It is not too difficult to divert the attention of a loose collection of individuals from an internal crisis by talking about a major external threat that appears to unify them behind shared values and a common cause.
We are reliably told that the radicalisation of young British Muslims constitutes one of the most significant security risks for this country today.
But what is it that makes an individual open to radicalisation? And what makes the rest of us believe in the UK Government’s narrative that extremism creates an environment for radicalising individuals? Who is radicalising whom? Who indeed are the extremists?
The narrative contains the seeds of the frightening idea that there is a supremely well organised, and formidable global force out there, working through the internet, infiltrating many of our public institutions, and recruiting young British Muslims to engage in terrorist activities.
The UK Government invites us to accept its definition of extremism as ‘the active opposition to fundamental British values’; and to conclude from that, that the biggest risk to our security therefore comes from individuals or groups who draw on the ideology of ‘Islamist Extremism’.
The UK Government reminds us that ‘Islamist extremists’ consider Western intervention in Muslim majority countries to be a war on Islam. We are also warned that they want to create a new world order, which sees the unification of Muslim majority countries into a global Islamic state and will use whatever violent and barbaric means they see fit to achieve it. Countless examples are offered in support.
When a peaceful religion is hijacked and repackaged with the beliefs of extremist thinkers, the distortion can be terrifying. It is also terrifying that many of the individuals whom we consider to have been radicalised may have actually chosen to immerse themselves in the belief systems promoted by these extremist thinkers.
And whilst we will always struggle to understand the psychology of individuals who freely choose to do evil deeds, those who do behave in this way are unlikely to describe their behaviour in such terms. They will have a very different way of rationalising their own behaviour.
Nor are we likely to understand the psychology of those ‘highly prominent individuals’ sitting quite comfortably, and luxuriously protected, at the heart of the British establishment for decades – they purport to represent and uphold the very British values referred to in the UK Government’s home spun definition of extremism, whilst happily indulging in unlawful and morally rotten activities behind the scenes.
How freely they came to believe in their own code of conduct, their superiority, and their sense of absolute entitlement to whatever, and whomever, they choose. There is a deep rooted and very ugly hypocrisy, shaped within a despicable culture of establishmentarian extremism, at the heart of many of our great British institutions.
So what makes an individual open to radicalisation? What makes an individual come to believe that it is right to perform barbaric deeds, apparently in the name of their religion? These are very difficult questions to answer and need to be treated with a high degree of caution.
In fact, we need to be sure that we have not been directed away from asking the right questions in the first place, because it is not obvious that we are.
And so equally, as we follow the threads of the UK Government’s narrative, we need to proceed with caution, lest we are radicalised by it, and we fail to notice how deeply damaged this country has become by some of the highly prominent extremists sitting in our houses and our back yard.