Path to Extremism – A Personal Account 3: The Distortion

Posted in Extremism, Islam at 11:10 pm by Haider

(To read Part 1 of this article, visit the following link: Part 1. To read the previous part of this article, visit the following link: Part 2)

Unknown to me at the time, but when I attempted to rid myself of the false criteria that can be used to select one’s beliefs, I had developed distorted criteria of my own!

I was concerned not to follow my emotions, or the dictates of society. But rather than ignore these two, I used them as a criteria! I began to go against my emotions, and wherever society went, I took a different direction!

In the name of impartiality and objectivity, I began to depend on my emotions and what society was doing to determine what I should do. While, physiologically, pain and pleasure are intended to indicate what is harmful to us and what is beneficial to us, I reversed the signals, so that pain meant that I was doing something right (by abandoning my emotions), and pleasure meant I was doing something wrong (by succumbing to my whims and desires).

And rather than evaluate what society was doing, and decide for myself whether I should be doing the same, or do something else, I refrained from what society was doing because society was doing it. Anything in common practice meant conformity, and I could not allow myself to “go with the flow.

This distortion, I believe, is the root of extremism. While I will not offer a complete analysis of this matter here, but wanted to point out how this distortion relates to extremism:

Extremism is a relative term. You are only extreme in relation to something else (i.e. a reference point). Society refers to people as extreme because they go beyond the norm. They don’t behave like the greater part of society, especially the part of it that we relate ourselves to. If we get drunk in the weekends, it’s extreme not to drink. If we don’t drink, it might be an extreme for someone to not even step into a bar.

Extremists don’t refer to themselves as such. They may only do so jokingly, but they believe that what they are doing is right and everyone else is lenient (compared to them).

There are instances in which the common practice is wrong, and those in the right are unjustly referred to as “extreme.” Some people don’t believe in moral principles, and think those who do are being rigid and “extreme.”

But the extremism I fell into wasn’t a commitment to a principle that society didn’t share with me (although this is partly true), but it was a commitment to being different to society, because I feared that I may blindly follow what others were doing. Society became the benchmark, the reference point, that I had to avoid and, therefore, by definition, I had to be an extremist.

I did not want my emotions to intervene in my thinking. I was meant to remove them from my equations but, instead, they became the key variable. I based my decisions on my emotions, but I didn’t see it as such. Extremists usually suffer as a result of their extremism, but they consider the struggle a part of being right and treading on the right path (after all, what hurts the extremists the most is the society they wish to dissociate themselves from).

By using emotion and society as the grain that I had to go against, my reasoning was severely distorted about a range of issues. And the more committed I became to warding off the “threat” of emotions and society to my reasoning, the more extreme I became. Having this outlook places people in a vicious cycle: the more pain they suffer, the more pain they think they should suffer. The more distant they are to society, the more they struggle to maintain their distance.

These are the roots of extremism in the mindset of the extremists. But there are other elements within the extremist outlook that keep them committed to extremism, as I will elaborate on.

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