It seems, at times, that there are no limits to extremism. I guess that’s why they call it “extremism.”
The recent murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, age 36, comes to mind, although there are numerous examples to be found in all the nooks and crannies of the Middle East. Vittorio was an Italian activist and journalist, who chose to live in Gaza since 2008, and who championed the rights of Palestinians for the last several years. He was abducted quite recently by a radical Islamic group inspired by al Qaeda, and was used as a bargaining chip to pressure Hamas, the ruling political faction in Gaza, to release some political prisoners, including a Sheikh whom they consider their leader.
The group threatened to kill Vittorio if their demands were not met, and a short deadline of 30 hours was put in place. Perhaps the victim tried to convince his captors that he too was fighting for justice for Palestinians. But in the end, the group decided to mete out its own brand of justice. In an unfortunate turn of events, the group’s demands were not met, and Vittorio was strangled to death, even before the deadline had elapsed.
Up until several days ago, I would have thought that Hamas was pretty extreme, calling for such tidbits as the destruction of the State of Israel, and death to the Jews. But now, however, it seems that this Salafist group may be even more extreme than Hamas, murdering an advocate for the Palestinian cause, even as Hamas watched in disbelief, and was rendered powerless to stop it from happening. Is it possible that this extremist group, which has become a thorn in Hamas’ side, could be a wake-up call to Hamas, that maybe there is a better way to move forward? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.
Such is the nature of extremism. There is no stopping it once it takes hold. One act of terror begets another, as the cold-hearted calculus of our cause takes us to a place where there is no mercy, where almost anything goes, and where almost any heartless act of violence is deemed justifiable in the name of a greater purpose.
Aristotle taught us, a long time ago, that the truth is rarely to be found in the extremes. Rather, truth is usually to be found somewhere in the middle. In short, truth is not an extremist position. For example, if you were to ask Aristotle to define courage, he would probably say that it is somewhere in the middle between being foolhardy on the one hand, and being a coward on the other. It is somewhere in the middle, somewhere that Aristotle called The Golden Mean.
As we search for new paths in the Middle East, paths that are more likely to take us to a better place, we should never lose sight of the fact that there are people out there who will tell us “No!” at every turn. These are people who are very committed to their cause, and for whom failure is not an option. Many of them have convinced themselves that God is on their side, and they have no qualms about killing in His name, even though it is precisely His creatures they are killing.
We should keep the extremist agenda in mind as we venture forth to realize a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. An opportunity exists, this time around, to make something happen along these lines. But the extremists will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to derail us. Therefore, we will have no choice but to commit ourselves as strongly to our cause as they are to theirs. We will embrace moderation as tightly as they embrace extremism. We will dare to see the world in shades of gray, as they see only black and white. We will accommodate ourselves to our sense of self-doubt, as they convince themselves of the certainly of their cause.
To triumph over extremism, we will chart for ourselves a course that is likely to take us to a new Middle East, and we will not deviate from our journey, even as fear and intimidation are thrust upon us. We realize that much of what preceded us has led us astray, and we know too that there are those among us who would wish to confound our sense of right and wrong, but we will be true to ourselves as we venture forth to what promises to be a promised land.
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