LETTER TO THE EDITOR: “Extremists” label not helpful


Dear Editor,

I write to question a small part of an otherwise fine article on the Federalist Society symposium that ran last week as the cover story. (Full disclosure: I helped to organize the symposium.) In the fourth paragraph, reporter Davina Carson twice refers to “extremists” participating in the conference. The use of this rather loaded term strikes me as odd for a presumably objective news piece.

The only explanation given in the article for the use of this term was that Dr. Daniel Pipes argued that the profiling and detainment of Islamic men (he also specified that they be engaged in suspicious activity, though that wasn’t mentioned in the article) was a price that our society was willing to pay. While I personally disagree with his position, I hardly think it’s so far outside the mainstream of post-9/11 American political culture as to be “extreme” – perhaps in Cambridge, but not in much of the rest of the country.

The role of the Federalist Society is to bring a variety of opinions to campus and have them debated and discussed. What one person might find “extreme,” another might find “thought-provoking.” Throwing around labels like “extremist” makes thoughtful dialogue difficult if not impossible – all one has to do is label the argument as “extreme” rather than actually debate the issue and offer reasoned criticism of the argument.

Labeling choices aside, I also found this sentence puzzling: “But despite the extremists, the panels proved overall to be balanced, interesting, and well-organized.” I appreciate the compliments on the symposium, but I do wonder when and how extremists became the enemy of balance, interest and organization. I would hope they’d at least be interesting – there are few things worse than a boring extremist. Regardless, I am relieved to report that extremists, if present, posed no additional logistical challenges to the organization of the conference.

Sincerely,Dan Alban

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