Popularity versus Position, Pervasiveness and Power
The word “extremist” appears like a loaded word. That partially stems from the fact that it conveys two different meanings. The first is that it describes a person who has an extreme position. The second is that it portrays a person at the edges of society.
A person who holds a position at the far fringe of society is pretty straightforward. If someone believes that the moon is purple and 99.9% of the rest of society does not, that person could be called an extremist. The label could be viewed as appropriate simply because the opinion is not popularly held.
The pervasiveness of a position, as opposed to its popularity, is a more subjective criterion. Someone believing that the moon is purple is one thing. However, painting their entire house purple, dying their hair purple and changing their name to Professor Purple Plum, would be viewed as “eccentric” and “obsessive” at a minimum, and possibly even “extreme”.
The “extremist” label sticks best when the person’s actions impact other people. For example, an individual may believe that life starts at conception, but if that is simply a personally held viewpoint, most people would not describe that person as an extremist. However, if a person used that position to justify destroying abortion clinics and harming the people inside, the violent actions would lead people to use the “extremist” label.
Violent extremists are typically painted in two camps: “right-wing” extremists use power to protect religion and capitalism; “left-wing” extremists use violence to flatten social hierarchies, and are often viewed as anti-religion and anti-capitalism.
Religion: Popularity and Power
Popularity is a matter of simple statistics. As an example, if one looks at the distribution of world religions, one can see a few widely held beliefs and some unpopular belief systems:
- Christians: 31.5%
- Muslims: 23.2%
- Unaffiliated: 16.3%
- Hindus 15.0%
- Buddhists 7.1%
- Folk Religionists 5.9%
- Jews 0.2%
By the measure of popularity, all Jews could be viewed as “extremists” because they have a belief system that is not held by 99% of the world. However, as Jews do not enforce their belief system on others, the “extremist” label would largely be considered inappropriate. Conversely, Islam is a very popular religion, but the various Muslim groups that seek to enforce sharia law and forced conversion of people are often called “extremists”, especially if people that refuse to succumb to their religious edicts are killed. Popularity is not considered the gauge; it is violent actions and/or actions that harm others that define extremists.
Arab “Residents” and Israeli “Settlers”
Using such distinction between popularity and power, review how mainstream media uses the extreme label in regard to Israel.
On October 23, 2014, the New York Times reported on the story of an Arab that rammed his car into a crowd of Jews killing two people including an infant. Ignoring the Times’ generally terrible coverage overall, the nature of inverted reality and anti-Israel bias was typified in a particular paragraph in the story, where the non-aggressive party was labeled an extremist:
“Mr. Shaloudy was a resident of Silwan, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood
in territory that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed,
a step that has not been recognized internationally. An influx of right-wing Jewish settlers who have acquired property in the area in recent years have made
the neighborhood a flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Mr. Shaloudy, the Arab man who killed two people, is described as a “resident of Silwan, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood”. This description made him sound like a peaceful neighbor living among his people. He is tied to the majority and therefore, by implication, not an extremist if one were to use the popularity measure.
The paragraph continued that the neighborhood is in “territory that Israel captured…that has not been recognized internationally… right wing settlers…acquired property in the area.” The New York Times painted the Jews as “right wing” extremists. On what basis? That they moved into a “predominantly Palestinian neighborhood”? That they moved into houses that “has not been recognized internationally” to be part of Israel? That just made those Jews a minority in the neighborhood, and Israel’s claim on the territory a minority-held position. However, the actions taken by this group were peaceful: they purchased apartments; and moved into them legally. They harmed no one. As such, they took no actions that warrant being called “right wing”.
However, the Arab “residents” that the Times described, sought to kill Arabs that sell homes to any Jews, in accordance with Palestinian law. This particular Arab “resident” murdered innocent Israelis. Yet, for some reason, these Palestinians that have laws calling for murdering Jews, who do ultimately commit murder, are not labeled extremists. This is both a perversion and inversion of reality where violent actions are considered the appropriate norm and unpopular positions are considered extreme.
A few paragraphs down, the Times called Israelis extremists again:
“Many of the recent clashes have centered on visits to the compound
by hard-right Israelis who have been increasingly demanding the right to pray there.
The mosque is on the Temple Mount, revered by Jews as the location
of ancient Jewish temples and the holiest site in Judaism.”
The juxtaposition of the sentences was unfair- the Jews had no interest of praying in the mosque, but were seeking to pray nearby on the holiest spot for Judaism. Were these “hard-right Israelis” seeking to hurt anyone? Were they seeking to destroy a mosque or convert anyone? Not at all. So how can their action be considered extreme?
It is true that Jews are a minority in the world. It is true that Israel is surrounded by dozens of Arab and Muslims states that either refuse to recognize Israel or call for its outright destruction. But simply being unpopular doesn’t make Jews or Israel “extreme”.
Jews seeking to buy and live in apartments like anyone else is neither illegal nor extreme. Jews seeking to pray at their holy sites is not extreme. It is exactly the opposite: those people that seek to murder Jews for doing basic activities should be labeled “extremists”. Pinning terminology that make the Jews look like unpopular invaders and therefore extreme, ignores history, decency and honesty.
Shame on the New York Times. If these were blacks in the 1960s moving into predominantly white neighborhoods in the US, the Times would more likely call these people “courageous”.
World religions: http://www.pewforum.org/2014/04/04/global-religious-diversity/
NY Times “right wing settlers” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/world/middleeast/2-israeli-soldiers-wounded-near-egypt.html?_r=0
First One Through articles on Silwan: