, economic or personal acquisition of wealth, or what is perceived as IDENTITY POLITICS that is both offensive and denigrating and demeaning.
And unless and until we all pause long enough to look in the mirror, and disengage from the addiction, cold turkey, we will continue to swim in the rat-infested waters of its rivers.
And our complicity gives cover, and also excuse, for those engaged in the religious extremism of all "brand names" in all countries. And their motivation is nothing less than world control...so we are living in and complicit in a movement whose appetite for success includes world conversion and world domination. And our own disengagement in the rhetoric might help to apply the brakes, to make space for breathing room and for a change in direction and in obsession.
Rise of religious extremism is a cue for the disengagement of civilizations
By Richard Gwyn, Toronto Star, October 15, 2012
Now that she has been flown from Pakistan to Britain, Malala Yousafzai should be safe from the Taliban, at least temporarily. And because Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s new trauma unit specializes in head wounds, there is a chance she may recover, at least partially.
But the horrors inflicted on Malala — a 14-year-old girl gunned down by two trained assassins for the “crime” of arguing for schools for girls — may mark the beginning of what could be called a disengagement of the civilizations.
The timing may be a coincidence, but the influential New York Times has just committed itself to such a policy by declaring in an editorial titled “Time to Pack UPEND” that the U.S. should pull out of Afghanistan, not by President Barack Obama’s deadline of the end of 2014, but as quickly as possible, perhaps within just six months.
The Times accepts that the Taliban will “brutalize women and trample their rights” within the areas they control while “warlords will go on stealing” and that massive corruption by the politicians in power will continue unchanged.
Nevertheless, it concludes, “We need to exit as soon as we safely can,” even suggesting that hard-to-move equipment like Predator drones be blown up so the departure can go faster.
Of course, a major reason the U.S. now faces what amounts to a second Vietnam in Afghanistan is the mistakes it made — military and political and diplomatic — in its war in that difficult, underdeveloped country.
But there is another reason why it may well be time for the U.S. to leave entirely. This is because its opponent in Afghanistan, and in a major part of the Middle East, is no longer the terrorism of Al Qaeda and others, although that certainly exists.
Instead, the opponent is now religious extremism. It’s a twisted, destructive, arrogant, almost an insane ideology.
Religious extremism is now the dominant force, not just within a great many Arab countries, increasingly so in Syria for instance, but also more and more often in Africa. There, jihadist violence such as the burning of Christian churches, has broken out in Nigeria while in Mali the fundamentalist Salafists have destroyed the shrines of ancient Muslim saints they regard as heretical.
Similar excesses have occurred within other religions, far from least among them Christianity. Nor have they ended, as in the insulting, and ridiculous, film, The Innocence of Muslims, satirizing the character of the Prophet Mohammed.
Often the source of religious extremism is not religion at all but economic misery, political oppression, a sense of national humiliation.
But once unleashed it seems, as in the Spanish Inquisition, to be unstoppable except by time and by the reassertion of ordinary, everyday, human common sense.
Which is why the issue today may be not that of the once-popular theory of a clash of civilizations but rather of a measured practice of the disengagement of civilizations.
Some signs do exist of a backlash against extremism, In Pakistan, 50 Islamic scholars issued a fatwa condemning the attack on Malala. A Muslim scholar at Cambridge University has attacked forthrightly the way “extremism is flooding over our culture as well as our behaviour.” A columnist in the Egyptian daily Al-Shurouq has described his country as one that because of the dominance of religious extremism “contributes nothing to human civilization.”
Such self-criticism is the exception, though. In Pakistan, the pro-Malala demonstrations were small, and no major public figures took part. The Taliban response to Malala’s survival was to declare they would hunt down her father instead.
A new kind of Cold War may be emerging. The first one ended because the West applied the doctrine of “containment,” letting the Soviet bloc crumble of its own illogicalities rather than intervening to try to quicken its end.
The New York Times may well have got it right with its headline: “Time to Pack Up.”
Richard Gwyn's column appears every other Tuesday. gwynr@sympatico.ca



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