Thoughts on Extremism in a Coffee Shop

Hello Everyone,

I’m sitting in a little neighborhood coffee shop, reading/surfing the internet. I’m reading a really interesting book; it’s called “The Islamist” written by a former member of a radical Islamic group in Britain. Written as a memoir, it gives the reader (me) an inside look at how a radical, potentially violent Islamic group works. While I’m reading I see on TV that the Afghanistan surge has begun. Yesterday, I learned that a family member of mine is a marine involved in that “surge”.

I’ve thought about the Afghan war effort from a lot of different angles, and I’ve experienced a great deal of internal conflict regarding it’s merits, justifications, and chances of success. Over the past month, I’ve read a couple of books on the region and closely followed the US media’s reporting of it. From what I’ve learned; I can only say for sure that the region, the culture, and Islamic fundamentalism are incredibly complicated and obfuscating.

There are some people who will write a book or an article and give you a few facts about Islam or the Middle East,  and then make this grand conclusion on how to fight terror, make peace, while developing an understanding of an intricately complex culture and way of life. Or worse, simply make asinine statements meant to categorize that which cannot really be categorized.

Will this surge work? What does “work” mean? Perhaps we mean defeating Islamic extremism in that region. From this approach, the question is impossible to answer because there are many different types of extremism within the broad category of “Islamic extremism”.  We often label certain governments like those of Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc. as “corrupt, evil, extreme” but in fact many Islamic “extremists” despise these governments for a host of reasons. Furthermore, “extremism” doesn’t just exist in one region, but all over the world. Nor does it only exist in one religion; shouldn’t we be worried about Christian extremists (living freely in our own country) who plot to kill Doctors, public officials, and civil servants?

Trying to answer these questions only opens the floodgates to a slough of other unknown consequences. Consequences that will only bring up more questions, answers, and a plethora of unpredictable outcomes. At the risk of sounding cliche–it’s a tangled web we weave, fraught with circumstance. I can say for certain that I don’t like the Taliban. Now that the surge has begun, I hope the U.S. quickly and cleanly defeats them into submission and can somehow find a way to stabilize the government. And it should go without saying that I hope there are zero civilian casualties. Finally, I hope they come home soon and this endless war can be put to an end.

I’m sure millions of people share my sentiments and hopes. That’s all I’m offering though–just some hopes. I don’t have any answers right now. Right now though, I would be very weary of anyone who says that they do have grand, step by step solutions. Complex problems deserve a lot of time, thought, and flexibility. In short, complex questions deserve complex answers.

A wise man once said that “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” Don’t blindly listen to the boisterous, loud-mouthed, and self proclaimed experts. It’s a little unnerving, but perhaps the best philosophy must begin by accepting the fact that we can’t set up a structured, traditional plan for solving such a nebulous quandary.

Hope you all enjoyed that. It’s starting to snow (again) in Washington. Oh, my God.


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