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Thoughts For A New Decade!

January 1, 2011

The translated title of the cartoon below is:  ‘Preachers of Extremism’ Control Mind Of ‘Youth’.  To see it larger click the thumbnail.

Cartoonist: Jehad Awartany
Source: Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, December 17, 2010.
Translation: MEMRI holds copyrights on all translations. Materials may only be used with proper attribution.

Thoughts For A New Decade
By Malcolm L. Rigsby

Group Think is a powerful tool of those seeking to shape social realities. Extremists exist in many forms around the world. While the media industry as a whole seeks to promote the news in an objective fashion, news lines may become rote. Sometimes media services focus on particular extremist groups while giving other groups little exposure. In a world of news this tendency is understandable. But, we should not limit our examination of extremism to only select groups of people, governments, or cultures. If we do so, we run the risk of monocularizing our senses to the point that we fail to identify other forms of extremism. One particular extremism the media, the government, and even religion focuses on currently is religious extremism.

Extremism is not only a tendency of religion. Extremism has potential to grow politics and nationalism. Whatever the public or private arena, charismatic leaders may encourage adherents to internalize and exhibit extreme beliefs, norms, values, and practices. Actions of these extremists may be expressed through forms of inclusivism, exclusivism, passivism, as well as activism. These extreme tendencies may appear in the rhetoric of those at the forefront of each society or group. Judicial, executive, and legislative branches of governments as well as many religious denominations, sects, and cults have the tendency to become driven by secular or sectarian dogmas. Rhetoric, once externalized may be empowered and accelerated by various media outlets, which perhaps while well-meaning may generate caricatures that become social labels or stigmas that strengthen extremist public identities or polarize groups. These labels may lead the public to perpetuate rhetoric from those who wish to espouse their own agendas.

Neither governmental, religious, nor other figures are exempt from these extreme agenda setting potentialities. Agendas may drive military expansion for territory, resources, and empire building; or may serve to motivate religious or political manifest destinies. To those followers within the group these beliefs are admirable, beneficial, or even holy. For those of the out group these same beliefs may be deplorable, detrimental, or even heretical. Extremes may bring about exclusive tendencies that drive isolationist and socialist policies, or promote capitalistic policies. Accordingly, these agendas may seek a cooperative semblance making all people alike; or conversely establish a competitive atmosphere promoting the status quo thereby enabling domination of those that are different. History has exemplified how these outcomes have played out through both socialism and capitalism. Outwardly, a society may appear to be constructed of peoples that are similar, yet be undercut with divisions that establish pecking order of status and various degrees of oppression. Our own democratic republic regardless its idealism set forth in our constitution, good intentions, and despite it being a light to other nations seeking to establish democratic principles bears witness to these oppressive tendencies. These policies may exclude differing cultures. They may segregate peoples and help to feed theories like Huntington’s clash of civilizations. Conversely, rhetoric may influence an inclusive tendency which reflects positive relationship building proposals. Inclusive tendencies may also be extreme in outcomes. And, although not discussed herein, extreme inclusive identities maybe ultimately become exclusive and intolerant of other groups as society progressively spirals. It may be said that the Roman Empire sought inclusive relationships with others through conquering them. Their progressive inclusion of the known world led to ultimate exclusion. Hence, forced inclusion within territorial boundaries, religion, or even political belief system may be a form of extremism. We must remember in our multicultural relationships even the best placed intention may not be viewed by the other party as acceptable. We must remember that diverse cultures have their own histories, narratives, beliefs, and folkways that are as deeply embedded within their social institutions, organizations, and identity constructs as are our own.

As we begin this new year, may we all seek to uncover these cultural ways and beliefs, needs, and desires for what they are; social identities. May we seek to understand what the mean to those who have for generations internalized them. As we do so, we must seek to uncover, examine, and salvage mainstream understandings that may emerge. As part of a civil society, that is evermore growing; evermore public through the many globalizing forces world, we must recognize that we have become ever more proximate to each other. We are part of the larger community of beings and so, must seek unified strength through realizing that between the extremes there is an opportunity to recognize and foster a balance of life where each culture may co-exist, promote and enjoy their own identity while cooperating with other cultures. This recognizes the richness of diversity and promotes multicultural relationships. This beginning must be based upon and characterized by honest and truthful search for common interests and needs, open communication and cooperative behavior. This practice seeks to create a relationship between all cultures of the world in which mainstream segments of each culture work together to oppose extreme forms of inclusivism and exclusivism. Diversity is good and should offer inroads that lead to alternative methodologies for life. Combined with multicultural respect for others, diversity provides a basic platform for social human welfare and promotes goals lent toward uplifting basic social needs and human life.

Utopian you may say. Perhaps so. But without risk taking in order to seek out, explore, and propagate dreams we never take the first step to realize them. It is not failure that measures our exercise of potential, but rather whether or not we make the attempt to realize goals.

Malcolm L. Rigsby is a faculty member in sociology at Ouachita Baptist University, completing his Ph.D. at Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas. He holds his J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law and is a licensed attorney in Arkansas and Texas.

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