Monday, October 16, 2006

In Praise of Extremism

It is unfashionable to be an extremist. Quoth Ruth Kelly (a government minister): "The new extremism we're facing is the single biggest security issue for local communities." Ok, despite what she says she's probably mainly thinking of Muslims. Nonetheless, extremists get a lot of bad press, and I think this is unfair.

What is an extremist, after all? Is it not merely someone who follows a belief through to its logical conclusions? I like to think of myself as an extremist. After all, I believe Christianity is the only true faith and that anyone who believes otherwise is simply wrong. I'm sure a lot of people find that unpalatable (or would if I said it to their faces). Personally I find a lot more unpalatable the wishy-washy kind of "faith" that says that Jesus is ok for me but we each have to find our own truth. It defies logic or consistency, it's half hearted, it's lazy. As a friend said, isn't that kind of tolerance just a lack of conviction in your own beliefs?

But isn't extremism dangerous? Look at all the suicide bombings, wars, genocides. Yes, those extremists are dangerous. But groups like Quakers and the Amish are extremists in their ways, preaching utter non-violence and forgiveness (taking Jesus' teaching to its logical, extreme conclusion). Are they dangerous? Of course not. It's not extremism which is dangerous: it's the beliefs themselves.

I doubt if the Qur'an really justifies the kinds of atrocities we are seeing. If it does, then the danger isn't extremism; the danger is Islam itself. I suspect that isn't the case – that the real danger is nationalism, xenophobia, and cultural imperialism, alongside the usual suspects of money-lust and power. Christianity, too, has often been tainted by such infiltrations, and to discredit a belief based on its perversions is itself perverse. But it's not the extreme forms of beliefs which are dangerous: it's the beliefs themselves.

One thing that's happened with the recent terrorism is that it has challenged the assumption that we should be accepting of other beliefs. Whatever suicide bombers believe is clearly unacceptable. Taken to its logical extreme, relativism doesn't work. So rather than accept moderation in all things (including moderation), let's actively embrace extremism. Let's take things to their logical conclusions, and if we don't like them, reject them completely. And let's challenge people who think differently from ourselves. "Jaw-jaw" is indeed better than "war-war"; it's also better than the smothering blanket of "moderation."

There, I said it. Am I so dangerous?


Post a Comment

<< Home