What is the first thing that pops to mind when you hear this term? Is it politics? Nationalism? Religion? Is it violence? Does it scare you?
Text: Gil Orr // Illustration: Press
From this simple definition of the term we understand that extremism is relative. It is relative to current moral standards and relative to current political, religious and economic ideologies. For a thing to be perceived as extreme, we must first have a mainstream, commonly agreed upon standard, from which the extremism deviates. That doesn’t sound so scary when you think about how mainstream standards have shifted and changed throughout recorded history.
These vintage posters demonstrate the common belief that most people (both men and women) had in the in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that women were not capable of handling the responsibility of voting.
While these posters seem funny, at the time, women fighting for the right to vote were considered extreme, and in some cases they were. When peaceful petitioning and protesting saw many women sent to jail, and no change in policy, some women’s rights groups turned militant. Some of their activities included attacking members of government, burning houses and churches, and sending letter bombs. Most analysts say that militant actions set back the women’s movement.
Norway granted full voting rights to women in 1913, just over a hundred years ago. Amazing when you think about it now.
We know that some of the greatest scientists, political leaders and humanists of the past were considered extreme during their life time, and we are grateful for their courage and endurance in fighting the mainstream for what they believed. Are we more grateful for the peaceful protestors, or for the ones that put their ideology before their own and other’s safety? Do we appreciate some more because they only sacrificed themselves, or are we proud of some for making the choice to sacrifice others?
Usually a cause has a symbol; one example is a flag. Which stripes, geometric shapes and colors does extremism have today? Here is one example:
. Sea Shepherd operations have included intervention against commercial fishing, shark poaching and finning, seal hunting, and whaling. They use a wide array of tactics while directly confronting ships in the open sea, including ramming vessels and throwing bottles of butyric acid on their decks. They claim to have sunk ten whaling ships while also destroying millions of dollars worth of equipment. Their practice of attacking and sinking other ships has led to reports of injuries to other sailors as well as the Sea Shepherd crew.
Some support this organization, while others consider them violent terrorists. What do you think?
There should always be people standing up for what they believe, despite public opinion. But the thing is, if you question which of the two: Nelson Mandela or Francisco Franco were extremists, the answer depends on who and when you ask. So why does the word extremism instill fear? In my opinion the really scary thing about extremism is that we associate it with placing the importance of an ideology or belief above consideration for human life. And more often than not, it is fear or actions triggered by fear that have some of the most extreme consequences.