In a way, he's right. There is indeed something peculiar about portraying "extremism," Islamic or otherwise, as an ideological movement of sufficient mass and might to capture the world. After all, "extremism" is something "extreme" practiced by, well, "extremists." You know -- a few far-out kooks on the margins. Why worry? There's always that disclaimer that we, as a post-9/11 society, invoke when we talk about "Islamic extremism" (or, plain "extremism," as President Bush now prefers): Namely, that such extremism has nothing doctrinally or traditionally to do with Islam as practiced by the rest of the world's billion-plus Muslims. So much more reassuring to see things this way, at least as long as no one notes that Sharia (Islamic law) is advanced by "extremism" and Islam alike.Of course, if Western society understands "extremism" merely as a marginal phenomenon, little wonder Dionne thinks it's odd that so many conservatives take it seriously -- specifically, he writes, "Osama bin Laden's lunatic claims that he will build a new caliphate." Isn't Bin Laden just an extremist fruitcake on Islam's fringe, who, naturally, makes "lunatic claims"? It should take not a war to subdue him, but a warden.
Personally, I doubt so many conservatives really take the prospect of a Sharia-governed world seriously -- even a Sharia-governed Europe, or, for starters, a Sharia-governed Britain. And that goes whether such prospects are promulgated by a notorious Al Qaeda jihadist or the Archbishop of Canterbury. After all, the threat to Western-style liberty posed not only by violent "extremism" but by creeping Sharia -- with its dire implications for monogamy, women's rights, laws of evidence, freedom of belief and expression -- has never even made it into the rationale behind President Bush's so-called "War on Terror." It certainly hasn't been a topic on the campaign trail or most opinion pages. What seems to divide political thought these days is that conservatives still worry about "extremism" and liberals don't. Conservatives want to fight extremism in Iraq and Afghanistan, and liberals don't. Islam -- even as a, yes, democratically spread conduit of liberty-shrinking Islamic law -- is out of the political debate altogether.