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?