The extremist surge of the Islamic World is a recent, dangerous phenomenon that we simply cannot afford to misinterpret as we do. We confuse, sometimes by accident and sometimes by deliberate efforts, Muslims versus terrorists, or fundamentalists versus violent extremists. We take a massive group of hundreds of millions of people, all with their own backgrounds, views, and experiences, and simplify them to little niche of our imaginations. We fail to realize the modern context of extremism, bred by decades of economic, social, and political situations and factors. Arguably even more dangerous, we get religion and the violence of some practitioners confused in a way that simply asks for more violence, backwardness, and indoctrinated thinking.
The crisis that religion is facing in the west only pampers the western contempt in the east. That we fail to recognize the importance of doctors of the soul, theologians, or the role of church in the world around us marginalizes those who do to an extreme. Certainly our modern church institutions are in a great deal of controversy (and rightly so, I am no evangelical), but refusing to attend them and uprooting them as a tradition of American society only asks for more ignorant insensitive viewpoints. We may not realize it, but many of the religious problems are happening in much of the Middle East as it happens here. To the secularist, religion is irrelevant, but to pretend it’ll go away sometime soon is no more than a child fantasy as religion is in the atheist mind. It must be dealt with lest we leave religion to the crazies who contrive all the more crazily without the moderates.
As we face the radical religious right, be of any faith, we must be open in arms, ready for dialogue. Should we ask for confrontation, I can assure you they will be more ruthless, dangerous, and outspoken than we could ever be. Confrontation is asking them for publicity, them for power. This doesn’t mean we should sit down with terrorists for lunch every once in a while (too dangerous!), but we need to understand their thinking and sit down with the people that are on the fence. The great military mastermind Sun Tzu tells us to “know the enemy”. Without understanding them for what they are and not what we make them out to be, we are lost. Their contexts, history, and backgrounds aren’t changing, and we have to deal with that.
The extremists roots of the Middle East in particular stem from a context, history, and background of violence and oppression from colonial puppet governments and global empires (the USA included, I’ll explain why it’s an empire one day). The hypocrisy our foreign affairs has played in that region, our support of dictatorship after dictatorship in the endless saga for oil isn’t unknown. Believe it or not, not all Middle Easterners are stupid, and they see the true motives behind much of the freedom-loving rhetoric of our presidents. The isolated religious right that is in a cycle of marginalization that ends only in bloodshed grows a contempt for the rhetoric of the powerhouses of the west, and uses them as a scapegoat (sometimes rightly so) for their own problems. Then they go out in their endless saga of bloodshed to sacrifice that scapegoat under the cover of religion or nationalistic obligation.
We cannot go as far to say that the west is responsible for all of the extremist problems of the Near East, but we cannot pretend that we are responsible for some. We must learn from the mistakes intervention and Muslim marginalization has caused us and adapt to the circumstances we are in. To pretend they have no context, or that their marginalization is entirely a result of their own thinking is foolish, and we must respond with tact and diplomacy instead of through an anarchy of bigotry and arrogance. Our warring causes them to respond to warring, believe it or not, and should we choose to not understand them while bombing innocent civilians just as they do is committing societal suicide. If we continue the way we’re going, the anger and rage that has cost hundreds of thousands will only cost more, and that is in the interests of no one.