Life is lonely for political extremists.
The biggest problem they face is that, quite frankly, except perhaps at times of utter crisis, sensible people eschew extremism.
Imagine being an SWP activist, with nobody to share your dream with, except for a handful of rather damaged like minded obsessives, spending your evenings stapling pieces of card to sticks, in the hope that you’ll get a friendly smile from the students you’ll be handing them out to the next day. Or living your life as a BNPer, huddling with your vaguely psychotic mates in a beer hall, sniggering over the latest “Paki” joke.
You know that moderates are your greatest enemy. The bulk of those moderates, of course, aren’t really the problem. They’re sheep, you think, mere followers of the herd: people who haven’t seen the light yet, who must and will be brought into the fold before you transform society. No, your greatest challenge are those who actively preach compromise and accomodation, who eschew confrontation, who are just a little too comfortable with what we have, and a little too militant in their determination not to see it smashed.
That’s the reason that politically extreme groups are so determined to encourage hatreds, engineer crises and orchestrate confrontations. “Build on the anger” is their motto. It is all about encouraging people to burn bridges, and to sever the myriad ties of commonality which bind us together. Extremists know that, unless they succeed in turning us against each other, they will remain alone, in their tiny cliques, marginalised and lonely.
That is why, on the grand scale, Al Qaeda bombed the World Trade Center. And on a rather more parochial level, why superannuated Communists, wild-eyed Islamists, and twitchy SWPers are so determined to persuade Britain’s declining Trade Unions to expend their energy, not on renewal, but on passing motions which aim to delegitimise the State of Israel.
The purpose of the former act is clear. Killing the 3,000 is all well and good: but what you really want is to polarise both your constituency and your opponents.
As for the boycott calls, the thing the loons would really like to do – as somebody pointed out to me last week – is not merely to make the disassembly of a United Member state a subject for polite conversation. What you initially have to achieve is the destruction of the moderates, the compromisers, those who can see both side of an issue. You need, therefore, to encourage a desperate “us or them” mentality, that weakens and isolates the centre ground. That’s what this boycott call is principally about.
This is one of the reasons that Ed Hussein gets death threats. It is also why, on the lowest level, racists and bigots of all colours troll this blog’s comment section. There’s not much you can do about it other than the essential, which is to confront it.
That’s not enough, however. Imagine you were a stranger reading the comments section of a blog, and you came across the statements about Islam that you might find, say, here. I can tell you what happens. Just as jews recoil from the old school racism of one of our most prolific and multi-pseudonymous contributors, muslims are both horrified and angered by an essentialist, Al Qaeda/Robert Spencer-derived portrait of their religion, as a static, monolithic and malevolent force. It is things like this which make you want to pick sides, when before you saw shades of grey.
I had a brief chat today with an old student of mine, who I hope to see in the next few days. He – and his partner – were two of the brightest students I’ve taught. He’s from a Sufi background, but regards himself as a Salafi because he is essentially a protestant with a preference for religion without the flummery and frills. He’s also politically active liberal. His partner was a bit more of a traditional lefty, from a Satmar Hassidim family background. They met on a campus which had more than a little bit of Hizb ut Tahrir activity, in the days when that group was somewhat more “in your face” than it is today.
We’d meant to meet earlier in the year, but somehow we got caught up in different things. But, returning home from holiday, his girlfriend glanced at Harry’s Place and was appalled by some of the views expressed in the thread which followed Gene’s post about the confrontation-junkie, Yvonne Ridley. That jogged their memory of our proposed meet-up, and so now we’ll sort out dinner in the next few days.
So, the story ends well.
Getting back to the subject: am I wrong here?
Isn’t the attempt to divide us both the extremists greatest hope, and the greatest threat to the affection which binds us together?
If we agree, how do we refrain from anger, and how do we prevent the hatemongers from winning the day?