Extremism in the 21st Century: an appeal against religious and political radicalisation.

By Leonardo C. L. A. Bandarra.

Extremism has always been a cumbersome issue in the history of mankind.  On the one hand, people who embrace extreme convictions are usually those who blindly endeavour to destroy everyone who thinks otherwise; on the other, those who hold moderate convictions usually assume that the best way to deal with extremists is through constructive dialogue. Extremists, however, are not prone to talk, for they excoriate the idea of being wrong about the fundamental aspects of their worldviews. To understand the essential facets of extremism and why it has recently spread out around the world, it is vital to characterize this concept, as well as analyse why it plagues politics and religion.

Abubakar Shekau (Boko Haram), flanked by his men, has pledged loyalty to Islamic State. Image source: BBC

Extremism is a narrow way of understanding the world, through which a specific worldview is extolled as the sole approach to comprehend human relations, regarding political extremism, or the relations between the man and the divine, concerning religious extremism. Hence, extremists consider it their right to attack and to annihilate everyone whose worldview is different from theirs. And they do that merely for the kudos of freeing the world from those they consider threatening. A particular branch of extremism, typical of religion, is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a form of extremism whose adherents condemn any religious practice divergent from theirs as opposing the will of their deity – therefore, as heresy.

Nowadays, extremism has sprawled around the world, because society has become increasingly disenchanted with globalisation, religion and politics, as predicted by Immanuel Wallerstein, in his book Utopistics: Or, Historical Choices of the Twenty-first Century. In the field of politics, the Western-made democracy is being more and more contested, as far-right parties in Europe, in Asia and in the USA threaten to gun down the moderates whose policies were developed after the Second World War. This is done by describing those moderates as inefficient and by ascribing the 2008 financial crisis to their weakness. The amount of votes given in Marine Le Pen’s Front National in 2015’s French regional elections and the attention given to Donald Trump and to tea-party supporters Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries elucidates this process radicalisation in the right.

Image source: BBC

On the left, conversely, extremism is losing its lustre, especially after the breakdown of the USSR and after the current economic crisis in Venezuela. Though adepts of a narrow perception of Marxism-Leninism still play an important role in minor political parties and in the academy, especially in countries like Brazil, those people do not receive a wide public support. In Latin America, for example, even erstwhile guerrilla communist fighters, such president Dilma Rousseff, have turned to the centre of the political spectrum, whereas in Asia, political communism was adapted and has lost its international and revolutionary appeal.

Image source: BBC

Concerning religious fundamentalism, it has become staggeringly popular in some poor and culturally divided regions, such as the Middle East and Africa. Religious fundamentalism is a conundrum that afflicts practically all the major religions of the world, from Islamism to Hinduism. It has in recent times been the ideology used by some growing terrorist organisations, such as the Islamic State, to start a gory crusade against the infidels. IS has promoted the reorganisation of Middle Eastern geopolitics, as it was able to dismantle the fragile post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi political arrangement and the controversial Bashar al Assad’s regime. Through a twisted understanding of the precepts of the Qur’am, IS has furthermore promoted a butchery amid Iraqi and Syrian religious minorities and Shia population.

Extremism has recently become a world issue. Because society has become ever more disillusioned with run-of-the-mill moderate political and religious archetypes, extremist cliques have become stronger and have multiplied. Concerning politics, neither extreme right nor extreme left perceptions have proven to be successful paths to any society, whereas, regarding religious fundamentalism, extreme perceptions of any deity have led humankind countless times to butchery. Therefore, it is vital to tackle the rise of extremist, in its sundry forms, as fast as possible, in order to guarantee a safer world. This understandably means promoting the upswing and the revitalisation of political and religious moderate point of views.

zLeonardo C. L. A. Bandarra is a master candidate in the field of International Relations at the University of Brasilia, Brazil (lclab90@gmail.com).

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