Yesterday I read an interesting item on Facebook concerning the manner in which the Islamic world is now run by fanatics, many of whom aren't all that 'devout' and who often flout the tenets of the faith they claim to follow in pursuit of wealth and power. It made me think, since while the western media and politicians focus on this problem within Islam, they ignore the wider implications.
A question the piece I read raised in my mind is this; at what point does 'passionate activism' tip over into 'fanaticism'? One sees many examples today in all societies of small groups whose 'passion' over one cause or another drives them to sometimes extreme behaviour in pursuit of their goal. The list is extensive, one could name the Hunt Saboteur movement, the Green Campaigners driving industry out of the developed world in pursuit of their dream of a 'natural' nirvana, the proselytising atheists, secularists and humanists determined to drive religion out of society, the 'demonstrators' who feel justified in vilifying people engaged in business, and the destruction of property when it belongs to the 'enemy' of their cause. While I concede that Muslim fundamentalism appears to be a global movement while the others I mentioned tend to be 'local' (OK, the 'Green' movement is getting to be Global), all these movements are driven by quite small groups who tend to get fanatical about their 'cause'.
So what of the rest of us? My experience of travelling and working in several Muslim countries and in a number of other societies lead me to believe that the vast majority of people everywhere just want stability, reasonable comfort, opportunities for their children and food on the table. Talking to my older German neighbours, many of whom were children in the second world war, one does hear of parents who 'went along with' the Nazis because it meant their children didn't get targeted at school, or they got slightly better jobs by kowtowing to the Nazi boss. I have witnessed the same elsewhere, and played that game as well to my shame. In any given society, if there are extremists, fanatics or 'passionate ideologues' in power you may be sure they don't represent everyone. The majority are too busy trying to keep out of trouble and live as 'normal' a life as possible.
This is how the Russian Bolsheviks managed to control the Russian (and all their fellow 'Soviet' people) for over 80 years. It is how Hitler's thugs controlled the 'silent majority' in Germany and how Armadinejad and his goons control the majority of Iranian people, or the Hamas, Hezbollah and Mujahedin control the majorities in their countries. It is how the 'activists' promoting Political Correctness, 'climate change', 'animal rights' or 'civil disobedience' control and influence the agenda for a whole raft of things the majority of us 'go along' with rather than 'cause a problem' or confront the idiocy and the disruptive behaviour of the few.
The borderline between 'passion' over ideology and 'fanaticism' fueled by any ideology, political, religious or 'save the planet' is, at best, marginally thin. If we are not careful we will find ourselves once again being ruled by fanatics, just as the German's did in 1933, or the East Germans post 1949 with the fanatics of the 'Socialist' Party in charge, or the Palestinians today, caught between the fanatics of Hamas and Hezbollah/Fatah. It can't happen in the UK? I'm not so sure William Hill or one of the other betting agencies would give very long odds on it, since we already have submitted to the rule of the fanatically politically correct and the so-called 'environmentalists.'
Beware the man of 'passion', he (or she) is often just a hairsbreadth away from becoming a fanatic.