If a person is radicalised, something or someone makes them become more radical, more extreme in their political or religious beliefs. Over recent years, when radicalisation – the action or process of causing someone to adopt extremist positions on political or social issues – has been discussed in the media, it’s generally been with reference to young Muslims. In the wake of the 7/7 attacks – the 7th of July 2005 bombings in London, a series of coordinated suicide bomb attacks which targetted civilians using the public transport system during rush hour – and the murder of Lee Rigby, a British army soldier who was attacked and killed in Woolwich by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale – there was much soul-searching about the causes of radicalisation, with a whole host of theories being put forward: marginalisation by mainstream society; anger at the Iraq war and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Islamophobic attacks on Muslims, mosques and Islamic cultural centres; the spread of extremist ideas online, via increasingly sophisticated social media campaigns; a so-called clash of civilizations, and so on. As we enter the Trump era, where immigrants from particular countries are scapegoated and discriminated against, perhaps the most interesting thing to note about all of the attacks here in the UK is that they were carried out not by foreigners, but by homegrown terrorists, born and bred in England.
Anyone in the UK who works in education will have been forced to participate in one of the government’s attempts to tackle all of this - the Prevent strategy, which has been strongly criticised for limiting free speech, demonising certain groups of people, making teachers into the eyes and ears of the state, and so on. Muslim friends of mine have complained of feeling that they’re suddenly under suspicion because of the actions of a tiny minority of people claiming to share the same religion.
However, this week, the government was forced to refocus its attention and admit that it’s not only the Muslim community that might be in danger of getting radicalised – it’s white Britons too! The murder of the Labour MP (Member of Parliament) Jo Cox last year by a white far-right political extremist finally drove home the fact that racist, Islamophobic groups were also becoming more active, were recruiting more young people, were using the web to radicalise and were inciting violence. In response to this, they’ve hired a famous advertising company, M&C Saatchi, to start countering the lies spread by these groups. It’s about time too! As the joke puts it, it’s not the refugees I’m scared of . . . it’s the people who are scared of the refugees!
- Have you heard any stories about young people getting radicalised? What happened?
- What do you think the main causes of radicalisation are?
- What do you think are the best ways of countering radicalisation?
- Can you think of any events in your country that have led to a period of national soul-searching?