Playing the Extremist Card

The US spends more than $500 million per victim on anti-terrorism efforts.~Think by Numbers

As the U.S. spends over $16.6 billion each year on counter-terrorism efforts, it is no surprise that the latest culprit (former Congressional candidate, Robert R. Doggart) was intercepted before carrying out an attack on U.S. soil (a mosque near Hancock, New York).

Meanwhile, Doggart's type of extremist plotting echoes the violent perversion of the Islamic State entity. orchestrated burnings of seven churches -- which followed Dylann Roof's racially motivated murder spree. The Global Terrorism Center of University of Maryland documented 65 attacks in the United States associated with right-wing ideologies and 24 by Muslim extremists since 9/11. Naturally, other extremist ideologies based on racism and/or political power, turn violent too and have demonstrated a threat in the U.S. With all the U.S. funding on programs to counter violent extremism (CVE), little financial resources are left to actually deal with extremism -- in all its forms-- before extremist ideologies attract the violent players who are looking for the pretext to carry out violence.

Extremism Question
How do we temper extremist ideologies of all types--aside from throwing them in an arena and waging bets against which extremist type will fade out first?

Here is another statistic that should earn bonus points for anyone that correctly recounts America's experience with violent extremism: Non-Muslim extremists have killed 48 people within the United States while "self-proclaimed Islamic radicals have killed 26", according to a New America Foundation study.

Let's Discuss Extremism
Let's discuss extremism in all its forms--the kind without violence but with hateful speech--and the kind that is extreme in actions. The political extremism. The "religious" extremism. The cultural extremism. The socially secularized extremism: the type that says the same crazy stuff, but in good company behind closed doors. In a nutshell, we can identify the "bad apples" of each category and compare apples to apples. {In fact, there is literally a game called "Apples to Apples"--more on this concept later.}

Extreme Views Without the Violence
A few months ago, the editors of the French socio-political satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo, visited the Freedom House, U.S. based organization promoting political freedom, to discuss the infamous attacks against their office in January. The editors, Gerard Biard and Jean Baptiste Thoret, recounted their experience in satirizing all icons and the associated backlash until the death threats materialized into an actual terror attack. The Al-Qaeda attack claimed twelve civilian lives. In that discussion, it was interesting how the freedom of expression discussion transitioned from the controversial content to arguments for supporting hate speech to complaints about speed of information transmission and how this harms society. As one commented, "too much info kills info, most provocative thing to do is to slow down." At the end of it, one could feel like they played a speed round of "Cards Against Humanity" with the phrase "An occasion to burn an effigy" because every atrocious act against mankind that didn't make it to paper, came to mind.

On the flip side, another type of extremist response surfaced that same weekend. A group of Islamophobes, a familiar type of extremists, organized a contest to draw Prophet Muhummad. True, they do not brandish weapons when responding, but they manipulate and disseminate false propaganda to incite hate.

Developing healthy responses to conflict is an ideal expectation. Perhaps we should just focus on the middle of the road people, or teenagers, who witness all types of extremist language and actions in the media, school, and in community gatherings. Each country has its Pam Gellar. Every society has its super charged preacher, who uses vitriolic language to condemn state violence, but also condemns terrorism like the 9/11 attacks.

Each country has its reactionary, like the French mayor of Venelles, who wants to ban Islam. http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/5/15/french-mayor-aims-to-ban-islam-from-france.html So what do we do with them. We ignore them and teach our kids what it means to debate, review stereotypes, and identify intent to propagate and manipulate. We need a game for this. Seriously. If there's anything we can learn from the now defunct Colbert Report, or the thriving franchise of The Onion: we must train people to creatively discuss what is on their minds.

In the litany of prophet cartoon cases--which are many--we see an assortment of players. Not surprisingly, nonviolent people, nonviolent-extremist people, and violent extremist people were angered by depictions of holy figures and prophets. {Note: We purposely did not specify religious affiliation because every religion has its unacceptably hate-filled actors and/or history of some instance of violence.} If we could break this down into a Venn Diagram, the overlapping part would highlight "offended", but they would diverge based on their responses.

Role Playing
Satire can be very serious...one must stop and think about the image. Try playing "Cards Against Humanity", and one will see how the players think, draw inferences, and test limits in this popular, mature (or immature) game. In fact, when extremists call for bans or voice hate, it is like a version--or perversion-- of "Cards Against Humanity".

Mark Twain said that "humor is serious." In that vein, we believe the only way to foster conflict resolution is to pre-empt the conflict by getting all those caught in the middle of extremist ideologies to participate in a game. Because that is how extremist elements appear: playing a game. But the problem is, the rules are arbitrary.

Playing Extremist "Sample Round"
Imagine a room full of snarky teenagers. They may repeat some intolerant phrases they've heard their parents share around the kitchen table. "In jest," they claim. Or maybe not if they feel they've been suffocated by "political correctness". So in this sample round, let us lay out the first rule in this game: there is no need to observe political correctness. Why? It is important for people to say what they mean, because a discussion will follow--as it should if people want to truly engage on trust building measures (which are part and parcel of conflict resolution strategies.) To continue with the game: organize small groups of six and designate the Judge. The Judge takes on the responsibility of who best captures the sentiment on the Conflict Card.

The Conflict Card could read as one of the following:
  • Red Line in Journalism
  • Controversial Images
  • Costs of Censorship
  • Phrases that Extremists Use
  • Distinction between Hateful Speech and Funny Phrase

Or better yet, the Conflict Card could specify a question and the other five players must lay out the answer:

  • Q: Give an example of a preacher who uses violent phrases in his sermons but does not commit violence himself. (Various answers may debate the controversial sermons shared by Jerry Falwell, Malcolm X, Wirathu, and Anwar Al-Awlaki.)
  • Q: In France, why is it legal to depict M, but illegal to deny Holocaust?
  • One possible answer is controversial in itself: the difference is that Prophet Muhummad is an icon. Charlie Hebdo is against everything 'iconic', according to the Charlie Hebdo editor.

Game Over
It is perfectly fine not to play this version of the game. However, what if using this as an exercise actually got students, educators, and military trainees, to be allowed to think out loud about various types of extremism and their inter-related ramifications for all? Regarding impact, PITAPOLICY, LLC is interested in developing this concept if anyone really wants to produce this version of the game--not in jest--but to move the discussion into the classroom rather than in the wargame room or mindlessly playing "Call of Duty".