RADICALISATION, it’s a thing. A brand new academic discipline is growing up around investigating the ideas and experiences that lead individuals towards acts of terroristic violence. The national security apparatuses of the Western powers are snapping-up every graduate in radicalisation studies they can lay their hands on. The idea, presumably, is to intercept and redirect those en route to events like 9/11 and 3/15. To recognise the plant biology of extremism and nip it in the bud.
The problem with radicalisation, as a concept, is that it comes loaded down with all manner of assumptions. The most obvious of these is the assumption that to be possessed of radical impulses; to subscribe to radical ideas; to advocate radical solutions; is ipso facto to be considered both psychologically dysfunctional and politically dangerous. To be a radical of any sort in this age of neoliberal orthodoxy, is instantly to become ‘a suitable case for treatment’.
Given that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), several years ago registered Oppositional Defiant Disorder as a form of mental illness, the redefinition of radicalism as a form of political sickness is entirely unsurprising. What better way to prevent people from getting to the root of society’s ills (the word radical is derived from radix, the Latin word for root) than by more-or-less criminalising the acquisition of radical ideas.
No doubt the spooks and their academic supporters would object that their use of the term ‘radicalisation’ is limited to the specific process of inculcating extreme political and/or religious beliefs in individuals carefully selected by and subsequently inducted into terrorist organisations. When they talk about radicalisation, the groups they have in mind are Islamic State and Boko Haram.
Except, of course, like all such initiatives, the drive against radicalisation is prone to “mission creep”. If radicalising individuals to serve the purposes of Islamic extremism is considered a bad thing, then so, too, must be the radicalisation of individuals to serve the purposes of the burgeoning white supremacist ‘international’. Then, of course, there are all those tiny Marxist-Leninist and Trotskyist organisations filling their followers heads with dreams of proletarian revolution and capitalism’s imminent demise. Not forgetting, of course, the anarchists, animal rights activists and deep ecologists. Presumably, they too must be nipped in the bud – before they can burst into flowers of fire and blood.
But why should the war against radicalisation stop there? What about the radicalisation taking place under our very noses in the sociology, women’s, indigenous, political and communication studies departments of the country’s universities? Where do they sit on the threat spectrum? Are the young men and women being taught to hate the racist, sexist, Islamophobic and homophobic bigots who threaten their proudly diverse, multicultural society, more or less dangerous than the “fascists” they seek to de-platform with such extreme prejudice?
What to do, when glib YouTube philosophers reassure their ‘antifa’ acolytes that all political philosophies are ultimately grounded in violence, and that in extremis even liberal democracies are held in place by the policeman’s baton and the soldier’s gun? Call the cops? E-mail the GCSB?
If radicalisation really is a thing, and radicals – regardless of their ideology or religion – warrant the closest surveillance, then extreme Islamists, white supremacists, Marxists and environmental activists cannot possibly represent the full extent of the authorities’ watchlist.
The readiness to withhold empathy from those whose values the radical extremist abhors has always been the first step on the staircase that leads to terrorist atrocity. The second is the radical’s hate and rage when those deemed to hold abhorrent values refuse to be silent.
The question the spooks and their academic advisers must ask themselves is: how far up the staircase should the enemies of liberal democracy and freedom of expression be permitted to climb before their escalating radicalisation becomes a threat to their fellow citizens?