What is extremism?

Abdollah Ganji
Abdollah Ganji

A political analyst shares his thoughts about extremism and how it should be detected.

In light of the fact that public perception of extremism does not cover all forms of recourse to measures beyond the norm, Dr. Abdollah Ganji, a political analyst, has defined the three main categories of extremism on Iran’s political scene after the revolution and presented criteria to distinguish between moderation and deviation from the revolutionary path. The following is a translation of his piece in Javan daily:

History has recorded a spectrum of social and political behaviors which are usually categorized as “bad-tempered”, “patient”, “ambitious”, “people-pleasing”, “aggressive”, “sullen”, “radical”, and “extremist”.

In the post-revolution Iran, approaches that prescribe going too far or those that do not require efforts to go far enough have either fallen into the category of values or anti-values.

Some are of the opinion that extremism is the same as being a revolutionary, while others think it amounts to nothing but irresponsibility and lack of wisdom. Since the revolution of 1979 in Iran, the presence of extremists has been felt in the seminary as well as in universities and political movements.

Extremism and conservatism have always had and will continue to have their own advocates. However, after President Rouhani took office and floated the notion of moderation, such an approach got a chance to present itself on the political stage.

When reformists were in power, extremism was equated to violence and reformist iconoclasts were labeled as radicals by their political opponents.

Ayatollah Hashemi and President Rouhani and some radical figures of the Reformist Front have regularly referred to the notion of “extremism” and to some extent have succeeded in internalizing it.

In other words, the government of moderation is seeking to eliminate the two extremist groups. Nonetheless, one group tries to join the ranks of Rouhani and rally behind his cause of moderation to seek protection as if their background has not been recorded in history.

To fathom the concept of extremism, it’s necessary to know what it means. Extremism can fall under three headings, whereas the public perception of it regards verbal extremism as a floor and physical violence as a ceiling. What delivers a blow to our principles, behavioral patterns, and political unity is neither the floor nor the ceiling of extremism. To get a better insight into the concept of extremism, the three categories are defined below:

1. Verbal extremists: Those who adopt an offensive tone tinged with finger-pointing. They even insult people and besmirch their reputation. They usually enter the world of politics on a whim and are likely to leave it soon. They lack political consistency in a democratic hierarchy.

2. Political-physical extremists: Those who do not follow any specific pattern in either promoting their viewpoints or in eliminating their rivals. Holding illegal rallies, committing vandalism, and raiding the gatherings and houses of their opponents are some of the things they embark on.

3. Iconoclast extremists: In my opinion, those who fall into this group display the worst form of extremism. Since public perception of extremism does not include beliefs, they hide behind an impressive mask of intellectualism to deflect public attention. They put intellectualism against superficiality and sugarcoat their ideas to follow their political goals through non-violent, intellectual means.

What is the criterion to know extremists by? Are extremists those who distance themselves from the establishment or those who are inclined to it?

Are they the ones supported by the West or those rejected by it? Undoubtedly, based on one of the instructions of the architect of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini, – if you are hailed by a foe, second-guess yourself – it can be said that extremists are those who are defended by the West in the face of the establishment.

According to the ideology of the Islamic Revolution, extremists are those who are logical characters from a Western viewpoint, because not only do they not consider the Islamic Republic establishment Islamic, but also they seek to promote the Western lifestyle as a global trend in Iran.

From the perspective of religious figures, extremists are not those who are willing to put their lives, wealth, or reputation on the line to safeguard the revolution. Instead, to them extremists are those who are poised to trade the establishment for Western and international human rights awards and prefer a prestigious humanitarian posture to human-Islamic values.

Extremists are those who stood up to the governing model put forth by Ayatollah Khomeini, and demanded Constitutionalism, Republicanism or a combination of both, democracy and so on as a replacement and are now under the banner of moderation.

To get a better understanding of this argument, we can take a look at the shift of stance by Hamid Reza Jalaeipour, Ali Shakouri-Rad, Mohammad Reza Khatami, and some others who have become a fixture in B.B.C. and VOA talk shows and see how their “Islamic lifestyle” has shrunk to “adaptability to the environment”.

Extremists are not those who paint a bad image of their rivals to highlight their weaknesses or play down their strengths – which is a wise, though immoral, tactic in today’s politics. In fact, they are the ones who identify the principles and values of the Islamic Revolution as values of a certain political group, so that they can easily overstep them.

They are the ones who have not even once backed the general policies of the establishment in their media and have no plans to do so in the future. Have those who claim to be against extremists ever backed such policies as “transformation of the education system”, “resistance-based economy”, “the comprehensive scientific roadmap”, “macro-policies on population”, and “foreign policy”?

Can a tinge of support be traced in their media, articles, books or speeches? Without a shadow of doubt, on Iran’s political scene today, there is a clash of ideas between three groups:

One lays emphasis on the continued existence of the revolution and consolidation of its objectives [though at times it might make mistakes in terms of methods and tactics]. People in the second group are those who have plunged into doubt and inaction and hide themselves behind development and welfare. The third are the ones who think that the path to development, progress and utopia goes through unquestioning obedience to the West.

It is not very difficult to recognize and critique the first and the third group. However, the second group has some populist modern complexities. Therefore, one can say that the concept of “extremism” has undergone some transformation and shared the same fate as some other concepts like “reforms”, “cooperation”, and “Imam Khomeini’s line of thinking” which have faced a concept crisis.

There are three criteria indicating moderation in the Islamic Revolution: compliance with the general policies of the establishment, following the Supreme Leader’s instructions, and securing US disappointment with the political trend. Having said that, we should not confine extremism just to aggression or physical violence.

Although such cases are wrong, still they do not cause damage to the Islamic Revolution or the path its founder Ayatollah Khomeini presented to us; slander on the revolution is as bad as slander on people. The revolution should be respected as much as people are supposed to be respected. That’s why we should commit to our memory what happened [in the wake of the presidential elections] in 2009.

 

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