When is an extremist not an extremist?

No, this isn’t some kind of I say, I say, I say joke, it’s a serious question. Under what terms do we consider someone to be an extremist? I ask because two sources which I’ve always considered fairly moderate — although not perfect — have appeared to be exhibiting a little bit of double-standards and/or implicit racism this week.

First, there was the terror questions blog entry on the BBC Editors blog, which, regarding the apparent plot to blow planes up last week originally asked:

4 - Were they members of a terror cell or were they British-born?Daniel Pearl, Dep. Ed. Newsnight

To be fair, when I, along with several other people pointed out to Daniel that it was surely at least theoretically possible for someone to be a member of a terror cell and be British, he corrected the entry, changing the story to read "foreign terror cell". Now this may well have been a legitimate mistake and there may have been no behind the scenes racism, but this sort of journalistic mistake is at best unhelpful and at worst overtly racist. Credit to Daniel for admitting the mistake, but big debits to him for making it in the first place.

Next, I read a nice little article on me old mucker Bruce Lawson’s site about why can’t all these religious fanatics (any religion) who want to go and kill others don’t basically just piss off to an island somewhere where they can murder each other and leave the rest of us in peace. Bruce also suggests Swindon as an alternative venue.

The sentiment is perfectly reasonable though: the majority of religious people (and non-religious people, for that matter) don’t want to go around slaughtering others in some sort of holy war, so why bring us into it at all? Let all the people who want to fight go out into the metaphorical pub car park and sort it out amongst themselves, and leave the rest of us to just get on with our lives.

And then I notice that the UK Government are doing much the same. Ruth Kelly MP has been telling the Muslim communities they must do more to combat extremism. At first glance, this sounds reasonable. We should all be combating extremism and just trying to live together happily, yes? And then, I hear the little Tommy Cooper voice in the back of my head:

Pot — Kettle. Kettle — Pot

Ruth Kelly? Fighting Religious extremism? Would that be the same Ruth Kelly who defended her link to Opus Dei? That would be the ultra-conservative Catholic sect Opus Dei, who are frequently viewed as extremist?

I’d just like to state clearly at this point that I’ve got nothing against either Ruth Kelly or Opus Dei (I’ve read the da Vinci Code, but regardless of what everyone else seems to think, have enjoyed it as an entertaining fictional romp) and indeed believe everyone should be free to worship as they wish provided they’re not hurting anyone else. I’m sure I wouldn’t agree with all their viewpoints, but I wouldn’t expect them to agree with all of mine, and as they don’t come bothering me asking me to change my mind, I’ll let them believe what they choose.

No, the point was that I think it’s a bit rich for someone who is associated with an organisation that many consider to be an extremist Christian organisation (I’ll leave the question of whether it is or not to the theologians) to tell believers of another religion that they shouldn’t be associated with religious extremism. Or are you only an extremist if you’re not Christian, in the same way you can only be a member of a terror cell if you’re not British? Well pardon me, but wasn’t there something about casting the first stone?

It’s not even that religious extremism is inherently wrong. If someone wants to donate all their money to the church (or whatever faith), live a very pious life and so on, that’s entirely up to them. If they go on to believe that homosexuality is inherently wrong, I’ll disagree with them, but I’ll defend their right to hold that viewpoint, provided that they don’t act in a discriminatory manner. It’s not religious extremism, fanaticism, whatever you want to call it that’s wrong. It’s treating people badly, and in particular killing them. That’s what’s wrong.

2 Responses to “When is an extremist not an extremist?”

  1. bruce responds:

    Nicely put, Jack. Nicely put.

  2. Grant Broome responds:

    I note that the terror questions blog entry has been changed? to include the word “foreign”.

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