Friday, 30 July 2010

Black, white, grey ... and the middle way

Theoretically, the middle ground is the most populated. It is where the 'average' is supposed to lie. The extremes are outliers, places which are sparsely inhabited.
So it is with ideas. 'Normal' people hold 'normal' ideas, ensuring that society generally functions 'normally.'
Unfortunately, societies are sometimes overcome with extreme ideas espoused by small groups of people. These extremists are often so highly motivated that slowly they come to monopolize the direct and indirect levers of power within a society.

At some point, the masses of 'normal' people have a tough choice to make: go with the flow and join the ugly system or place the economic livelihood of their families at risk by shunning the system.
Such was the case with Hitler's Germany or Mussolini's Italy.
Today, we have situations in several geographies where societies are grappling between accepting extremism for reasons of expediency versus fighting the propagating individual groups at great cost.
Parts of the Islamic world suffer such a fate. Grow a beard and be labelled a Taliban sympathizer or remain clean shaven and be hassled by talibs instead. By sending a girl to school, is a parent giving his daughter a future or endangering her and family by upsetting bearded black turbaned brutes? It's hard to say.
Ultimately, the ideological battle seems to be a way to justify power and, therefore, control of a society's resources. Over time the ideology is either voluntarily accepted or rejected by the population.
There are few examples of a 'top down' ideological approach working. The most conspicuous failure is the former Soviet Union where communism unravelled pretty quickly, despite almost a century of ideological brainwashing. (The jury is still out for Ataturk's Turkey although we have passed the eighty year mark.)
Why am I writing about the 'middle ground?' Well, sometimes I find myself uncomfortably standing smack, bang in the line of fire of both the left and right! I am not extreme enough for some rigid Ataturk style secularists and too extreme for religious conservatives.
My response – it's about the operating environment. What works in Turkey may not work in Pakistan. Likewise, a legal framework appropriate for Malaysia is not necessarily correct for Singapore. A suit may be appropriate attire for a wedding reception at a hotel but on the streets of Peshawar a shalwar kameez is a better bet.
Unfortunately, the middle ground often becomes the proverbial 'no man's land,' an area where one finds the most casualties as two violently hostile extremes battle for supremacy.
Not surprisingly, most ordinary people whether in Herat, Afghanistan or Wana, South Waziristan couldn't care less about the president or the mayor's ideological leanings. They just want to be able to walk the streets in safety.
Fortunately, as an armchair general, I only fight my wars in the blogosphere. And I like to see the world in colour – not purely in black and white.

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