The Extremities of Extremism

In Joel Brinkley’s July 20th SF Gate article, “Morsi’s silence on extremism speaks volumes,” the term extremists occurs five times, extremism once (in the title). Although he employs the term so many times, he does not know what it means. Aside from that paucity of understanding, his incredulity speaks volumes about his ignorance of the nature of the “Arab Spring.”

Mohammed Morsi has been Egypt’s president for less than a month, and already senior clerics in his country and around the Islamic world are loudly calling for the demolition of the pyramids, Egypt’s most important tourist attraction and among the Seven Wonders of the World.

Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi’i called them heinous “symbols of paganism.” In recent days, similar calls have been echoing through Egypt and the region, including one from a Bahraini sheikh who urged Morsi to “destroy the pyramids and accomplish what the Amr bin al-As could not.” He was referring to the Prophet Muhammud’s companion who conquered Egypt in the seventh century but didn’t have the technological wherewithal to accomplish the task.

Morsi is the Muslim Brotherhood’s triumphant president of Egypt. The Brotherhood is dedicated to transforming the country into one governed by primitive, brutal, misogynist, barbaric Sharia law.

What’s surprising is that Morsi has had nothing to say about this, not a word. Neither has he said anything about numerous “freelance” efforts to enforce other elements of Shariah law across Egypt, even though his new government hasn’t said that’s his plan.

Of course, what people like Brinkley do not grasp is that Morsi isn’t an “extremist.” He represents the essence of Islamic religious and political doctrine. He isn’t going to question calls to destroy the pyramids or impose jizya on Copts. His “silence” is an implicit sanction of those ideas and worse. After all, he ran on the platform of “purifying” Egypt. What does Brinkley expect Morsi to say? “Oh, that’s just extremist talk. Pay no attention to it. I’m really just a moderate.”

Or, take Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, who “purified” his country of private property, freedom of the press, and prosperity.

Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has signaled a preference in the U.S. presidential campaign by comparing Mitt Romney to his own challenger.

Chavez, who is up for re-election a month before U.S. President Barack Obama, has in recent weeks expressed a clear preference for the man currently in the White House….

“I believe the person to best explain the loser’s agenda isn’t Barack Obama but rather Romney, because it’s the extreme right-wing agenda that borders on the fascism of the United States,” Chavez told tens of thousands of supporters in the western city of Maracaibo.

“In the end, it’s the same project,” Chavez said, referring to Obama as “a good guy.” (Italics mine.)

Chavez uses that well-worn equivocation of extremism = right wing = fascism. He’s less adept at the Alinsky-inspired spiel than is President Obama, but then most Western news agencies remain firmly in the camp of approving of democratically-elected dictators – it’s the voice of the people, you see – so they will never stop agreeing with the Chavez’s and Obama’s of the world. They repeat the terms like hamsters going round and round in a drum. Right wing is also one of those contentless terms, but it connotes “extremism” and jackbooted fascism or Nazism. Like extremism, it is a purely emotive term, meaning “force used by the filthy rich against the poor.”

But I think that extremism is one of the worst terms ever to be coined and over-used.” It allows “moderates” and fence-sitters and pragmatists to evade knowledge of what our enemies are up to. It also allows them to defraud the public of the true identity of its enemies.

The terms extremism and extremist date back to the 19th century, nearly always employed in a political context. The Oxford English Dictionary defines extremist as: “One who is disposed to go to the extreme, or who holds extreme opinions.” Extremism is defined as: “Tendency to be extreme; disposition to go to extremes.” The earliest recorded instance of the term, according to the OED, was 1846.

Of course, extremism can also mean inventing the light bulb, as opposed to almost inventing it. Or shutting a door, as opposed to leaving it cracked open. Or asserting that one owns one’s life, as opposed to conceding that one owns only eighty-five percent of it, the balance the property of the state or of the people or of Allah or God or the next door neighbor.

In her article, “‘Extremism,’ or The Art of Smearing,”* Ayn Rand discusses the role of such terms as isolationism, McCarthyism, and extremism. About extremism, she wrote:

….[M]ost people do not know the meaning of the word “extremism”; they merely sense it. They sense that something is being put over on them by some means which they cannot grasp. (p. 175)

Now consider the term “extremism.” Its alleged meaning is: “Intolerance, hatred, racism, bigotry, crackpot theories, incitement to violence.” Its real meaning is: “The advocacy of capitalism.” (p. 176)

She notes further:

To begin with, “extremism” is a term which, standing by itself, has no meaning. The concept of “extreme” denotes a relation, a measurement, a degree. The dictionary [not identified] gives the following definitions: “Extreme, adj. – 1. Of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average. 2. Utmost or exceedingly great in degree.” It is obvious that the first question one has to ask, before using that term is: a degree – of what? (p. 177)

To answer: “Of anything!” and to proclaim that any extreme is evil because it is an extreme – to hold the degree of a characteristic, regardless of its nature, as evil – is an absurdity (any garbled Aristotelianism to the contrary notwithstanding). Measurements, as such, have no value-significance – and acquire it only from the nature of that which is being measured.

Are an extreme of health and an extreme of disease equally undesirable? Are extreme intelligence and extreme stupidity – both equally far removed “from the ordinary or average” – equally unworthy? Are extreme honesty and extreme dishonesty equally immoral? Are a man of extreme virtue and a man of extreme depravity equally evil?

That was written in 1964. Extremism no longer serves as the boogey man for capitalism. After nearly half a century, her analysis stands, because it delves into the nature of definitions, concepts, and anti-concepts, one of which is extremism. And, as usual, she exhibits her unique and unparalleled prescience with this observation:

Of all the “anti-concepts” polluting our cultural atmosphere, “extremism” is the most ambitious in scale and implications; it goes much beyond politics. (p. 177)

It is now 2012. Isolationism has fallen into the dustbin of discarded neologisms. In fact, the Left and liberals eschew isolationism, because America, in their eyes, has a moral obligation to be the moral policeman of the globe, selflessly expending lives and treasure in a never-ending campaign to bring “democracy” to hell-holes whose populations of cultural zombies have already “democratically” voted for stagnation and tribalism and tradition. America must do this, they claim, because it is the richest and most prosperous country in the world. It is obligated to expend its lives and treasure precisely because it is these things. Just as the rich, and the near-rich, and the middle class must divest their wealth, because they are those things. Or have it expropriated.

McCarthyism occasionally is trotted out by mentalities who have never otherwise heard of Joe McCarthy or who vaguely recall that he had something to do with anti-communism. Those who employ the term – it sounds evil, and conspiratorial, so why not use it? –now do so reluctantly and cautiously because they don’t wish to alert their readers that our government is now run by communists, a.k.a., community organizers. They don’t want to risk someone asking, “But wait. Weren’t Lenin and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and Ho Chi Minh community organizers, too? And then there were Hitler, and Mussolini. Didn’t they organize their communities, as well?”

There will be no intelligible response to such a query. No member of the White House press corps will venture to ask it. No journalist will even insinuate it in his copy, because he knows that politicians and bureaucrats now control the press, and that even the slightest allusion to the fact that dedicated communists and statists and totalitarians now run the government will be redacted, blue-penciled, and obliterated from his “news.”

As Jeremy Peters reported on July 15th in The New York Times:

The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative.

Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all midlevel aides in Chicago and at the White House — almost anyone other than spokesmen who are paid to be quoted. (And sometimes it applies even to them.) It is also commonplace throughout Washington and on the campaign trail.

The Romney campaign insists that journalists interviewing any of Mitt Romney’s five sons agree to use only quotations that are approved by the press office. And Romney advisers almost always require that reporters ask them for the green light on anything from a conversation that they would like to include in an article.

From Capitol Hill to the Treasury Department, interviews granted only with quote approval have become the default position. Those officials who dare to speak out of school, but fearful of making the slightest off-message remark, shroud even the most innocuous and anodyne quotations in anonymity by insisting they be referred to as a “top Democrat” or a “Republican strategist.”

They are sent by e-mail from the Obama headquarters in Chicago to reporters who have interviewed campaign officials under one major condition: the press office has veto power over what statements can be quoted and attributed by name.

But modern journalists have nothing to learn from the past. William Shirer, journalist, war correspondent, and author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, returning to Germany in 1934, encountered the very same phenomenon:

… William Shirer found upon his arrival in Berlin in 1934 that “though the German press was heavily censored and rigidly controlled there was no censorship of [foreign journalists’] dispatches.” A colleague warned Shirer that “while you did not have to submit your copy for approval by the authorities before cabling it, you had to weigh carefully what you reported about Hitler and the Nazi regime. If he or his aides, especially Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the fanatical Nazi minister of propaganda and the watchdog of the foreign correspondents, found it unacceptable—out you went,” as had happened to Dorothy Thompson the day the Shirers had arrived in Berlin and to numerous others in the preceding months.

“Quote approval” is just a euphemism for censorship, which is an “extremist” term. Shirer minded it very much. “Mainstream” journalists don’t seem to mind being subjected to it at all, as long as they can maintain access to politicians and bureaucrats whose statements must be examined and vetted before being reported to the public. Or not. Truth, facts, accountability, honesty – these are all now the new instances of “extremism.”

And under the broad awning of extremism are the notions of “hate speech” and Islamophobia. But gag orders and redacting somehow are not instances of “extremism.”

Extremism has had a notorious longevity, precisely because, standing by itself, it means nothing, but in the right context, it can mean anything. It is a term that ignites emotions, not thought. That is its chief asset: the emotional factor.

The term extremist now does double duty: it smears anyone or any movement that opposes big government, reckless spending, high taxes, and so on, and implies that moderates are calm, rational, unhysterical champions of a pragmatic approach to issues, and would someone please banish those Tea Party whackos from our civil discourse? We only want to conserve the status quo, not see it smashed and dismantled for the benefit of the rich, and the near-rich, and the middle class. How can we work to build a perfect, progressive society when these people keep making noises about their vanishing liberty?

Liberty? Freedom of speech? Individual rights? These terms are all to be found in that damnable lexicon of extremism.

In regards to Islam, the term serves to distance or divorce “radical” Muslim politicians who advocate Sharia law, together with their violent underlings – the suicide bombers and other killers in the name of Allah – from a “moderate,” peaceful Islam, which, even in its mildest form, is just a “moderate” form of totalitarianism. The pseudo-moderate defenders of Islam say, “Those suicide bombers and Hamas and Hezbollah and the Brotherhood, those extremists, they don’t really represent Islam at its best” – but neglect to mention that there is no “best” about or in Islam, neither in its doctrines nor in its practice. Were it possible for the tens of thousands of victims of Islamic jihad – living or dead, in America and abroad – in a collective voice to attest to the “best” face of Islam, one would hear a resounding and eardrum-splitting merde!

A totalitarian ideology is what it is, and nothing else: a totalitarian ideology. It is socialism, which is only an overture to total controls. It is Islam, whose creeping Sharia can only lead to total controls. Secular totalitarianism requires individuals to defer to the state and perhaps give a Nazi or Communist salute as proof of his submission and loyalty. Islamic totalitarianism requires individuals to surrender their individuality and their minds and bow to Mecca as evidence of their submission and loyalty.

Extremism now not only serves as a semi-polite expletive with which to smear any defender of freedom, but also allows an enemy of freedom to point with dissembling insouciance to the guy who is actually practicing what the enemy preaches: indiscriminate violence, force, and destruction.

It is the dedicated, authentic, identifiable, and definable enemies of freedom who are the true “extremists.” Slavery and death are their ultimate, most extreme ends.

*In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, by Ayn Rand. New York: Signet-New American Library. 1967. 349 pp.

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