The Fight Against Extremism

“We have to fight extremism” – this is phrase I keep hearing and seeing over and over again, especially with the local Beit Shemesh municipal elections having taken place.

It seemed to me that for many, the voting in these elections was based on a strong feeling that ‘extremism is taking over Beit Shemesh’.

Does it make sense to combat extremism by voting for the other side?

‘Extremism’ can be defined  as ‘extreme – ism’ which means an individual or a group of people who take a particular set of ideas or beliefs and practice them with extremity, or at least, they take the concept much further than others who may have somewhat similar beliefs.

It makes sense to say, that in order to conclude a particular person or group is ‘extreme’ in their beliefs or behaviors, one would need to live in a similar frame of reality, so that one would be able to make the comparison.

The idea that ‘extremism’ equates just to people acting violently is not automatically true. The same way that for one sect it is perfectly normal to act in a certain way, whether their actions are culturally or religion based, the alleged ‘extremist’ could very well say the same about their actions. After all, an ‘extremist’ is unlikely to perceive themselves as such.

A secular person will likely perceive the entire concept of religion as ‘extreme’, while a religious person will perceive a secular lifestyle as extreme in other ways.

A person may only wish that they be perceived and accepted as different and nothing more, but should we really expect one who is different to us to become inclined to make sense of the way we are?

As such, both groups will tend to generalize and scrutinize each and every incident that could prove the other as fundamentalists.

Therefore I conclude that the issue is not about extremism and of fighting it. Rather, the concern is whether we as a people or individual are tolerant towards differences and people who are dissimilar to us.

Otherwise, fighting extremism makes as much sense in its lack of tolerance as the other way around, namely a so-called extremist fighting you and your values.

It never did make sense to me how people will seek to vote for a secular politician in order to fight ‘extremism’, all it proves is that their underlying value is further intolerance.

For example: Does it ever make sense that Hamas, an entirely religiously founded (terrorist) organization would wish to speak to or negotiate with a secular Israeli or American politician? And yet, we still expect them to.

At the same time, the term ‘extremist’ is correlated with the idea of danger and risk taking. This is of course something that makes people feel uncomfortably anxious, since they cannot predict the next step of a group of people they feel may act irrationally.

It is ironic that this week was the Yahrzeit  (anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach who was known for his love and acceptance of all. For those who knew him, he was also a very strongly opinionated personality.

In essence, not only is there nothing wrong with being strongly opinionated, it is a recommended way of living. But there is a difference between being opinionated and being prejudiced against others beliefs and ideas.

Let’s stop using language of war as if there is one…There is no war!!! Yes, there are plenty of differences but can we not learn to deal with it?

An idea for a way forward in creating more tolerance can be taken from the famous classic social psychology experiment and study of prejudice and conflict, otherwise known as ‘The robbers cave experiment’. (Read up about it here). To summarize, it proved how in a very short period of time, just by teaming on a project the two groups of children were able to become friends once again. Of course one can say that the case in the experiment would be very different than dealing with adults who have long standing differences in beliefs already since childhood.

Yet, I stay hopeful because there are so many common goals to explore which can be of importance to all parties and when such objectives are worked on with a united front, harmony and unity will no doubt be promoted.

Let us encourage our local, as well as public leaderships to seek in creating common goals that will help our communities to flourish and thrive and become one that we are all proud to live in.

Do you have an initiative (even on a small scale) in mind that could get both sides of the spectrum working together?

About the Author
Menachem Schloss grew up in Stamford Hill, London, lives currently in Beit Shemesh, Israel. He has a private therapy practice and blogs on thought provoking ideas in psychotherapy.