Radicalism is not extremism. On the radicalisation of (Muslim) youth

Radicalism is not extremism!!!

I think we should be concerned with media and political use of the term radicalism  and radicalisation to describe the current extremist crisis.

A few things  have been really stressing me about the now ubiquitous use of ‘radicalisation’ in media and political accounts of (Muslim) extremism by all the mainstream media and political parties.

We really need to save the idea of being/becoming radical from being used to describe people turning to extremism, terrorism and violence. They are going through something else.

Radical thinking has a noble and important tradition which needs to be saved and continued. The great radicals were those who kicked against entrenched power and injustice. And did so through politics expressed in thought, language and, in some cases, direct action that was illegal and or violent (e.g. the Suffragettes). But such violence was usually against the self or property rather than indiscriminately targeted others.  See Andy Fitzgerald’s article We Need Radicalism for Social Change in The Guardian defending the idea of radicalism.

A list of the great radicals would include Tom Payne, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and on and on the list could go.

I would hope and expect that many young people today would feel the urge to be radical because they can see the dire conditions of society in terms of quality of life, justice (both social and ecological) and so forth. Young people – all people  – who really are paying attention to the conditions of contemporary society should be radical in outlook.

The issue is for many young (Muslim?) people who are turning against the ‘values’ of the West is that it is difficult to see powerful, clear alternatives being put forth which have strong profiles in culture and the media – for instance green radicalism, or social(ist) radicalism – that really can challenge the direction of travel on neoliberal consumerist society. So turning to a powerful counter narrative – in this case alternative fundamentalist theologic doctrines – with (in the most extreme instances) their oppressive ‘laws’, guns and videos must be tempting.

What ‘red blooded’ ‘angry young men/women’ are going to be content with lives, which, for some at least, involve low paid, dead-end jobs in degraded ecological and social environments, while the excessive wealth and consumption of the elite is blazoned all over our cities and media  At the moment the alternative for them is extremism.

For Hitler, and the party he led to power, war and self-destruction was a purveyor of extremism not radicalism. The list of extremist governments, groups and individuals of the last century or so could also go on and on.

Edward Vallance in A Radical History Of Britain: Visionaries, Rebels and Revolutionaries – the men and women who fought for our freedoms, points out that radical individuals and groups in the UK have played key roles in the development of freedom, democracy and justice. And at certain times radicalism was in direct conflict with extremism e.g., against the rise of fascism in early 20th century Europe and Britain itself.

It might be very handy for those seeking to preserve the status quo in terms of power to marginalise and demonise the very notion of being radical through its repeated association with extremism in the current crisis.

All media and political use of the term radicalism to describe the current extremist crisis should be stopped forthwith.

If you want a really good example of the mess both high profile politicians and high political journalists can get into by miss-using the word radical and confusing it with extremism you just need to listen to the BBC flagship Radio 4 Morning New Programme Today when Sarah Montague interviewed Zac Goldsmith (Conservative MP and 2016 London mayoral election candidate) and the discussed rival candidate Sadiq Khan (Labour candidate) 07.50 in the programme schedule.

(Thanks to those who shared this).



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