I heard on the radio yesterday that the French truck driver that mowed through a crowd of people in Nice had become radicalized very quickly and that’s why he wasn’t on any terrorist list. I could accept that as fact given my own limited experience with political activism/ social justice. I’m not surprised radicalization is happening faster. The proposed solution to this ‘fast radicalization’ was that authorities were planning to ‘crack down’, ‘get tougher’, ‘lock down’ and ‘increase policing’. That worried me and here’s why.
I believe we have to take a good look at radicalization and realise it could happen to the best of us and given the state of the world currently it is not about to go away.
Muslim doesn’t equal radical.
Nor does being a muslim prep you for a life of anti-social, destabilising violence. We might FEEL that could be the case for a number of legitimate reasons including but not limited to:
- The ‘religion of peace’ mantra that people trot out after every muslim led terrorist action.
- The fact that many terrorist attacks of the last thirty years have had a muslim bias and that these attacks are becoming more widespread and frequent.
- The fact that despite a growing muslim population many of us here in Australia have no obviously muslim friends, didn’t go to school with any ‘out there’ muslims and may not even work with ‘them’.
- The fact that even in English-speaking countries the Holy Qur’an is read in Arabic over English to preserve its integrity.
- The material barrier that exists when a veiled muslim woman is in our company.
- Our lack of understanding with the daily life of a muslim – isn’t praying more than once a day a bit extreme? What is Halal food anyway? What do you guys do at Christmas? Is it true you don’t drink alcohol? Do some of you really have more than one wife? Sometimes not knowing this sort of thing makes us feel ignorant and when we feel like that we are vulnerable and vulnerability is fears breeding ground.
- The things we read in the paper – the subtle (or less so) anti-muslim bias that sinks in over years of media consumption and allows us to normalise a less-than-equal attitude.
But I didn’t bring this subject up to talk about muslims. I just wanted to get that onto the table straight up and acknowledge our subconscious narrative for what it is.
What I want to do is delve into the question of fast radicalization and especially how that can happen to any of us.
Let’s just think about that for a moment. Let’s think about what ‘extreme’ might mean with regards to political or social aspirations in relation to the status quo.
Using myself as an example here I would say that I’m pretty disappointed with the status quo in Australian politics at the moment. My views and more importantly my values are increasingly at odds with the political establishment on a number of key issues:
Me: I want care of and for the environment to be elevated in importance and action to be taken to curb our emissions and invest in alternative energy sources to coal.
Government: The government contains many ministers who are still ‘debating’ whether there is a climate crisis and while they do that are still investing in coal infrastructure, coal seam gas and new mines. In addition to that they are pushing for a relaxation in environmental protection laws which may well result in more land clearing and emissions.
Me: I do not agree with the way Australia is handling off shore detention feeling it is inhumane, illegal and shameful. I also feel there is a lot of dangerous political rhetoric around the issue which I believe it contributing to make the world a more dangerous place.
Government: Carry on doing it citing ‘stopping the boats’ as a big achievement.
Me: I do not think Badgery’s Creek airport is a good idea based on what I’ve seen proposed in the EIS. The document smelt of lobby-group sales talk and missed (or mis-represented/ under-estimated) vital safety and environmental factors that concern me greatly.
Government: Are PUSHING AHEAD while at the same time ensuring the media report their ‘jobs and benefits’ mantra while limiting or minimising any negative concerns. Media manipulation is rife here.
Now you might read those three things and agree that the government has it right and I’m just a lefty whinger, believe me you wouldn’t be alone in that but that’s exactly where the seeds of radicalization start:
- The gap between the governments plan and your own grows.
- The media restricts or minimises concerns of people like you, maybe labelling them in derogatory terms or framing them in negative ways. Digging up dirt, marginalizing etc.
- The government change laws that feel like they might be targeting people like you, with your view-point (an example for me would be protesting laws, environmental laws). This further contributes to make one feel victimized, mocked or belittled, especially when these law changes are partnered by government minister spin.
- The government seek to restrict access to information of the type you are interested in or cover up news that would give your side power (thinking about what happened with the Great Barrier Reef report).
When the outside world starts to feel a little hostile one tends to retreat inwards and these days that is both easy and satisfying.
There have been times this year when I’ve felt completely alienated from our government, like they must HATE people like me. I’ve even felt at times like they might want to start spying on me, to personally shut me down and shut me up. While I accept this is probably my ego talking it would be foolish of me to ignore or dismiss those thoughts as they have really happened. Especially after I’ve challenged the governments rhetoric in an article or by protesting. What I’ve tended to do when I’ve felt pushed out is sought the company of like-minded individuals.
Where best to find a whole bunch of people like you than online, in your pyjamas while eating biscuits and drinking tea….
It is easy for me to lock myself into a virtual universe full of 2698 other like-minded people when it comes to the Badgery’s Creek issue. These are my fellow RAWSA members. I can sit there and talk with people, share ideas and gain inspiration. I can do that for hours and come away feeling as if everyone who doesn’t agree with us must be stupid. Is THAT radicalization?
As a group we certainly reject the government’s idea of ‘status quo’ and when we take to the streets to protest we are aiming to recruit more people, spread the word and in some ways yes, to undermine the government.
And if we are not radicalized now maybe we will become more radical if this airport plan keeps being pushed through with the sales pitch of ‘you’ll get used to it, we know what’s best for you’ while our realty keep on getting minimised and ignored.
I also believe it is of critical importance that we all be able to separate radicalism of thought and action because they are not the same.
No matter how radical I become in my thoughts I can never see me or any of my RAWSA friends becoming wantonly violent or even breaking the law really. But for me I believe that is because I FEEL I have some power in the system no matter what the system does. I can write, I can get a job, I can be myself in public without fear of people singling me out as different, I can express my religious views without fear, I can speak in my own language and with my own peculiarly English accent without worry. I am living with white privilege. It is easy for me to express my radicalized thoughts safely and legally in this country.
That isn’t true for everyone and again I think we need to publicly acknowledge that.
In light of that I believe there are three things that are making the radicalization process faster. I believe these three things can be seen as positives or negatives depending on your ability to separate radical thought from radical action.
- Government out of touch. In many countries including peaceful western ones, government actions are increasingly benefiting fewer and fewer people. The ‘they are not listening to me, they don’t value me or my point of view, they don’t want me’ experience. Many people are feeling disenfranchised and that in turn erodes our sense of power and that makes us vulnerable and vulnerability can turn to anger which is basically fear plus adrenaline.
- The internet makes it easier for people with any view to come together. We all do it, we all belong to groups whether it be the rare dog breeders appreciation society, crochet flowers r us or a down with capitalism group. This ability to immerse ourselves into a virtual world where everyone agrees with us is manna from heaven for those who find the outside world dis-empowering but it can cause mental anguish and even potential illness when over-indulged.
- Alienation. That feeling that your views, your reality is being marginalised, mis-represented, overlooked or shoved under the carpet. I think of the Gandhi quote: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. It is increasingly hard to feel like you can ever win when you and the values you hold dear are so marginalised and ridiculed.
Mental illness or at least high level of stress and dis-ease including burn-out are common in activist (radical) group members.
So those of ‘us’ that don’t go out and commit hideous crimes (which thankfully is the majority) may well, in the worse scenario just harm ourselves.
Shouldn’t we be addressing that?
Violence – the reactionary reflex of the severely dis-empowered or traumatized.
Shouldn’t we be addressing that too?
I challenge you to think of a situation where you have felt severely un-heard, dis-empowered, alienated.
It happens to us all.
We really should talk about this more and stop thinking of radicalization as a dirty word.
At what point does the definition of radical stop? When do we start burning books and putting academics in prison? In some places it’s already happening. It doesn’t have to come to that.