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September 18, 2012, Tuesday

On extremism

Anti-American demonstrations that spread across the Muslim countries took a violent turn, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his staff last Tuesday at the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The obvious reason was an amateurish film made and put on YouTube degrading Prophet Muhammad. I have personally seen the film, if it may be called that. It starts with an attack of a number of Islamic fundamentalists on the office of an Egyptian Copt Christian physician. Later the Prophet Muhammad is portrayed as a bloodthirsty womanizer ordering his men to take the property, women and children of all non-Muslims. A priest is asked by his (former employer, later) wife to help him in his quest as “messenger of God,” who retorts, “I will provide him with a false doctrine composed of a little from the Torah and a little bit from the Bible.”

These words and the vile character portrayal of the most revered man in Islam produced what was intended. Crowds all over the world protested against the US in particular and the West in general. Maybe the “film” was no more than a high school caliber show, but its psychological effect was well calculated, and the expected result was obtained. So whoever is put forward as the culprits will be the wrong people to implicate. Masters of psychological warfare seem to be involved in the process.

The expected result was bringing out extremism that could be accused of being the basic trait of Islamic culture. Considering that extremism is an act outside the acceptable political behavior of a society, violating common moral standards and democratic principles, individuals or groups that resort to extremism are associated with authoritarianism and the violation of basic human rights.

Extremists are deemed to be a threat to the society or a government or a way of life (culture) because they use or advocate violence against the will of society at large or a special group that they oppose. However this characterization tells us nothing substantive about the people it labels. It may also mislead us for the simple reason that governments, in particular, seeking to reinforce their positions and defend the status quo, may be using this term. So extremism and violence are not value-neutral terms. They may be evoked by forces to create the effect that there is a serious and immediate threat from extremists. Violence may be used as the instigator of counter-violence.

There are forms of political extremism: 1) Character assassination and vilification; 2) demonizing and advocating the redundancy of a group or its basic characteristics; and 3) resorting to violence or threatening the very existence of a person or group. Extremism may be attributed to the right or the left or to a belief system. If it comes from the center (from the state), it is (as Seymour Martin Lipset says) the base of fascism.

Extremism is generally conveyed and expressed in hate speech. It is illegal in democratic countries. The most common form of extremism in the modern world is hate speech. It lays eggs that hatch as intolerance, antagonism, protracted conflict and unending violence. In the case of the “Innocence of Muslims,” the intended results could be the following:

 1) To abort or to delay the Arab Spring that would usher in democratization of Muslim countries. Democratic countries would be immune to manipulation at the hands of these nations’ tyrants, leading to corruption or co-opting by the established world order and its central powers.

2) To leave the door open to a possible intervention into the internal affairs of “potential extremist countries” that by and large happen to be Muslim, with the excuse of preventing them from crushing non-Muslims within and threatening others without. To reinforce the rhetoric that “extremists” should not come to power and set out to develop an array of manipulations to control politics in such countries.

3) To take a step back in Syria and to ease the pressure on the Assad government with the rationale that Syria was better off under the secular regime, no matter how oppressive it was. The ongoing internal strife could end up with the coming to power of extremists who could upset the world order.

4) To prepare world public opinion to take a harsher stance against Iran’s nuclear program given the fact that this theocratic regime is intrinsically extremist and poses a threat to the whole world.

5) To turn the tide against Barack Obama, whose middle name is Hussein. After all, he is an advocate of cohabitation with Muslims and opposes military intervention in Iran and Syria.

These points do not explain why some Muslims demonstrate their dissent in just the way their extremist provocateurs want them to. That is the subject of another article.

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