A week ago, religious extremists lit the fuse of a new war in the Middle East by launching unconscionable terrorist (that’s redundant) attacks on Israelis and foreigners in Israel. The war those extremists ignited has resulted in massive destruction and suffering in the extremists’ home territory of Gaza.
The Israeli retaliation against Gaza should warn us of the danger of tolerating ideological extremists in our midst. Extremists invite chaos and war. Extremists don’t want the power to stay on, the grocery stores to remain stocked, or the hospitals to remain open. They want suffering and despair and a breakdown of civil order. Chaos liberates the extremists from the constraints of civil life so they may wage war. War gives extremists the opportunity to fulfill their divine calling to wreak death and destruction on their enemies in the names of their gods.
We defenders of civil society and the rule of law thus have an obligation to expose, root out, and shut down extremist groups in our midst. If we let extremists gain power, they will undermine civic institutions. They will sow chaos that shuts down the normal functions of civil institutions. They will weaken our society, and they will take actions that threaten other societies. Eventually the extremists will go too far and provoke a neighboring society or societies to violent self-defense, and then the bombs will fall like rain on the just and the unjust alike. The extremists won’t care whom the bombs kill; they will just revel in the killing as justification for their further extremism.
It’s hard to imagine the United States as Gaza. We are the world’s leading superpower, insulated by oceans and the world’s biggest military and economy against hostile invaders. Gaza is a tiny enclave no bigger than a quarter of Lake County with a blockade-crippled economy that cannot muster any sustained defense, let alone offense, on its own.
But if we Americans allow extremists to expand their influence, if we allow forces who betray our belief in liberty, equality, and the rule of law to gain public office and use their power to lash out at their perceived enemies, those extremists will not restrict themselves to attacks on enemies on our own soil. They will pick fights with foreign rivals and with our own allies. Fewer nations will see us as a friend and asset, and more nations will see us as a threat that must be checked and contained. The extremists will respond to that loss of friends and the concomitant decline in national standing, influence, and economic health (trade deals fall apart, foreign corporations withdraw, talent leaves, boycotts arise…) with shouts of persecution and rally the easily dupable to more rage and violence, which will further drive the cycle of suspicion and withdrawal of support and cooperation. And eventually, the extremists will take some bloody action that will go too far, that will invite our neighbors—maybe extremists and oppressors on the other side just looking for their excuse to pounce, maybe former allies driven to desperate action to preserve global law and order—to take decisive, violent action that will devastate our nation.
As shown by the war Gaza’s Hamas started, extremists invite chaos and war. If we allow extremism to fester, we will lose civil society and descend into destruction and death. We can only keep our Republic if we keep extremists out of power.