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Are you aware of tools to help unplug extremism?

Even before I wrote my 2016 book, The Value of Doubt, it seemed to me that the world would be a much calmer, less violent place, if, before acting on any political or religious belief, people would stop and ask this: "Might I be wrong?" And this: "If others disagree with me, how did they come to their conclusions?"

Cover-Value of DoubtIt's clear, however, that many people who commit actions of violent extremism never get close to those questions. They simply charge ahead in the belief that they, perhaps alone, know what is true and what is best for the rest of us. And in the worst cases, they think God has told them what to believe and how to act out those beliefs.

So what do we do about that? Well, in my most recent book, Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety, I devote the final chapter to eight different ideas that people, especially people of faith, can use to try to unplug radicalism. I commend it to you because it's clear that we need such methods now more than ever. (The book also tells the story of the many traumas that afflicted my extended family because of the murder of my nephew on 9/11. He was a passenger on the first plane to strike the World Trade Center.)

Cover-lle-hi-resBut it's also helpful to know what our government is doing that might help confront and reduce extremism, including the domestic variety that in recent decades has seemed increasingly to plague us, including in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

As it turns out, this NPR story deals with the very question of domestic terrorism, describing the ongoing work of the Department of Homeland Security's Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3). The NPR link will take you to a six-plus minute audio version of that recent story, while the CP3 link will get you to the DHS page about its work in this area.

The NPR story makes it clear that there is plenty of criticism and dubiousness about whether CP3 is working or even can work. But it's at least somewhat reassuring that there are people in our government who have on their minds questions about whether it's possible to stop or reduce extremist thinking that leads to violence.

On the CP3 site, I especially call to your attention the tab called "Prevention Education" and, under it, the section named "Community Awareness Briefing," which your community or organization can request.

This kind of work against radicalism should start early, with children learning humility because they are seeing adults act and speak with humility. And clearly we need more models of that. I've said before elsewhere that kids should learn early on that they're not getting properly educated and trained if they don't feel a little more ignorant at the end of the day. Each day should be a satisfying exploration in learning while also being a sharp reminder of how much we have yet to learn.

If you haven't read the ideas in my 9/11 book about stopping extremism, I hope you will. And I hope you'll also learn what the CP3 effort is about and whether it's something you want your members of Congress to encourage and make better.

Our lives may depend on that.

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Is war over Ukraine inevitable? I don't know. But I do know that it's helpful to hear the thinking of many different people from many different backgrounds. For instance, here is a column written by Bridget Moix, general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Not surprisingly, given that Quakers are known as a peace church, she argues against moving toward war in Ukraine and, instead, seeking a peaceful solution. "The United States," she says, "should commit itself to building, strengthening and participating in collective security systems that are not based on the use of force. Our country helped create the United Nations, and we should lead again in updating and strengthening our multilateral system to more effectively prevent war, ensuring security for all." Is hers a voice crying in the wilderness and, thus, without an audience? Perhaps, but maybe today you have heard her and are moved to take some action that shows your dedication to avoiding yet another war.

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Afro-IndigMy last Flatland column, which you can read here if you haven't already, described a group of people who have both Black and Indigenous backgrounds. They call themselves the Freedmen, and many of their Black ancestors were held as slaves by some of the so-called Five Civilized tribes. Today the Freedmen are working to be recognized as members of those tribes and to have their story told.

At the end of that column, I introduced a word that's been around for awhile but that lots of folks have never heard: Afro-Indigenous. And I provided a link to a book called An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States, by Kyle T. Mays. It's worth your time, even though I think it has some shortcomings.

The author is himself Afro-Indigenous and teaches at UCLA. There's lots of interesting history in the book about how Native Americans and Blacks have related to each other over time, and Mays is clear about their various connections. Which is to say he notes more than once that the European invaders of what became the United States first dispossessed Indigenous people of the land on which they lived and then enslaved Blacks whom they took from their own land in Africa. So one move took land from people and the second took people from their land.

Mays has some helpful ideas about how whites, Blacks and Native Americans can relate today, though at times he seems to engage in polemic without suggesting clear answers to what he identifies as a problem. For instance, it's obvious that he has precious little use for capitalism, but he doesn't have much of an answer for how that complex economic system might be replaced with something he'd prefer. And it seems unrealistic to want to blow up capitalism without having a feasible replacement in mind. Still, as I say, it can be helpful to know the history he describes and his take on how Blacks and Native Americans can and should work together today, given their history of oppression at the hands of a nation for which white supremacy was a founding conviction.


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