Saturday, March 28, 2009

What Rush Limbaugh and Al Qaeda Have in Common

Originally published on WireTap.

Many forms of extremism exist in today’s world. Islamic extremists, the group with the most airtime in the “extremist community,” are perhaps the most obvious example. Vehemently opposed by mainstream Muslims, these people use Islam to promote archaic and often outrageous ideals about society, and commit atrocious acts of violence and bigotry. But extremism doesn’t stop there. It can cloak itself in other garbs, and it isn’t limited to the world beyond America’s borders.

Within the United States, the form of extremism recently getting the most attention is the infamous Rush Limbaugh’s version of Republicanism. Earlier this month, neoconservative journalist David Frum wrote a Newsweek article slamming Limbaugh’s brand of GOP politics:
"And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as "losers." With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence—exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we're cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush's every rancorous word—we'll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time."

Limbaugh’s years as the voice of American conservatism have seen him combat environmentalism, ridicule feminism, and dismiss the Abu Ghraib torture scandal as “emotional release” for soldiers. And that’s just for starters. The single-minded promotion of his ideals and aggressive attitude he holds towards people and policies not deemed “conservative” enough (including Republican ones) have colored every part of his political and ideological campaign.

Now, it’s obvious that Limbaugh’s shade of extremism doesn’t present the same threat of violence and destruction as Al Qaeda’s, for example. But what it does have in common with extremist ideologies around the world is the following: it reduces complex realities into black and white caricatures of right and wrong, good and evil. It refuses to understand, or even acknowledge, other ways of viewing the world, setting the stage for what may be unnecessary clashes of ideology.

As the world grows smaller, extremism becomes increasingly dangerous. With distances shortened by the communication revolution we’ve witnessed over the last decade, extremists have access to a wider audience than ever before. And in times of difficulty, extremism gains further appeal. The insecurity fostered by the war on terrorism and the global economic crisis drives people around the world into the arms of extremists, who offer simple solutions for problems that seem beyond our control and comprehension. These solutions, however, are based on a narrow understanding of reality that can only lead to conflict.

Extremism then, in all its forms, must be stopped. But before that can happen, it must be recognized as extremism. In the Islamic case, both Muslims and non-Muslims acknowledge that the values and actions of militants and ideologues speaking in the name of Islam are a form of extremism that cannot be accepted. Similarly, the boorish and ignorant positions promoted by the likes of Rush Limbaugh in the name of the Republican Party must be rejected as extremism, not given increased airtime and newsprint by a media culture that relishes loud slogans and easy entertainment.

In this case, Frum’s article is a step in the right direction. But how willing is America, along with its peers in the international community, to leave behind the undemanding cookie-cutter solutions offered by extremists, in favor of the more complex answers that can form the basis of lasting peace and security?

14 comments:

Dubman01 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baz said...

Extremism is relative. Something can only be extreme if it's far from what is average or "normal." What is "average", "in the middle", "normal","mainstream", or "moderate" changes with the time and place. There is, therefore, no universal or timeless extreme. Capitalism was once seen as an extremist ideology and still is by some. But look around the world of today and you'll quickly realize that Capitalism is the world's largest religion. Some 6 billion people around the world spend each and every day searching for money--the God of capitalism--in pursuit of wealth (the capitalist version of paradise). But this is not seen as "extremism" because it's thoroughly mainstream. Few question what money is or why it exists--but it guides our lives and maintains world order and international hegemony more reliably than any army ever did.


Extremism in American Media:

In the realm of American media, extremism has become the most popular form of entertainment. The more extreme, the greater the response. And in a place where everyone has a voice, only the "extremists" are loud enough to get noticed, leading to a polarized dialogue where people from all extremes enter into a verbal combat, where the weaponry is ignorance and intolerance and the objective is entertainment. Rush Limbaugh may or may not believe what he says, but he knows how to get noticed and that's all he cares about. An intelligent dialogue between "moderates" involves too much civility to ever pass as entertainment and therefore doesn't get noticed. In America, media = entertainment, and anyone who doesn't understand that will never succeed in that industry. Having said that, Rush Limbaugh, through entertainment of the masses, has become become very influential in American society. His ideas are often taken very seriously by his audience of brainless followers. And the spread of extremist ideas in a population with minimal education can be problematic. The uneducated person has few alternate sources of knowledge to refer to when confronted with an extreme idea and is therefore more likely to be influenced by extremism.

Anonymous said...

*much rejoicing*
You've done it again Nour! Captured and articulated thoughts I would have had, had I taken the time to think them. :D
What an awesome piece. Awesome awesome awesome.
Nice work!
Hugs,
Ray

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