Lyndon Johnson once said of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent p–ing out than outside the tent p—ing in.” In the dangerous arena of Washington politics, Johnson thought he needed a hatchet man. Who better than Hoover?
That’s pretty much how the Pakistani government viewed the Taliban, and how the Israeli government viewed even its most militant settlers. In the dangerous arenas of South Asia and the Middle East, Pakistan and Israel each thought they needed a hatchet man. The logic was simple: “They may be extremists, but they’re our extremists.”
Recent events show that it’s not so easy to, shall we say, control the direction that extremists point their business once you’ve let them into the tent. Turns out they may well focus it inward, even at the folks who created and nurtured them.
The truck bomber who killed 53 people at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, a favorite meeting spot of government officials and business people, was very likely part of the Taliban or a related group. Over a decade ago, Benazir Bhutto’s government in Pakistan started supporting the Taliban in an effort to exert Pakistani influence across the region. As the New York Times recently wrote, “Now they (the Pakistani government) are finding their home-schooled militants too strong to control.”
Israel is facing a strikingly similar set of circumstances with its most militant settlers. As the New York Times reports, “elements of Israel’s settler movement are resorting to extremist tactics to protect their homes in the occupied West Bank against not only Palestinians, but also Jews who some settlers argue are betraying them.” An Israeli professor well known for being critical of the settlements was recently wounded in a bomb attack. The prime suspects are the extremist wing of the settler movement. Those same groups recently distributed fliers offering a $300,000 award for anyone who murders a member of the progressive Israeli advocacy organization Peace Now. Even the Israeli army has been threatened and attacked by extremist settlers – battling everything from stones to acid when they followed the government order to remove settlements from the Gaza strip.
Let me cut some of you off before you even begin to write your comments: I am not comparing Israel and Pakistan, or the militant settlers and the terrorist Taliban. I don’t play the ‘who is the better extremist’ game. If you implored me to see your side – “Can’t you just understand why our extremists do what they do?!!!” – I might suggest that you went wrong at the “we”.
Whether you are Muslim or Jewish, Israeli or Pakistani – these are not your people. I don’t care if they speak the same language as you, use the same prayer book, call the same land home.
Extremists who bomb hotels or professors do not deserve the honor of being included in the tent of any religion or nationality.
There is no such thing as your extremists or my extremists, Jewish extremists or Muslim extremists. There are only extremists. The militant settlers and the terrorist Taliban – and anybody else willing to murder or maim to achieve ethno-religious dominance – they belong only to each other.
They are the them. We are the we.
And once we figure out there are only two tents on earth – one for the people willing to accept reality and live together, and one for people who are willing to murder and maim to dominate – we’ll stop being tempted to let them into our tent in the false hope that they offer some type of protection.
Instead, we’ll banish them to their own tent, where they can p— on each other all they like.