In George Orwell’s seminal work ‘1984’ the world was engaged in a ‘war without end’. No one could quite remember when the war began or why it began. It was a constant feature of the news, though the details of where the battles were taking place, how these battles were fought and the precise numbers of casualties were left vague. The war itself – if indeed there was a war – was unimportant. Instead, what was important was that fear was maintained – particularly fear of ‘the other’. This ‘other’ was objectified or dehumanised to the degree that it did not matter who the ‘other’ was or how many of the ‘other’ was killed or why. Inculcating this fear was important for the authorities for it meant that citizens were more likely to seek protection from government. Further, in this context government could maintain its dominance and assuage the fears of the populace by introducing all kinds of legislation to limit any real opposition to its ambitions…
Does all this sound familiar? A war that will go on for years and years – perhaps indefinitely? A war that sees one power block, or coalition, pitted against another? A war where mass casualties of non combatants is an inevitability?
Even the language used today has a reminder of Orwell’s ‘newspeak’. ‘Collateral damage’ is the most obvious example. Another is ‘radicalised’: interestingly, the example of political radicalisation given in the 6th edition of the OED is ‘the extreme wing of the Liberal Party’ (of the UK). As for ‘extremist’, that term is meaningless by itself and even in a political context is entirely relative to the accepted political spectrum within a particular country. An absolute democrat, for example, would presumably regard the reductionist form of democracy as practised by most mainstream political parties in the West as most definitely extreme.
Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note that on the other side of the globe the Beijing Government has branded Hong Kong pro-democracy orator, 17 year-old Joshua Wong, an extremist – and a ‘dangerous extremist’ at that. Clearly ‘extremist’ is yet another term that means countless things, depending on the government and the age one lives in and subject to the usual expert obfuscation.