POST #27: Is Extremism Ever Right?

suffragette-poster
Were Suffragettes Extremists?

After a bit of a blogging break, I’m back again – and with quite a hard-hitting topic too. Read on for my thoughts on the question ‘Is Extremism Ever Right?’

The first thing to do is to define the question. It’s quite an extreme one in itself; at first glance requiring a binary ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer.

Calling someone an extremist today is tantamount to calling them a terrorist; the words are used interchangeably. It’s mentioned more and more nowadays, as news on the television and conversations revolve around the horrendous actions of Daesh in Iraq and Syria. But while the word ‘terrorism’ focuses more on destructive actions, ‘extremism’ describes the beliefs that go behind them.

The dictionary definition is:

The holding of extreme political or religious views; fanaticism.

But what does it mean to you? Some forms of extremism (like the bombing of innocent civilians from a dislike of their lifestyle choices) are seen by vast majorities as morally, unquestionably wrong. But what about the rest, the grey areas? Would we even use the word ‘extremism’ to apply to them?

This topic is a very current one, and a lot more controversial than some of my other posts. I’m finding that a rational, moderate opinion on this is hard to jump into immediately, and so I’m going to fall back on an old friend; literature.

Take James Bond, for example. He’s one of the most admired and symbolic of British literary characters, and his appearance alongside the Queen at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony is testament to his place in Britain’s culture. Yet he has killed over 370 people since Dr. No was released in 1962. I’m sure many of these (fictional) deaths could have been averted with the adoption of more moderate tactics.

daniel-craig
Daniel Craig and his well-worn pistol 🙂

But that wouldn’t make a good film! The very fact that he adopts such drastic methods attracts us to him; we don’t mind because he’s doing it for us, the side of the angels.

Are his actions extreme? Yes. Is he an extremist? Probably not.

Bond brings up a question; is it okay to adopt extreme tactics against extremism? Harsh times call for harsh measures, don’t they?

A slightly more substantial example is of the Suffragettes. Leading figures of the movement like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison are idealised, and often used today as really compelling pro-vote propaganda. However, the Suffragette’s methods of protest were controversial at the time. They burned down Churches, vandalised Golf Courses, chained themselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace and attacked hostile politicians and their homes.

Were their actions extreme? Yes. Did they have extreme political or religious views? For their time, yes. Were they extremists? Maybe.

What we do know is that without the Suffragettes, women’s right’s would have evolved much more slowly. Perhaps today we would still have had only a minimal say in our country’s future.

I listened to a podcast on terrorism recently by ‘Freakonomics’ – (I’ll link it at the bottom). An interesting point raised was that most groups fight against a regime or way of society, and feel, just like the Suffragettes, that the only way to get their voices heard is by extreme actions.

It’s clear that extremism is wrong when we disagree with the aims and objectives fought for. But when we agree with them, as in the case of the Suffragettes, does that make their methods right?

And this is the heart of the debate; the greyest grey area. Does the end justify the means?

In my opinion, it depends what the so-called means are. Each individual case is different; each individual person has a different opinion. A ‘yes or no’ answer to this would just be too… extreme.

What do you think? Please let me know in the comments below 🙂

FURTHER READING:

http://freakonomics.com/podcast/is-there-a-better-way-to-fight-terrorism-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

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13 thoughts on “POST #27: Is Extremism Ever Right?

  1. Isabel. You take individual extremists. What about countries as a whole? The French have had their Revolution, the Spanish their Civil War, the Russians their Revolution, the Germans 2 World Wars etc. Although we have had our Civil War, are we not a less extreme country than these other examples? We do not tolerate the far left or the far right. Has this non extreme element not been a bonus throughout our history? But are we going to be able to maintain it? Peter. PS I suspect I know who Augustus is.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A really interesting blog Isobel, rationally and clearly analysed as ever. I would suggest that the suffragettes were extremists of their time, because there views on female emancipation were at the extreme end of prevailing opinion. Even if they had not used extreme means to justify their ends, I think they could have been classed extremists. James Bond is just extreme-ly cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nail hit firmly on head! Was Nelson Mandela extremist? Yes, when we did not ‘approve’ of his methods, no when we did. The West has an amazing ability to assume that anything that challenges our principles must be wrong. Proving a very dangerous assumption. Only just learned about your blog, so add me to the list! CJ x

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure Isabel! Loved the blog. I used to write one when I was in bed with a broken leg after skiing. It’s probably still out there somewhere, ‘The Broken Leg Diaries’. You might inspire me to restart it! x

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Am I an extremist? I do not believe that people under the age of 55 should have had a vote in the UK EU Referendum. Others felt that those over 55 should have been deprived of a vote. Are they extremists?

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      1. Isabel, whoever Augustus is, I agree with you!± People over 55, who have benefitted enormously from the peace and stability of post war Europe were all too happy to set the rest of us free on a sea of uncertainty and risk. It’s your future, not theirs!!

        Liked by 1 person

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