The world celebrated when news broke out that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of the Islamic State, was killed during a raid by U.S. special forces on his hideout compound.
Baghdadi’s death, and the reported death of his second-in-command ISIS spokesperson Abu Hasan al-Muhajir, is a victory for every freedom-loving person across the world. The Islamic Caliphate he established, which at one point covered a territory as large as Britain, was a threat not only to those it imprisoned and robbed of their lives, homes, dignity and personal freedoms, but to people everywhere who might fall victim to terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS and its affiliates.
Yet, even as we celebrate the demise of one of the worst terrorist leaders the world has known, we must remember the fight against extremism is far from over. In fact, we might be at the most dangerous time in the history of extremist movements as they have taken more subtle forms and infiltrated mainstream society.
Allow me to explain.
Whenever we think of extremism, the first thing that comes to mind is violent extremist groups like terrorist organizations such as ISIS or militant factions such as Hezbollah. Of course, their violent attacks are the most obvious displays of extremist behavior, but we must not confuse tactics for ideology. What is at the heart of every extremist movement — whether religious or secular, or on the hard right or far left — is an overarching mission to establish an authoritarian system of government that denies basic human rights such as freedom of religion or belief, freedom of speech and assembly, free enterprise and the right to own personal property, among others. While terrorist groups advance this mission through violence, others from hard right and left-wing movements do it through legislation and policies.
Pakistan is one of the most glaring examples of religious, hard right extremism. A self-declared Islamic state, it’s one of the few nations on earth that has a death sentence for committing blasphemy. Though the state has yet to execute someone, the blasphemy laws have allowed for the arbitrary detention of hundreds of accused — including Muslims, Christians and Hindus — and emboldened mobs to severely injure or kill people because of their religious beliefs.
The rise of hard right political movements should be a cause for alarm not only in the Middle East or South Asia but also in the West. For example, this past Oct. 27, the falangist party of Spain honored the late dictator Francisco Franco during a special ceremony that included a fascist salute. The fact that the ceremony was held at the Ateneo de Madrid, an institution dedicated to preserving Spanish culture, disturbed journalists and historians.
The extremism of the hard right is also behind the recent rise of anti-Semitism across Europe. In some parts of Germany, anti-Semitic incidents have gotten so bad that a government official advised Jews against wearing Jewish symbols in public.
The extremist ideology of hard right movements leaves no room for the plurality of ideas, freedom of conscience and belief or for free speech. It usually exalts one ideology or identity and suppresses the rest.
Yet perhaps as sinister and dangerous is the subtle infiltration of far-left extremist ideology into mainstream politics. Promoted by politicians and college professors, socialism has become a disturbingly popular idea among the young in America. In fact, a recent poll found that 7 in 10 millennials in America said they would be willing to vote for a socialist candidate, and one in three said they see communism as favorable.
These millennials don’t realize they are supporting the same ideology behind Venezuela’s economic collapse or China’s detention of one million Muslim Uighurs in reeducation camps in Xianjing. They cheer for the young people protesting in Hong Kong without connecting the dots and understanding that the people of Hong Kong are protesting against the very same left-wing socialist ideas they are supporting in America.
Young people, who are generally driven by a sense of compassion, may think that the socalist teachings of equality will lead to a utopian society devoid of poverty and injustice. In reality, socialism is the death of freedom. It leads to economic poverty, stifles creativity and innovation and results in the curtailment of religious belief and speech.
The fight against extremism — in all its forms, whether religious, left-wing or hard right — needs to be waged not only in the hideouts of terrorist leaders and militant commanders, but also in the corridors of political power, university campuses and in the media. Because the battle may be a lot closer to home than we realize.
Rev. Joseph D’Souza is the founder of Dignity Freedom Network, an organization that advocates for and delivers humanitarian aid to the marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. He is archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and serves as the president of the All India Christian Council.