The Extremists versus the Moderates

2 June 2021

Yet again there is a cease fire in the Middle East. Yet again nothing will change, at least until this conflict is recognized for what it has increasingly become: between extremists and moderates more than between Israelis and Palestinians. And yet again the extremists on both sides have claimed victory, and with good reason: by further engaging each other, they further marginalize the moderates—meaning those people who 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 it was Jewish for several hundred years, millennia ago. Both are delusional; neither will get their way. But that does not stop them.

The extremists have common cause, perhaps now more than ever. As Thomas Friedman put it in a recent comment in the New York Times:  Netanyahu and Hamas have “each exploited or nurtured their own mobs to prevent…a cabinet that for the first time would have included Israeli Jews and Israeli Arab Muslims together…. [Both] have kept power by inspiring and riding waves of hostility to ‘the other.’” Yet Hamas and Netanyahu “don’t talk. They don’t need to. They each understand what the other needs to stay in power and consciously or unconsciously behave in ways to ensure that they deliver it.”

Yet again the concerned “leadership” of the world lined up to repeat the mantra of “This has got to stop.” We get that. How will it stop, not for now—for good? Greater courage to speak truth to all the extremes would help, better still, more decisive support for the voices of moderation, to drown out the cacophony of extremism. Decency needs all the help it can get.

The moderates on both sides have common cause: to get on with building peaceful lives. To take control, they will have to get their collective act together: to speak up, loud and clear. The influence of women concerned about their families and youth concerned about their futures could be decisive. But such voices will have to be manifested in more than marches. Targeted pressure will be necessary, the likes of which we have rarely seen since Saul Alinsky was community organizing in the United States decades ago. They can engage in progressive protests that challenge intolerable behaviors, for one hour more each day. They can humiliate the hate. They can get clever.

This kind of conflict is hardly restricted to the Middle East; it has become pervasive. Every society has always had its extremists. What we are seeing now, even in the United States and the United Kingdom, is a proliferation of mindless extremism that is silencing moderation while coopting more moderates. Many people today have good reason to be aggrieved, thanks to the imbalances that impede their capacity to live decent lives. They have had it with the income disparities and the job insecurities. But how about the swelling numbers of comfortable people who have also become mindlessly extreme, so strident, so shrill?

What is dumbing down so many people? How to explain the intense, unprovoked angst and anger in the world, with its propensity to welcome the blatant lies of the demagogues? This could be the question of our age. We had better answer it before the voices of moderation are drowned out altogether.  

© Henry Mintzberg 2021 with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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