We’re All Extremists Now

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The timing of Omar Mateen’s shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was rotten for the Obama administration, because Secretary of State John Kerry had just published his carefully worded Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), in which the word religion or religious appears nine times, but Islam, Islamist, and Muslim appear nary a-once.  The administration’s refusal to say the words radical Islamic terror became a talking point for the Trump campaign in the wake of Little Omar’s act of mass murder.

Thus, a visibly angry Barack Obama took time to lash out at “politicians who tweet” during a Rose Garden speech, wagging his nannyfinger at the rubes who, by speaking negatively about Islam, are fanning the flames of worldwide jihad—er, “violence”—and recruiting ambiguously religious extremists for “Eye-sull.”  How dare anyone question the President’s dedication to defeating nonsectarian hate, when he has been keeping all of us safe, except for those who have not been kept safe, like all of the recently dead people, whose deaths must be attributed to assault weapons, Republicans, and homo- and Islamophobia.

President Obama resolutely refuses to refer to the threat America faces as something related to Islam, or Islamists, or Muslims, or Muslimists, or any other term that casts even a hint of blame upon the teachings of Muhammad or the practitioners of his phony, Manichaean, inherently violent, deliberately dissembling, Christ-hating religion.  Yes, that’s exactly what Islam is.  And in spite of an oft-cited statistic disguised as a moral maxim (“the world’s one billion Muslims”), I will repeat: Islam is all of those things, and more.  Fifty-million Elvis fans can be wrong.

Violent extremism is the President’s preferred term, and he’s been working it into our heads like a packet of Fleischmann’s ever since he took office.  Now I’m all in favor of demanding that we call a spade a spade (see above); but I also think that, by focusing on what the President won’t say, we’re missing an opportunity to walk around undetected in that Amityville horror of a place that we call the liberal mind and learn something about the other side.

What could Barack Obama possibly mean when he refers to violent extremism?

We can make quick progress by solving one side of the equation: Violent means “forcible,” a willingness to use power, from the Latin vis, strength.  Max Weber, that father of all gun-grabbers and justifier of bloated government, famously said that the state has the only legitimate monopoly on violence.  This emasculating notion, thrust like a rapier through the ribs of traditional society, snatches away natural loyalty and binds men to something that is artificial and abstract.  You can look at a man’s body, contrast it with a woman’s, and see that it was designed to exercise strength to protect the man’s family—and even the most liberal biologist has no trouble attributing this quality to, say, a silverback gorilla.  Human history records a fairly consistent tradition of moral limits placed on man’s violent actions—limits that appeal to divine authority.  The modern state pretends that it is the source of that authority, the only entity capable of granting a man permission to be what he was made to be.  Like the Roman emperors of old, the modern state demands veneration and total obedience: Pay your taxes to fund abortion, sign up your daughter for the draft, and welcome Bruce Jenner to the ladies’ room.  State worship is the sort of idolatry that John the Revelator wrote about, using terms like beast and whore.

Ultimately, then, the willingness to employ God-given strength, to use violence, needs some kind of context for us to know whether it is good or evil.  After all, God Himself is violent.

We will search in vain within the aforementioned CVE for any sort of concrete definition of extremism.  As if written by a kindergarten teacher, the Obama administration’s document teaches us that violent extremists “pose a significant challenge,” speak “a variety of languages,” are “born of many racial and ethnic groups,” and belong to “diverse religions.”  That last bit of vagueness is a real dinger, as President Obama continues to insist that Eye-sull does not represent a certain Mecca-based religion at all but, rather, is a perversion of it.  Are we to infer, then, that there are no “violent extremists” among the world’s one billion Muslims?  To what “diverse religions” do these extremists belong?

In a prelude to a plea for massive amounts of USAID, the CVE informs us that the ambiguously religious peoples who occupy countries and regions that have grown politically and economically unstable are prone to extremism.  We might be tempted to take this as an explanation for the fact that Eye-sull (or “Da’esh,” as the CVE prefers—a term that will get your tongue cut out if you use it in front of a member of Eye-sull) has been able to recruit dumb middle-class Americans.  Again, in a section that is actually labeled “Defining and Understanding Violent Extremism,” we get no definitions, only the vaguest of allusions:

Violent extremism is not necessarily tied to a particular religion, ideology, or set of political beliefs, although there is consistency in the extreme ideology propagated and exploited by various terrorist organizations including Da’esh over recent years to justify their violence.

Would this “consistency” have anything to do with the fact that the “extreme ideology” is Islamic?  No, it turns out that “ethnic intolerance” and “State repression of cultural and religious expression” are what all of the extremist hotbeds have in common.  (We might reasonably conclude, then, that if a certain politician who tweets were to build the border wall and “temporarily pause” Muslim immigration, Idaho would turn into Syria.)

No, the Obama administration is careful not to define extremism because, if it did, we might be able to evaluate the definition.  We are simply supposed to know what it means, and if we claim that we don’t know, we might just be extremists ourselves.

Extremist was a favorite term of President Bill Clinton, a measurable fact that made for an interesting essay in 1996 by the late William Safire in the New York Times.  Clinton threw the word at all of his political opponents, wrote Safire, as part of his buddy Dick Morris’s “triangulation” strategy, by which Clinton’s left-wing ideology and the policies that resulted from it were successfully passed off as “moderate” when compared with the “extremism” of the right.  Rhetorically, it worked, unlike Hillary’s “vast right-wing conspiracy,” which felt more like the punchline of a bad joke.

Thanks to the careful tutelage of liberals, Americans somehow know that “moderate” means morally sound, irenic, patient, wise, sympathetic, and presidential.  “Extremism” on the other hand is divisive, arrogant, self-serving, contradictory, belligerent, and unpresidential.  A moderate will “feel your pain.”  An extremist will cause it.

In defiance of the “unthinking and stupid” extremist label, Barry Goldwater famously took the donkey by the ears back in 1964, during his speech at the Republican National Convention.  Accepting the nomination for the presidency, Goldwater declared, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.  And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  The statement might have rolled off the quill of Thomas Jefferson, but no matter: It was roundly excoriated because, well, extremism!  Richard Nixon, whom Goldwater had thanked at the beginning of the speech, sat on his hands when the line was delivered and later predicted that identifying with extremism of any sort would lose Goldwater the election handily.  Indeed, Lyndon Johnson delivered the fatal blow with his rejoinder, “Extremism in the pursuit of the Presidency is an unpardonable vice.  Moderation in the affairs of the nation is the highest virtue.”  He then went on to create the Great Society.

The English root, extreme (Lat. extremis), simply means “the outmost.”  It is a word that denotes space, as in the “extreme reaches of the county.”  But as with all language, the word evolved; it came to connote regions of mental and moral space.  Since extreme originally meant “the farthest,” it rankled Dr. Johnson that Shakespeare applied degrees to it, using extremer and extremest.  But it took (by the lights of my OED) a writer in England’s Eclectic Review in 1846 to turn “the outmost” into an ideological label, extremist, “one who is disposed to go to the extreme.”  Daniel Webster follows in 1850 with the second known usage: “The extremists of both parties of the country are violent.”  Well, of course they are: They’re extremists!

Conservatives need to recognize this slippery word for what it is: an attempt to obfuscate, to hide questions of right and wrong behind a veneer of prudence.  If an extremist is one who lives on the fringe of acceptable thought and behavior, what is the standard against which he is rebelling?  On what basis do we say that one has traveled too far from the amorphous “middle”?  Because the media says so?  And if the quite obviously Muslim terrorists are merely extremists, in what sense have they gone too far?  What is the acceptable part of Islam that is not “extreme”—the Muslims’ desire to establish sharia, their hatred of the Trinity, their belief in the ever-spreading “realm of submission,” the Dar al-Islam?  Is it acceptable for them simply to believe in those things, provided that they do not act on them by employing force (“violence”)?

And if the will to act on his beliefs is the only thing a Muslim lacks to qualify him as a violent extremist, doesn’t that make every country that has a share in “the world’s one billion Muslims” a powder keg?

Little Omar’s incendiary rage was reportedly touched off by his being a Muslim with a predilection for sodomy living in a pluralistic society in which he was tempted and succumbed; and so he bargained with Allah by balancing the scales.  In addition, he was on the receiving end of free speech in the form of Islamophobic taunts.  Thus, by the media’s own accounting, Omar Mateen was “radicalized” by liberal American society, which cannot say no (and, in fact, says an enthusiastic yes) to Muslims, then does everything it can to push them to embrace the fullness of their religion.

It is utterly useless to pin a Muslim terrorist’s actions on “violent extremism.”  A father who shoots a rapist shimmying through his daughter’s bedroom window is, by definition, a violent extremist.  So is anyone who thinks our laws against illegal immigration should be enforced.  So are the Founding Fathers of this country, including the one who said that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  So are you, and so am I.        

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