Two sides of the same coin

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 02 Sep 2014


Democracy has to live with the fact that extremism can at any time have a significant impact on our daily lives.

IT is by now accepted that the main threat to moderation is extremism. What could be more diametrically opposed to being a moderate than the willingness to resort to partisan, and sometimes violent, extremes to promote and defend one’s own narrow point of view?

The extreme lengths to which some passionate, if misguided, individuals are willing to go for what they believe is often the currency by which they manage to purchase their claim to fame.

But for as long as we are mired in politics, as long as sentiments, opinions and differences exist, as long as we hold unbending to the beliefs and traditions that have been threaded into our cultural tapestries, and there are issues of clear injustice and repression as in Palestine, extremism will exist.

And extremism festers because of our apathy.

The inertia that we face in vocalising our opposition to extreme acts, the unwillingness to take decisive action and counter trends towards extremism and our tendency to merely distance ourselves from individuals and groups that profess and practice extremism, are some of the major issues that moderates must concern themselves with.

The first order of business for moderates, the mainstream, must be pulling our heads out of the sand and committing ourselves to action.

It is not optional: it is necessary for our survival.

The simple fact is there always will be among us those that will hold extreme views and are willing to go to extreme lengths to defend and promote their views.

Extremism will not just fade away.

There will always be someone to adopt extreme views, argue on extreme platforms and resort to extreme means and that possibility, unfortunately, is something we will have to live with.

It was there when so-called heretics were submitted to the flames of the auto-da-fe under the watchful eyes of the Spanish Inquisi-tion.

It was there when millions of people were forced to meet untimely ends at the gas chambers of Nazi Germany.

And it is there when militant groups, under the perverse conviction of establishing an Islamic State, commit murders of helpless civilians by the thousands.

Democracy has to live with the fact that extremism can at any time have a significant impact on our daily lives.

But living with it is not the same as doing nothing about it.

It is precisely because the potential for extremism is always there that we have to be prepared to meet its challenges.

Indeed, it is imperative that we keep ourselves seized about trends towards extremism, remain vigilant about their manifestations and always speak out against them when they happen either at home or abroad.

Which is why we have to discard this false dichotomy that we have come to comfort ourselves with, this notion that extremism is an external problem, that we are a peaceful community that has nothing to do with extremism and that extremism is other people’s problem.

Indeed, our approach to moderation must consider extremism as two sides of the same coin – as much as it is a problem that concerns our foreign relations and the behaviour of other nations, it is equally a problem that we face in our own communities and as much as we would like to offer our model, which in its own right is a very credible model of moderation for the consideration of others, we must make certain that we do not fall prey to hubris in thinking that we are above reproach.

We have to come to terms with the fact that extremism is also a part of our society and once we have taken ownership of that inevitable fact, we can begin to craft brave solutions and strategies to overcome its insidious influence.

Politicians carry a heavy responsibility – knowingly or unknowingly, their actions and postures, their “alliances of convenience”, can further exacerbate our polarising landscape and lead to the extremist fringe taking further advantage.

Razali Ismail is Chair of the Global Movement of Moderates. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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