Extremism is often shown as having one flavor, one size fits all, but this in fact couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s religious extremism, political extremism, cultural/societal extremism, etc… etc… etc…
Within each branch of extremism, there lies a dichotomy, left and right paradigms in which each side of extremism fuels the other like two sides of the same coin. Take politics, on the far right side you have fascism and on the far left you have communism, both movements are responsible for millions of lives lost, neither is better, they are instead equal, but opposite. For every religious zealot extremist, there is an opposing religious movement, equally as extreme but opposite.
The two sides of extremism run counter current to one another, but also feed one another’s level of indoctrination, ideology, and extremist behaviors. It’s almost impossible for one extreme to exist without the other equal but opposite extreme running anathema to it, fueling it, and lending credence to its existence. White nationalism/black nationalism, fascism/communism, Islamic Jihad/Christian identity, and so forth.
If there is one form of extremist ideology, it will have another, just as extreme, espousing the complete opposite of it, all too willing audiences. It is commonplace for those who have been in one form of extremism, upon realizing that their ideology is false or wrong, to turn to the extremist ideology that diametrically opposes it, but still, it’s simply exchanging one extreme for another. Many will leave fascism and turn to communism or communistic anarchy, or they will leave one religious extremist movement and join its opposite.
It’s all too commonplace that an ex-neo nazi turns to Antifa, or that a Muslim Jihadist will join another extremist religious movement after leaving it. This is because extremism is ingrained in them and if their former extreme way of thinking is challenged and proven false, they feel as though the opposite must be true. It is a rarity that an extremist of any discernable amount of time will elect to find a middle ground or moderation in their beliefs.
When I left the neo-nazi movement, the same people who messaged me about being a traitor, I later found shouting online about how if you’re not directly engaged in fist fighting Nazis, you’re a part of the problem. This is not leaving extremism, this is trading one side of extremism for another!
So, the only way we can truly combat extremism is to target it two-fold, on both sides of the spectrum, target extremism as a whole entity and not simply its parts. To only target one side of the extremist problem, is to embolden the other, to target both sides, is to weaken them both. To say the far right is a problem you MUST also acknowledge the far left as well, or else you’re empowering the far left to greater acts. Nazism is a plague and has killed millions, yet so has communism and in even greater numbers, why on college campuses are so many of the opinion that Nazism=evil but Communism=Good?
Nazism has had Hitler, while communism has had Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, El Che, Castro, and China is still a communist country that thrives on slave labor, destroys the human spirit, and locks Muslims up in internment camps. Yes, Nazism is deplorable, but so is communism. Nazism meant select individuals had rights and killing others was considered positive, while under communism locking up and killing dissenters is seen as positive and everyone is equal in their shared misery. Within both, innovation only comes at gunpoint, and human life is not seen as important or only as means to an end.
You do not need to pick and choose the evil you fight, just combat evil as it is, or just choose good instead!
We also need to educate those leaving extremism, to keep them from simply flipping the coin, and to deradicalize them and help reintegrate them as rational and productive members of society. Look, I know it’s not easy, I know it takes hard work, patience, and due diligence to do these things, I was there myself, I lived it myself, but it’s worth it and redemption is there for everyone if they truly want it. If I can change, anyone can change, but focusing that change on something positive is the key, or else you’ve taken a soldier against humanity from one side and turned them into a soldier against humanity on the other side.