Sunday, June 8, 2003

Mainstream Extremism

Yet another, albeit awkward and tentative, move away from conflict in the Holy Land. My parents witnessed the historic 1947 UN Partition vote and later celebrated with soon to be leaders of the fledgling State. Their recounting of both events the next morning are among my most vivid childhood memories. My father had become a Zionist in 1917 when it was far from fashionable. From the start, so much hope, so much fear. Now, more than half a century later, the only change is that the fear seems greater than the hope. Painful.

The problems between Israel and the Palestinians are extraordinarily complex, but I tell myself, perhaps unrealistically, not insurmountable. More than any other obstacle to peace, more even than what to do with Jerusalem and the Refugees, is the reality that both sides are captives of extremists. Both give in to them. What makes a solution so difficult is that Arab and Jewish extremists (supported not so incidentally by American Christian fundamentalists) share a undeniable bond of commonality. Neither wants the other to stay on "their" land. What's more, both will use violent means to reach their goal, though admittedly not the same violent means. To most of us, certainly to those who consider ourselves political or religious Liberals, these are alien forces. They have nothing to do with us.

But is that really true? What's interesting about today's extremists is that they are largely from the Right, not the Left. A large percentage of them espouse the most Conservative form of their religion, a position that extends to societal issues. Whatever the nature of the government under which they live, philosophically they are not democrats. Quite the contrary, they have little patience for what the majority may want, since they see themselves as the embodiment of a higher order, the ultimate word, in possession of the single "Truth." This effects us directly because it is having a profound impact upon the global body politic.

Look at Israel and equally at our United States. The extreme fringe caused a hard pull to the Right producing the ultra-conservative Likud that, in comparison, operates under a cloak of "moderation." The same can be said for us. The ruling Republican Party is not that of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Olympia Snow, but of Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush and Tom DeLay. To be sure these Conservatives are not terrorists, but they are certainly belligerent, often a belligerence that turns to violence of enormous consequences. With "right" (think about the double meaning of that word) on their side, they barrel ahead with their agenda, broaching no criticism and using whatever means may be required to meet their ends.

The Bush agenda for America is not merely out of a Conservative songbook, but out of the extreme. And it's an agenda that is being carried forward by a deft use of underlying uneasiness or dissatisfaction as a cover-up for action. As victims of terror, albeit limited compared with other parts of the world, Americans live in fear. That's real and a great smokescreen for John Ashcroft's draconian administration of "Justice." A very rare and wrenching medical procedure is given a politicized name and is used to undermine a woman's right to choose. This list goes on, but the reality is clear, extremism is going mainstream while those who should be exposing it are sitting around timidly shaking their heads but keeping their mouths shut. That may change at some point, better late than never. The question for our lives is, will it be too late? Will extremism and mainstream be the same?

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