Commentary By Elliot Friedland Sunday, August 13, 2017
URL of the original posting site: https://clarionproject.org/smash-extremism/
In the aftermath of yesterday’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia, we must address problems of rising extremism on all sides of the political spectrum.
In case you missed what happened, one person was killed and 19 others injured after a man rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at a “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia. The march was notable for its open use of Nazi insignia and salutes, confederate flags, chants like “White Lives Matter” and “you will not replace us.” Of course there was also violence.
These were displays of naked and unacceptable bigotry that must be staunchly opposed. Although Clarion focuses on Islamic extremism, different forms of extremism feed into each other.
Let’s unpack it.
Resentful Identity Politics Fuels Hatred
“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders,” Nazi leader Hermann Goering, who knew a thing or two about whipping the masses into a blind fury, said during the Nuremberg trials. “That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
The Virginia rally featured white nationalist protesters chanting “White Lives Matter” who clearly saw their group (white people) as being under attack. This narrative has been revved up by white supremacist leaders who are capitalizing on an increasingly militant subsection of the left which views all white people as inherently oppressive. The modern narrative of “white victimhood” thus builds on the legacy of historical white supremacy for the modern age.
Similarly, there are also Islamic hate preachers who use this same narrative — that Muslims are under threat — to peddle hateful rhetoric and recruit vulnerable people to extremist causes.
Both of these extremist ideas are fueled by framing the group identity as being hugely important and something that is under attack. Hateful ideas fuel violence.
Traumatic Events Can Increase Polarization
What is called “confirmation bias” by psychologists can result in violent events driving people further apart, as people interpret a situation through the lens of their pre-existing beliefs.
It’s why anti-fascist activist Daryl Lamont Jenkins told The Atlantic following yesterday’s protests, “This is the beginning of the end of the alt-right, that’s for sure,” while alt-right protester Andrew Dodson told the same reporter, “This is a phenomenal victory.”
Events like this can deepen distrust between the left and the right. They can lead to more left-aligned people suspecting all right wingers of being neo-Nazis, while right wing people accuse the left of focusing on a handful of extremists rather than other issues.
American Ideals Transcend Identities
America has one of the best national narratives around. America was intended to be “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” as Abraham Lincoln said, in contrast to ethno-nationalist ideas of “blood and soil.”