The Extremists versus the Moderates

20 February 2024

In June of 2021, I posted a blog by this title. I adapt it here now, regrettably finding little that needs to be changed.

Yet again there is war in the Middle East. Yet again nothing will change until this conflict is recognized for what it is: between extremists and moderates no less than between Israelis and Palestinians. And yet again, as the extremists provoke each other by going to greater extremes, they further marginalize the moderates—those people who had managed to remain open to dialogue.

Anyone who fails to see the rights and wrongs on both sides is blind to what has been going on for decades. Blind on one side are those extremists determined to drive the Jews into the sea, and, on the other, those extremists who lay claim to territory because, millennia ago, it was Jewish for several centuries. Both are delusional; neither will get their way. But that does not stop them. Netanyahu is determined to wipe out Hamas, yet by traumatizing so many children, he is creating its next generation.

The extremists on the two sides have common cause, perhaps now more than ever. As Thomas Friedman put it in a 2021 comment in the New York Times, which could have been written today:  Netanyahu and Hamas have “each exploited or nurtured their own mobs… [Both] have kept power by inspiring and riding waves of hostility to ‘the other.’” The moderates on the two sides also have common cause: to get on with building their lives, peacefully. But the latest hostilities have shunted them further aside, or else driven more of them into the extreme camps.

This pairing of extremism on two sides is hardly restricted to the Middle East; it has become pervasive in so many areas of conflict. Every society has always had its extremists, but what we are seeing today is a proliferation of mindless extremism that is silencing moderation. Every once in a while, humankind goes mad. This is one of those times. Even some of the comfortable, educated people welcome the blatant lies of the demagogues, while much of the regular leadership, so-called, fails to get past repeating the mantra of "This has got to stop”, while nothing stops.

What is dumbing us down? This could be the question of our age. We had better answer it before the voices of moderation are drowned out altogether. To stop what is going on—not just for now—we shall have to figure out how to marginalize the extremists—to drown out their cacophony of stridency. Eventually, this happened in Northern Ireland, so why not elsewhere? Get the extremes off center stage.

To take control, the moderates will have to get their collective act together: to speak up, doggedly, even to humiliate the hate. Decisive could be the voices of women concerned about their children and youth concerned about their future. But their voices will have to be manifested in targeted pressures beyond generalized marches: for example, progressive protests that challenge intolerable behaviors.

How about this, to start: Ban the word “they”, as in “Look what they just did!” Who is this “they” anyway? Everyone on the other side? Or a few zealots? Even just one? Instead, how about “Look what we can do!”


© Henry Mintzberg 2024 with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page, a LinkedIn page and a YouTube Channel.