It is never easy to be a moderate in times like this. Extremists demand that you pick a side. When you read their thinking it seems like in many ways the opposing extremists whether far right or radical islam, they see each other as helpful towards their goal. They are both fighting moderates.
For me this began July 22 2011, when the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik bombed my city Oslo, and massacred 69 youth at the Utøya Island.
I spent a lot of time reading his manifesto to try to understand what had made a person commit such acts. His rational was the same as ISIS. He wanted to moderate right to get hated by the left so they could be radicalized and join his side. This is eerily similar to ISIS arguing that by attacking the west they can make westerners hate muslims and hence cause a radicalization of muslims to get them to join their ranks.
How you counter this seems very difficult. I am a fan of prominent atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. I agree with most of their criticism of all religion. However I am increasingly seeing a dark side to their mission. While their logic is solid, they can’t avoid being abused by the forces of hate. Both Dawkins and Harris have expressed hard criticism against Islam as they have against Christianity. Yet these words tends to be picked up by people on the far right as an excuse to hate on muslims in general.
Many think that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are one of them. It was telling to see the comments when Sam Harris made it very clear that he was not one of them, and certainly not a Trump supporter. Many seemed to feel betrayed by Sam Harris.
This experience has perhaps taught me a lesson about political correctness. I never liked political correctness, but I start to realize where it comes from. It is what happens when people learn that extremists will twist and abuse your words for their own gains.
There is a great irony in that the more you fight the extremists, the more they gain. There was an account of Afganistan and the Taliban where it were they talked about how an AK-47 passed down the generations and from brother to brother as they got killed fighting for the Taliban. This idea that there is a fixed number of “bad guys” we just need to kill to get peace is such a common misconception. Their exact numbers are irrelevant. It it is their ability to constantly recruit new members which matter. Whenever you kill an extremist you easily end up radicalizing his sibling. And thus we got an endless spiral.
It is why I am sceptical towards organizations such as Antifa. Their attacks on white supremacists, just risks giving them victim status and moral support. Although I am willing to hear the counter arguments here. It is not obvious to me how e.g. peaceful demonstrators are to protest Neo-Nazis if they get attacked. In Charlottesville there are accounts of how peaceful demonstrators got attacked without any police stepping in. A unique American problem in this context is the toxic combination of the first and second amendment. Using your first amendment right to utter hateful speech while brandishing a sub-machinegun is not an expression of freedom.
I think more effort should be spent on winning hearts and minds rather than military action. That sounds extremely soft hearted, but hard nosed approaches seldom seem to work in the long run. We’ve had our war on drugs and before that prohibition. One tried with force, to stem the tide of illegal substance, but in the end it is those who have gone for sensible regulation who have succeeded.
Whether we speak of radical islam or the far right, the core problem is the spread of propaganda and fake or distorted news stories. It is this war of the minds which needs to be won. Teaching in the west and elsewhere has based itself on authority as a model. A teacher represents an authority with all the answers handing out facts to the students. People learn a lot of facts but never learn how to deal with falsehood, distortions and propaganda. There is little emphasize on critical thinking. The emphasis is on learning as many facts as possible.
Ridiculing people for believing in conspiracy theories is no winning strategy.