This is our truth, tell us yours
Radicalization is the word of the moment, as the news reports on a new form of teenage rebellion, dropping out to join ISIS. The teenagers, we are informed, have been radicalized, the fact that teenagers of every generation have dropped out and gone somewhere that really annoys their parents seemingly forgotten. There is of course more to this than staying out late or playing your records loud enough to scare the cat. Adopting extreme beliefs as a form of rebellion only works if those beliefs are ones that will outrage the older generation and if they feel disconnected from the values that surround them.
With issues like this, when I am trying to understand how a group is behaving I try to look for concrete examples in the world I know. I think it’s my philosophical background, if someone claims all swans are white, and you show him a black swan, all the fine argument in the world isn’t going to save his theory. Which leads me to two people I knew online, both of whom were, and perhaps still are, good people who were struggling to find their place in the world. One was a convicted criminal, imprisoned since childhood, using social media to learn about a world that had locked him up and was happy to throw away the key. As radical feminists attempted to get him re imprisoned, for an opinion expressed in a blog I saw him become radicalized. He moved to groups that were avowedly anti feminist, welcomed into their fold.
In such a situation can we blame someone for becoming radicalized? If their experience of a political movement, be it western democracy or feminism is that it is without compassion and actively harmful to their interests surely radicalization is an understandable result. When we look at those teens, young people of colour facing racism and islamaphobia is it not understandable that they feel we have nothing to offer, that a society that already treats them as other is not theirs.To go further given the active harm racism causes is it not understandable that they decide to associate with those fighting against what they percieve as abusive?
The other person I think about in the context of radicalization was a friend who has gone from being a supporter of sex workers rights to espousing swerf ideology, a trans woman who calls other trans women men and promotes terf hate. Their radicalization was perhaps the side we find harder to accept, that sometimes people seem drawn to extreme views because of something internal to themselves rather than external oppressions or circumstances.
Thinking about both cases however I am led to understand those teens going to fight, and then calling home as they discover they dont like the food. Radicalization is not just an internal or an external phenomena, it does not belong to one group, religion, gender or political perspective. It is however a position that all too often we do not allow people to come back from. Currently the government wants to remove the passports of those who go to fight with ISIS, remove the way home for people who might discover that being extreme is not what they hoped it would be. That this may relate to other individuals in other circumstances is something perhaps we all need to ponder