The Root Cause of Extremism

After I dispatched this morning’s post on Anders Breivik and the Seeds of Evil, I came across another excellent commentary on CNN, this one by terrorism expert Marc Sageman: Why do Extremists like Breivik Turn to Violence? It closed with this (emphasis added):

The relationship between the leaders of these causes and terrorists is a complex one. On the one hand, the leaders usually do not take part in the actual violent attacks and cannot be blamed for them. Indeed, the terrorists often reject their leaders as just talkers. On the other hand, the leaders’ ideas and advocacy inspired the terrorist wannabes and gave meaning to their act. Extremism is not the same thing as violence, but it promotes violence.

Let’s hope that the tragedy in Oslo will stimulate discussion about the human costs of prejudice and help tone down the rhetoric of exclusion and alleged victimhood on all sides.

Here in the USA, we have the vice president allegedly likening members of the Tea Party to terrorists. On the right, we have people like Rush Limbaugh claiming President Obama is in lock-step with communists — and calling him “Osama” instead of “Obama” twice in the process. (Real funny joke. This was on Limbaugh’s website; if he had misspoken he could have corrected the transcript.)

As Marc Sageman pointed out, our leaders may not be committing violent acts, but they bear responsibility for inciting the acts of others.

You and I may think we’re off the hook because we’re not politicians or talk-show hosts. Not so fast. We are a leaders, too. If you’re a parent, you lead your children. If you’re active in your church, people look up to you. If you just have friends who listen when you speak, you are a leader.

Each of us bears some responsibility for the prevailing mood.

But what about those politicians and pundits? What makes them spout so many false or extreme statements — some so obviously ridiculous that a moment’s thought should have caught them in the throat before they were disgorged? How do our leaders end up contributing as they do to a culture of resentment and violence?

In my opinion there is one root cause: Too many of us sit at their feet and put up with — nay, welcome — their extreme statements. We lap up the slop with no more thought than our leaders gave to brewing it. We clamor for them to fill our bowls again and again, never pausing to consider whether the potent sludge might be poisoning our minds. We choose to get high on whatever makes us mad. How much more fun it is to be mad at our enemies than to take the time to find out that our trusted leaders are once again deceiving us!

People, it’s time to cast aside ideology of all sorts. If we are to restore sanity to public discourse, we must try our best to stick with facts, evidence and reason, and admit that often the facts are hard to find.

We must stop trusting our leaders just because they’re on our side. Visit or No matter what your political persuasion, you’ll find that your leaders have told you plenty of lies and you’ll find that plenty of people (maybe you) have believed them.

We get the leaders we deserve. Let’s make sure we deserve better.

2 responses to “The Root Cause of Extremism

  1. Great post! I whole heartedly agree!

  2. We do deserve better. However, until we stop allowing ignorance to be dictated to us, this is as good as it gets. Where are all the enlightened people when election time comes? We don’t have good candidates to choose from and no one worth while wants to take responsibility to help better society. I think the first step is individual responsibility. Asking questions and not submitting to authority because of the mere fact they are authority figures is another step in the right direction.

    I look at our current situation as a catylist for change. Hopefully more people will recognize the opportunity. I like your post. 🙂

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