Tag Archives: Terrorism

Extremism Is the Enemy

One day in in the summer of 1966, I walked through the capital of a Latin American nation during the inauguration of a new president. Armed soldiers lined the avenue into the center of town, spaced about 50 feet apart, to guard against the trouble that was expected.

The election had been hotly contested and divisive. The leading candidate of one party had died under mysterious circumstances, but his brother had stepped in and won the presidency. There were innuendos of corruption on both sides.

There were rumors of a planned insurrection, an uprising to disrupt the inauguration and prevent the new president from taking office. In addition to soldiers and military vehicles in the streets, the air force was on the alert, ready to crush any rebellion.

I congratulated myself on coming from a country where this could never happen.

Now consider January 6, 2021. A mob invaded our nation’s capitol building, known throughout the world as a symbol of law, order, and liberty. The mob’s purpose: Disregard law, order, and liberty to overturn a legitimate election. They were driven by a repeated lie that this election was somehow stolen, and they refused to believe the truth despite repeated vote recounts and reviews that disproved the lie. Greedy political opportunists, people who wanted those votes in a future election, just kept on feeding them the lie.

Rabid partisans on both liberal and conservative sides blame the Capitol insurrection on “extremists.” They’re right. To get a good look at those extremists, they need only gaze into the mirror.

Both major political parties have extremists within their ranks who refuse to consider any compromise. To compromise is to deal with the devil; the hyper-partisans demonize people who do it.

In reality, it is the extremists at both ends of the political spectrum who are doing the work of the devil. Left or right, they would willingly impose tyranny to achieve their ends.

In the 1960s, that Latin American country represented the realities of political extremism.

It was one of several countries under military rule in the region where I lived as a missionary. The military had taken over the government in the name of law and order. Under martial law, people were forbidden to gather on the streets in groups of more than four, so when we left a church meeting, the congregation had to carefully break into small groups. Two people were not allowed to ride on a motorcycle because the passenger, even if dressed like a woman, might turn out to be a gunman with an automatic weapon to shoot up the neighborhood police station. Motorists had to drive with interior lights on at night so that police could see who was in the car. People in public could be stopped and questioned by the military or the police.

I wonder how many U.S. citizens would be willing to live under similar conditions? Those who have demanded that troops be called out to impose martial law on troubled cities in our country should be careful what they wish for.

At the other extreme, communist terrorists in that Latin American country were working to foment revolution and undermine the government.

I once had to help organize a funeral for a member of our church congregation—a father of several young children—who had been assassinated by terrorists. On patrol as a national policeman, he had caught them placing a bomb at the home of a prominent military officer. The country’s military could not root out the guerrillas from their strongholds in the mountains. We saw their spray-painted slogans, often with anti-U.S. messages, everywhere—including across the street from the house where we lived.

One day I met one of the communists dedicated to bringing socialism to the country. He was a well-educated intellectual. We talked to him about Jesus Christ and the holy scriptures, and he replied that he didn’t believe in those teachings. “These are the books I live by,” he said, as he pulled three off his shelf and handed them to me. They were Spanish versions of books that had been published by an economic institute in Moscow, U.S.S.R. They laid out the vision that the communists wanted to impose on other countries.

For a time, I worked in and around a very poor barrio in that capital city. Houses were made of scrap metal and cardboard. The sewers were open trenches running in the streets. Residents could look up from their homes and see the beautiful, artistic building housing the city offices—la Municipalidad. That barrio was nicknamed “Red Square” because some said that all the communists had to do to raise an angry crowd was harangue its people about how they were being exploited by the elites in their country, how the elites should be forced to share their land and their wealth. Sometimes such gatherings got out of hand—which was probably what the agitators intended.

The history of political conflict in that Latin American country was long and tragic, with ugly atrocities committed by both sides as they dedicated themselves to destroying the opposition. (Parenthetically, the U.S. was not an innocent bystander in the conflict, having backed the military government.)

Activists in the United States often assert that freedom of speech includes the right to demonstrate in public streets and areas anywhere, anytime, including in front of private residences. If others are endangered as a result, or if their rights are taken away, too bad. Few of those activists seem willing to acknowledge that when they tap into others’ anger at injustice they may light a fire they cannot control.  If the activists have integrity, they will recognize the possibility of hooliganism and take steps to cut it off. And if their cause is just, they will stick to the truth in their protests, offering more light than heat.

Demagogues are skilled at manipulating people’s fears or feelings of injustice. They whip up an angry crowd by convincing people that they are being cheated, that they are being exploited, or that the have-nots are coming to take away what they hold dear—their property, or the place they have claimed for themselves in society. In the Capitol riot, we all saw this demagoguery in action, provoked by a persistent lie—that an election was “stolen.”

Government by, for, and of the people cannot survive in the United States of America with this kind of dishonesty undermining trust in its processes. Politicians who support false myths of corruption for their own advantage are disloyal to the spirit of the Constitution, which I believe was inspired by God.

Surely He would not want His children warring among themselves over who is more fit to rule. Surely He would want us working together to “form a more perfect Union” (Preamble to the Constitution).

The far left and far right extremes in our country are not seeking union. They want dominance for their philosophy and their biases.

I know people of good character and sound judgment on both sides of the political divide who are passionate and firm about what they believe. There’s nothing wrong with that. But once the votes have been counted and recounted and the result is the same, it’s time to work together in a reasonable manner and drop the self-serving myths.

History suggests that corrupt politics and political opportunists will always be with us. But at least for now, in a time of national pain and sorrow, true patriots should be helping with the healing and be willing to move forward.

“The Merry Minuet” Goes On

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Slim Pickens as a crazed Air Force pilot riding a nuclear bomb down to certain oblivion in “Dr. Strangelove.”

Back in the late 1950s, my favorite singing group, The Kingston Trio, performed a song called “The Merry Minuet” by Sheldon Harnick. It mocked the current tragedies of the time and the possibility of our world ending in nuclear war. I suppose it was a form of whistling past the graveyard—of taking some of the edge off of the unthinkable possibilities. At 14, I thought the song was terribly funny and witty.
I still listen to my old Kingston Trio favorites, but I notice that this particular song isn’t included in their collections. And I can’t laugh about that song anymore. The reason isn’t that the world seems more grim now than it did back then, but that I am disappointed because the world doesn’t seem to have changed much. Almost 60 years have passed, and what progress have we made toward world peace or harmony?
The song spoke of natural calamities, of strife in Africa and Iraq, of political unrest and possible upheaval in Europe. Then—well, listen to some of the words that followed:
“But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
For man’s been endowed with the mushroom-shaped cloud
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off
And we will all be blown away . . . .”
Members of my generation were confronted in our teens with the possibility that nuclear war could end the world as we knew it. Want to see how that messed with our minds? Go online and look for a movie called “On the Beach,” a grim 1959 drama about the last survivors of a global nuclear war waiting in Australia to die as radiation poisoning in the atmosphere finally teaches them. Or check out the Peter Sellers black comedy classic “Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” At the end of that one, audiences didn’t know whether to laugh or go home and hide.
In the decades that passed, the world was shaped politically by the concepts of Mutually Assured Destruction and détente to make nuclear war an almost unthinkable option for any nation. Perhaps we all came to breathe a little easier. The duck-and-cover drills of our youth and the idea of building a backyard bomb shelter faded away. (See the more recent movie “Blast from the Past.”) We all thought the Cold War was gone for good.
But now there are militant terrorist groups—not nations, but fanatical ideologues–unimpressed by the concept of détente and undeterred by the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction. Some of them would not care how many people might have to die in a nuclear exchange so long as they were the last people left standing. Some of them would dearly love to get their hands on nuclear weapons.
Listen to the ending of “The Merry Minuet”:
“What nature doesn’t do to us
Will be done by our fellow man.”
With random, unpredictable terrorist attacks, there seems to be almost no place on earth where we can be safe from the harm done by our fellow man or woman, if that person is determined to kill or wreak havoc. And a resurgent Russia, with egotistical, ambitious Vladimir Putin leading the way, seems bent on confronting the West militarily. So where is safety?
Of course, there are steps we can take—learn how to avoid places where terror attacks might happen, build that backyard bunker, maybe carry a weapon. But nothing can offer complete security. There is always the crazy who suddenly snaps when you’re on hand, or the stray meteorite.
I don’t mean to make light of the possibilities. Of course we should be as prepared as possible to protect ourselves. But life has always been unpredictable, and may be uncertain at times despite our best efforts. I believe that the best protection is to live a good life. Sure, protect yourself as best you can. But live so that you can confidently ask for God’s protection. He truly does give it when we still have work to do for Him on this earth. And when He chooses to take us, we will be prepared to meet Him—even if death comes at the hands of someone bent on murder and destruction.
The only real protection the world has against people like those is for all of us to live God’s laws. There will always be weapons of destruction available to people who want to use them. Preventing sick and hate-filled people from having these weapons is an excellent idea, of course, but ultimate protection lies in creating a world where there is no one who has the desire to use them.