Left-Right Politics & Bad Ideas

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An interfaith rally in Chicago (Photo: JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

Much of the debate about Islamism in the West has to do with a different weighting of threats.

One side minimizes the threat, saying:

Yes, Islamism is a hateful ideology that wants to impose an outdated brand of religious conservatism on everyone, but they are just a fringe group with no broad following. Most of those who oppose it are doing so because they are suspicious of Muslims and foreigners. Besides, most of the growth of Islamism has to do with geopolitical factors, like foreign policy, racism and economic exclusion or socio-psychological factors, like toxic masculinity. Excessive focus on that ideology merely demonizes all Muslims and provides ammunition for the far right, who are the real threat to our peace and security. The far-right, white supremacist ideology is structurally embedded into Western civilization and needs to be uprooted through a sustained cultural program of education.

The other side maintains:

No, we have to call out Islamism clearly and robustly. Islamists are not acting for personal, non-political reasons, but out of a strong conviction in their ideology. It is offensive to argue that Muslims are not capable of developing, maintaining and following through on sophisticated political goals, or that somehow only white people are capable of this. While is true that white supremacist and problematic far-right ideology exists, its current resurgence has far more to do with a reaction to Islamism and left-wing overreach than it does with the appeal of fascism in the 21st century. School shootings and other such attacks are often the work of deranged individuals or those on nihilistic destructive paths due to their own emotional problems. To secure a peaceful future, we need to uproot the Islamist ideology which is killing thousands globally each year.

The media acts like only one of these options is right, and there has to be a titanic struggle to see which will come out on top. Part of that is due to the adversarial nature of our politics and talk shows.

In reality, the difference between those two positions is overblown. Reasonable people agree that both Islamism and the far-right are bad ideas which, if allowed to run rampant, will cause significant and irreparable harm to our society. Both positions agree that ideology and cultural conditioning play an important role in the spread of bad ideas. Both also agree that reactions to geopolitical events can play a role in pushing people towards bad ideas.

Whether Islamism or white supremacy is worse or which one is a greater threat is an academic question. In terms of public policy, which one is worse is of no importance, since it is clear that tackling both is necessary. Moreover, addressing one does not inhibit addressing the other.

Clarion is a single issue organization, since we believe that focusing our limited resources on one specific goal is more likely to lead to success. Other single issue organizations are focused on tackling white supremacy and the far-right. We wish them the best of luck.

There is really no need for people who believe in essentially the same thing (freedom) to be arguing over which form of tyranny they want least.

Why not just fight for having no tyranny at all?



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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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