EXTREMISM VS MODERATION
IT is tempting to look at “moderation” as the anthithesis to “extremism”, a term which in recent years grew to be associated more and more with religious extremism, in particular Islamic fundamentalism.
The spate of violent acts committed by people in and from the Muslim countries lent weight to the perception that terrorism was a religious phenomenon and that Islamic terrorism was a growing threat to society.
9/11 was the turning point when the whole world was focused on the dastardly acts of violence perpetrated by Muslim extremists and their organisations.
Acts of extremism by a tiny minority of Muslims came to be seen as a reflection of the whole of the Islamic faith. Muslim countries including those in Southeast Asia which had a high number of Muslims were looked upon as the “nexus of evil” and as potential dens for harbouring these extremists.
The unprecedented rise of skepticism against Islam led, in some countries, to the backlash of witch hunting and persecution better known as Islamophobia.
Paradoxically, instead of allaying fears it led to greater religious bigotry as zealous adherents of all faiths set up protective barriers to insulate themselves against perceived threats, or to retaliate against real injustice.
Discrimination on the grounds of religious differences quickly became a 21st century reality unashamedly practiced by some of the world’s most advanced nations.
Among the victims, it ironically provided the most fertile grounds for greater extremism. As acts of violence committed by people from other denominations were publicised, it became obvious that zealotary was not the prerogative of Muslims.
It was spread across the most marginalised and deprived communities manifesting itself in violent uprisings among different religious groups. Indeed, poverty and dire need lead to dire consequences.
Extremism has made its way into the daily lives of people as they are defined by their religious, socio-cultural, political and economic status.
Following similar paths, different kinds of stances have emerged such as political extremism, ethnic extremism, environmental extremism, human rights and animal rights extremism each defining societal causes, each asserting its particular identity and each with its own potential for bigotry. Ultimately, any belief or cause can give rise to extremism when its proponents have closed minds.
A large part of the global understanding of moderation must therefore be embedded in the concept of reconciliation where the rejection of extremism is matched by a return to moderation. There is a pressing need to remind the world that moderation runs through the heart of the great religions.
In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad counsels that “moderation is the best of actions”; in Christianity the Bible says “let your moderation be known unto all men”; the Torah teaches people of the Jewish faith that moderation in all things is a “way of life”.
In the Eastern faiths, Buddhists are urged to follow “the middle way”, to the Chinese Taoists and Confuscianists, the “ying” and “yang” principles define life’s balance.
It has become imperative for the universal values of spirituality inherent in the philosophies of world religions to be propelled into greater prominence. Values in our common spiritual heritage must be revived and used as a positive force to mediate differences and dispute.
Ancient wisdoms in advocating harmony, equilibrium and balance must be used as the basis for moderation.
Lest the discourse on moderation becomes merely academic and tautological, the concept of “moderation” itself must be given a working definition to allow it to be developed at the more practical level of policy and programmes by governments and the organisations that champion the cause.
It appears as though the old middle paths of tolerance and accommodation, conciliation and cooperation are no longer sufficient to mediate major differences in ideologies and visions, values and principles.
To work strategically on the ground, moderation must be understood in terms of the principles of compromise and collaboration.
In resolving conflict and solving impasses at the socio-cultural, political and economic levels, the middle path is one of negotiating outcomes that are acceptable to the dissenting/competing groups.
Sometimes, it is necessary to come to a compromise where each group is prepared to concede in the short term in order to gain in the long term.
For deeply sensitive issues, it is best that mediation comes in the form of a spiritual commitment to peace, conscience and reason. There may be contexts where people’s beliefs are best left where they are. Perhaps Barry Goldwater was right in thinking that “on religious issues there can be little or no compromise”.