I was asked to give my explanation of extremism. Apparently it's not the dictionary definition. Well, yes it is. On the other hand.....well, you won't like this one.
Extremism is what it sounds like it is. It's an extreme pattern of thinking, and extreme words and actions that follow on from that. Extremes are concepts that exist on two ends of a scale. Extremes of colour are seen as black and white, but that's not quite it. In fact at one end is total colour (all colours mixed together, in light, not paint, creating a blinding whiteness) and at the other end is ABSENCE of colour. Black isn't really a colour at all (again, this is light, not paint). Black is nothingness.
For the sake of argument, however, we'll discuss it as black and white being at two ends of a scale.
Extremism happens when people think in black and white. All or nothing. This or that. No shades of grey, and definitely no colour.
So, for example if a leader (religious or otherwise) states that people of a certain other nation or religion are The Enemy, and his followers do everything they can to harm any of those people just because they are part of that religion or nation, this is quite obviously extremism.
This can happen during conventional war. Soldiers or civilians, it doesn't matter. You've been told to fear and thwart the aims of people X, so you either capture or kill them.
In some ways this is necessary, because you really don't know what they are doing, who they are in contact with, and so on.
And during conventional war, it works both ways.
People X, on the discovery of a member of people Y will do the exact same.
In the situations we find ourselves in today, extremism tends to happen more outside the realm of conventional war. Some people involved still see it as war (justifying the persecution of ALL members of the enemy group) while others are more selective.
What we have today as our extremists are organizations, large or small, that don't represent the whole of a religion or nation, but a subset thereof. Wise people are aware of this.
But it's difficult to fight back against a scattered organization.
Look at crime organizations, for example. They may originate from a specific location. The Mafia come from Sicily, historically. Everybody knows that. But it would be be appalling overkill to treat every Sicilian as a potential criminal. If you simply wiped out the population of Sicily it would be a disgusting act, killing thousands of totally innocent people, AND it wouldn't solve the problem anyway, because there are plenty of members outside of Sicily. These days there are more Mafia in the US than in Sicily. So, all you can do now is catch them individually. Police have been working on that for 200 years.
Extremist organizations are the same. They arise in one place, and spread out, making it hard to "get rid of them". And just like the Mafia, they also recruit locally wherever they go, so they increase in number, plus the new recruits are hard to recognize. So even though they come from city X, or region X, or nation X, you can't end their existence by wiping X off the map. The stable door was left wide open. Conventional war just won't work.
You'd think all of this would be obvious. But how many times have you heard talk of "collateral damage", meaning innocent people being killed in an attempt to get at some of the bad guys. Again and again we see this happen, and what does it achieve? Well, it increases the determination of the bad guys to get those attacking them. That should be obvious too, but for some reason, apparently, it isn't. What should also be obvious is that if you wipe out a village to get at one bad guy, relatives of the innocent, who had previously shown no interest in extremism at all, might suddenly find themselves very keen indeed.
This should be obvious because of the way it works on the other end.
I'm sure you have met extremists among your friends and family, or at least people you are acquainted with. What? Yes, the people who profess exactly the same aims the other way around. They think the solution is to "get rid of" everyone who is of the same race, nationality or religion as those foreign extremists. They may not go so far as to advocate killing them, but they at least want them deported. This is extremism. It sees a whole people as The Enemy, not just the bad guys.
Not only that, the extremists among us are far less tolerant. It takes far less to tip them over the edge into the "kill 'em all!" mentality.
Let's look at the figures. On that famous day in 2001, almost 3000 people died as a result of extremist terrorism. In the history of the US, from the shooting of Lincoln to the execution of two police officers in NYC just before Christmas, there have been the same number again, in incidents that could be described as terrorism (depending on your POV). A total of 6000 dead in 150 years.
But it's that day in 2001 that created the extremist Americans, wasn't it? That was the day that ordinary people who think in black and white, not necessarily bigots, decided that perhaps something should be done about these terrible evil people. And that was the day some of them decided that all of them were guilty, leading to various hate crimes.
The US government said they'd fight back, and they did.
"According to Jonathan Steele of The Guardian, up to 20,000 Afghans may have died as a consequence of the first four months of U.S. airstrikes on Afghanistan"
But that pales into insignificance compared to this:
(If you are interested in data, the following articles have lots for you)
I think the figures speak for themselves. 1 person dead is too many, but the simple fact is that there is simply no comparison whatsoever between Americans killed by terrorists, and civilians killed in the countries targeted for revenge.
You wonder why there are extremists in those countries? REALLY?
And yet.....not everyone is!
Spare some time please, for this article, and the video that is included.
The short version. If you believe, even briefly, in your darkest moments, that all of any race, religion, or nation are The Enemy, then congratulations. You are an extremist.