Tag Archives: Extremism

SYNDICATED COLUMN: In Defense of Extremism

From The Washington Post: “The cost of turning against the Islamic State was made brutally apparent in the streets of a dusty backwater town in eastern Syria in early August. Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up against the extremists.”

From USA Today: “Contrary to the popular opinion that radical Islam is the primary threat to homeland security, Christianity provides the other four groups with their extremist rationale.”

“Extremism” is the new “terrorism” – a word that so automatically conjures revulsion that its user is under no pressure to justify its use with logic or reason. The U.S. government and those charged with disseminating its propaganda – wait, we’re supposed to call them “talking points” now – in the media like to define themselves as the 50-yard line of politics. Like an ideological Goldilocks, neither too left nor too right but just perfect for this time and place and species, these self-described “centrists” and “moderates” vilify their enemies, opponents, and rivals with the E-word.

Upon examination, however, it becomes clear that few words are less meaningless in political discourse than “extremism.” (At least “terrorism” means something. Terrorism is the use of violence against civilians in order to promote or achieve political ends.)

An extremist is only an extremist in comparison to what is mainstream/centrist/moderate. Whatever system of political, religious or economic belief happens to dominate at a particular moment in time smears its opponents as extreme and therefore beyond normal and acceptable discourse. But that can change. Today’s extremism becomes tomorrow’s moderation under a different system.

(This is even true when the system doesn’t change. In the U.S., 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was defeated because he was considered a right-wing extremist. Today, 50 years later, he would be too far to the left to be a viable candidate in the Democratic party.)

In the quote from the Washington Post above, the deeds allegedly committed by the Islamic State are violent, brutal and arguably barbaric. But even within the bounds of ideological discourse of mainstream U.S. corporate media, there is nothing “extreme” about what ISIS did. American fighter jets routinely kill civilians in the Middle East with the same impunity – ironically, sometimes while attacking ISIS – the only difference is the weapons and tactics used to achieve the same result: death.

We should demand that journalists use more specific, useful words than “extremist” to describe ideological opponents of the current system, which can credibly be called extremist in a number of important respects.

It’s pretty extreme, for example, to tell sick, poor and unemployed people that they are on their own, responsible for their own trials and tribulations, and should expect no help from their government. Indeed, very few other societies in the West believe such things. Executing the mentally ill makes the U.S. basically unique in the world. And if the “exceptionalist” American legal doctrine that U.S. law applies in every other country, allowing Americans to violate foreign territory and capture suspects of interest to the U.S. isn’t extreme, I don’t know what is.

The media conflates extremism with purism. Islamic State fighters want to restore the medieval Muslim caliphate and governance by Sharia law; those goals indicate fundamentalism or purism, not necessarily extremism.

One measure of an adjective in politics is, does anyone use it to describe themselves? No one calls themselves a terrorist; no group calls itself extreme. When you see those words in print or spoken by a broadcaster, therefore, you know you are looking at a smear, an insult, lazy shorthand masquerading as argument.

Frankly, anyone who has trouble finding legitimate reasons to oppose ISIS – beyond their supposed “extremism” – doesn’t deserve our attention. For starters: ISIS members believe in God; God doesn’t exist. They massacre innocent civilians to carry out ethnic cleansing; a pluralistic world is more interesting than a homogeneous one. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, they are ignorant, stupid hicks; who else would behead journalists who were willing to let them tell their story? Stupid hicks shouldn’t be in charge of anything.

Most dangerously, if we accept the framing of the current state of affairs as normal and that of groups and people who want to change it as extreme, few people will ever consider alternatives to the way that we do things now. Many Americans still view communism or socialism as beyond the pale, not because of what those ideologies espouse – many of them don’t know – but because they have absorbed decades of government and media propaganda describing them as fringe, weird, extreme. The result is a remarkably incurious, passive citizenry that accepts the status quo merely because it’s the status quo.

Which is pretty extreme.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

SYNDICATED COLUMN: America’s “Moderates” Are Wild, Crazy — and More Extreme Than Any “Extremist”

http://fistfuloftalent.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/moderate-400x320.jpg

Every damn second of every stupid day in this brain-dead nation, the insipid overlords of America’s inane corporate news media put out the same message: extremism is extremely bad.

9/11? Carried out by Muslim extremists. The couple who murdered two police officers in Las Vegas this week? Right-wing, anti-government extremists. Washington gridlock? A Republican Party taken over by intransigent extremists (the Tea Party).

In this official narrative, unquestioned by left and right alike, moderation and centrism are equated with reasonableness. So Hillary Rodham Clinton describes herself as a middle-way realist who values compromise — i.e., a moderate and therefore a Very Serious Person, and thus qualified to be president.

To be feared and marginalized, by contrast, are those the system defines as “extremists.” (Some might call them men and women of principle. But that would be on funny little blogs no one reads.)

If you criticize the mainstream (the current government, the biggest corporations, the most well-connected journalistic elites) in a sustained way — especially if you call those in charge out for breaking their own rules and laws — you will be categorized as one of these horrible “extremists.”

A recent example: Michael Kinsley, lately of Slate and The New Republic (the most centrist of moderate magazines), comparing Glenn Greenwald to Robespierre (within the context of the pretty extreme French revolution, extreme) in the New York Times (down to the tone of any given sentence, the most centrist of moderate newspapers), for the sin of complaining about NSA spying, drone assassinations, Guantánamo and other (when you think about it, extreme) U.S. government activities that violate — U.S. government laws.

Though, actually, “violate” doesn’t quite go far enough. Bombing countries without bothering to declare war against them pees all over the Constitution, numerous federal laws — the whole spirit of the American endeavor. Extreme, no?

This is some bass-ackward shit.

For asking that political elites obey their own laws on domestic spying and not assassinating American citizens on American soil — even being willing to mount an actual filibuster over it — Rand Paul gets portrayed as a wacky fringe loony-toons extremist. For listening to our calls and reading our email and dropping Hellfire missiles on American citizens — and children! — without a warrant, Barack Obama is a moderate.

What the “moderates” call “mainstream” is, in truth, about as extreme as it gets.

Ex-Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, formerly of Goldman Sachs and thus the embodiment of reasonable centristness, is pushing a book in which he claims a tough-call-but-had-to-do-it middle ground for an action that was in reality about as extreme as can be: his reaction to the 2008-09 economic collapse. Geithner gave $7.77 trillion in taxpayer money to the banks and their top executives, no questions asked, and $0.00 to the homeowners and unemployed people whom the banks screwed. (Also, there’s this: he failed. The economy is still tens of millions of unemployed behind; consumer confidence is still shit. NPR still asks his opinion.)

Speaking of books, Hillary’s latest brief, called “Hard Choices” — a phrase meant to conjure Solomonic wisdom — kinda sorta admits she “got it wrong” by voting for the U.S. war against Iraq.

Democrats voting for Republican-led wars — that’s the “crossing the aisle” “bipartisan” “seriousness” Manhattan and Beltway pundits like Thomas Friedman and David Ignatius, both of whom did the same, approve of.

Moderate.

The war, of course, was an extreme affair. Between $2 trillion and $6 trillion down the shitter. 4,500 dead American troops. Hundreds of thousands whose brains will never be right again. At least a million — more like two million — dead Iraqis. Who can count them all? A Second World oil state, secular socialist and authoritarian, reduced by ten years of American occupation to civil war and total societal, political and economic disintegration, Third World going on Fourth.

And what about the way it began? Ginned up out of whole cloth. Even by U.S. standards, it takes some big stones to justify attacking a nation that never attacked, or threatened to attack, you. Pretending that you know about WMDs, and then getting caught lying, and then not only not apologizing and immediately withdrawing, but doubling down (c.f., the “surge”)?

Pretty damn extreme, if you ask me. (No one does. Cuz, like, my saying so makes me extreme.)

Hillary’s “hard choice”? In 2003, Bush was popular, so was invading Iraq. She assumed that, when she ran for reelection to the Senate in 2006, Bush and his war would still be the bee’s knees.

Sorry, Iraq.

Hard choice, you see.

With “moderates” like this…

Yet the Moderate Class is so loud about the evils of extremism. Writing in the very moderate Washington Post opinion pages, a forum that promoted the Iraq War and publishes the full range of editorial opinion from center-right Democrat to center-right Republican, Paul Waldman asked “How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism?” after the Vegas cop shooting.

Here’s a taste: “When you broadcast every day that the government of the world’s oldest democracy is a totalitarian beast bent on turning America into a prison of oppression and fear, when you glorify lawbreakers like Cliven Bundy, when you say that your opponents would literally destroy the country if they could, you can’t profess surprise when some people decide that violence is the only means of forestalling the disaster you have warned them about.”

Mmmaybe. But how about a little context? Assuming that “the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns” inspired the Vegas shooters, shooting cops isn’t good. But: (only) four people died, including the killers, in Vegas. Four dead due to right-wing extremism.

Millions died in the Iraq War. This slaughter wasn’t inspired by, but directly carried out by a bipartisan Congress coming together to support an attack editorial writers on both the Right and what passes for the Left agreed upon.

Why doesn’t anyone at the Post ask “How much does mainstream Democratic-Republican rhetoric contribute to U.S. state terrorism?” Here is how Waldman would write if he or his editors were sane:

“When you broadcast every day that an isolated Middle Eastern dictatorship is a totalitarian beast bent on reducing America to ashes and irradiated rubble, when you appease lawbreakers like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and John Yoo, when you say that antiwar activists would literally destroy the country if they could, to score cheap political points, you can’t profess surprise when some people decide that war is the only means of forestalling the disaster you have warned them about.”

When you run an extremist government that markets itself as realistically moderate, your smartest move is distraction.

See Huge Crazy Extremist Kettle point at tiny extremist pot.

Like, even when a politician considered extremist within the bounds of the two-party “mainstream” gets defeated by an even more extreme extremist, mourn the loss of the slightly less extreme extremist as “A Bad Omen for Moderates.”

And ask things like this:

Why on earth would a 22-year-old from Florida with a “passion for Islam and teaching children about the Quran turn into something more disturbing”?

The New York Times approvingly quotes Veronica Monroy, a friend of a man who carried out a suicide bombing against Assad government forces in Syria: “He deplored any kind of negativity, and was always the first to lend a hand if you needed one. He was religious, but definitely not an extremist,” Monroy said. “He was loving and caring, and I know he came from a strong, loving, supportive home.”

Get the message? Jihad is extreme. Fundamentalists are severe and cold, not loving or caring — and they’re usually the damaged products of dysfunctional families. Extremism is “negative.” Follow a religion. Just don’t really follow all its tenets.

Like that stuff about giving up all your stuff and joining the poor: that would be extreme.

If you step back from the media maelstrom, it isn’t all that hard to frame another narrative: here was a young man, his father from Israeli-occupied Palestine, politicized by the global onslaught against and oppression of Islam, led by the U.S. Done with “doing typical adolescent things, such as playing video games,” he put his ass on the line and made the supreme sacrifice for his coreligionists.

Moner Mohammad Abusalha’s wasn’t my brand of “extremism.” Nevertheless, unlike Hillary’s vote to destroy Iraq, carefully calibrated to maximize her centrist warmongering cred as a “realist” “moderate,” it’s one I can respect.

(Ted Rall, Staff Cartoonist and Writer for Pando Daily, is the author of the upcoming “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Osama bin Laden’s Ultimate Victory

Culturally Clueless and Politically Tonedeaf, U.S. Gave Bin Laden the Martyrdom He Craved

The assassination of Osama bin Laden was masterfully orchestrated to appeal to American media consumers. But it will play poorly overseas.

President Obama’s Sunday evening announcement, timed to fill Monday’s papers with a sickening orgy of gleeful triumph but little information, prompted bipartisan high-fives and hoots all around. “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chanted a mob of drunken oafs in front of the White House. Blending the low satire of two Bush-era classic send-ups of a nation allergic to self-reflection, “Team America: World Police” and “Idiocracy,” they set the tone for a week or a month or whatever of troop-praising, God-blessing-America, frat-boy self-backslapping. “So that’s what success looks like,” wrote New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley in the paper’s special ten-page “The Death of Bin Laden” pull-out section.

Success for Obama, certainly. He’ll see a much-needed bump in the polls. But it won’t last. Eventually the unemployed will wonder why the president devotes so many resources to killing one man but so little to them.

On the geopolitical front, the CIA’s ballyhooed Bin Laden takedown operation couldn’t possibly have been handled any worse. The War on Terror, if it ever existed, is a war for the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of Muslims.

Remember?

It’s about them. Not us.

“Bin Laden wanted to die as a martyr. In this sense, his wish was obliged,” notes Stephen Diamond in Psychology Today.

You betcha.

Nothing was more important to Osama than to be seen as a brave soldier in an epic clash of civilizations. Claims that he hardly saw combat during the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s hurt him. The soft son of a Saudi billionaire and a former mother’s boy, Osama wanted to prove himself.

This past weekend, thanks to Navy Seals, he did. He went out in a blaze of glory, like Scarface. His status as a martyr, as a legend of jihad, is assured.

Yet another screw-up for the U.S., which fell into Bin Laden’s trap after 9/11. To Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, the United States and the West is enemy #2. Their biggest foe is pro-American Muslim dictators and autocrats, and the apathy and indifference among Muslims that allows them to remain in power.

As with most actions carried out by small terrorist groups against enemies with superior manpower and weaponry, the operations attributed to Bin Laden—the bombings of the U.S. embassies in east Africa in 1998 and the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, and 9/11—were intended to provoke the U.S. into overreacting, thus exposing it as the monster he said it was. The invasions of two Muslim countries, Guantánamo, torture, Abu Ghraib, the secret prisons and disappearances and all the rest neatly fit into Osama Bin Laden’s narrative, proving his point more succinctly than a zillion fatwas faxed into Al Jazeera.

Everything about Bin Laden’s killing squares with the jihadi narrative.

The operation violated the sovereignty of a Muslim country, a constant complaint of radical jihadis. Armed commandos lawlessly invaded Pakistan. Infidel soldiers shot up a house and crashed a helicopter down the street from a military academy. Pakistanis see American drone planes buzzing around overhead, invading their airspace without the thinnest veneer of legality; American missiles blow up houses indiscriminately. Taking out Bin Laden without asking Pakistan’s government for permission is an act of war to which the country’s poverty permits no response. It’s yet another humiliation, another triumph of might over right.

Much will be made of the disrespectful treatment of Bin Laden’s body.

In an echo of Bush’s selection of Guantánamo as a extraterritorial not-U.S.-not-foreign no man’s land, the Obama Administration claimed that it buried Bin Laden at sea because it couldn’t find a country to accept his body within the required 24 hours after death, and to avoid the possibility that his grave would become a shrine for Muslim extremists. However, Bin Laden’s Wahhabi sect of Islam allows neither shrines nor burial at sea.

Of course, few Americans care about respecting Muslim religious sensibilities. So this decision went over well in the States. Countless editorial cartoons depicted sharks feasting on the carcass of the Bogeyman of the Twin Towers.

But it will inflame Muslim purists. Worse than that, dumping Osama into the Indian Ocean feeds an image the United States would be smart to shake, of a superpower hell-bent on occupying Muslim lands, stealing their oil and trashing their religion.

On the hearts-and-minds front, Americans’ chest-thumping is a PR disaster.

“Rot in Hell,” blared the headline of the New York Daily News. “Justice has been done,” pundits and politicians claimed—a strange endorsement of extrajudicial assassination by a nation based on the rule of law.

“Triumphalism and unapologetic patriotism are in order,” wrote Eugene Robinson for The Washington Post. “We got the son of a bitch.”

Classy.

Islam teaches combatants to respect their enemies. The death of an opponent is tragic, sometimes a tragic necessity, but never trivial, never a subject for joking. A vanquished enemy should be dispatched quickly, presumably to be chastised by Allah for his wickedness in the afterlife, but he is never to be mocked. A Muslim should not enjoy war or combat, nor gloat when victorious. When the powerful crush the weak, as was the case with the U.S. killing of Bin Laden, dancing around like a beefy hunk of steroids spiking the football at the touchdown line makes one look small.

It also makes us look dumb. As anyone not drunk on bloodlust knows, the worst thing that could have happened to Osama Bin Laden would have been arrest followed by a fair trial.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL