The Tories are dangerously out of touch with reality. Perhaps blinded by their election victory, they have now introduced a plan aimed at curbing radicalization. They intend to achieve this through more repression; a law that can prosecute not just an extreme act, that has (material) consequences, but even an intention or incitement to commit such an act. Where the line is drawn, no one knows, but what seems clear is that this law is a clear attack on civil liberties and freedom of speech, precisely the two things liberal pundits are always so keen to defend. Not only are the Conservatives attacking some of the foundations of liberty, they are also disastrously missing the point about radicalization.
Is it the tragic fate of liberal democracies that short-term ‘solutions’ come to replace solid and comprehensive approaches to the challenges facing society? Parties that get elected into government are generally so unpopular after a term in office; they are likely to be voted out. They opt for short-term “success”. Or is it the illusion of success? Is it the impression of a solution rather than the solution itself? This phenomenon engulfs all societal institutions that are increasingly judged on ‘measurability’. Large bureaucracies are deployed to ensure that the unmeasurable is made measurable. What remains is a ticked box on a sheet of paper and a look of relief on the face of a self-righteous bureaucrat. But can you really measure how you educate your children? Or how successfully you tackle crime? Of course you can measure how school grades improve or how crime statistics develop, but what are you really measuring? The HBO series The Wire famously tackles this issue in numerous episodes:
“Well, at least we introduced laws to tackle radicalization”, our legislators might reply. “We were hard on terrorism,” or “tough on crime” is another one of their favourite mantras. But why is there crime in society? Or how does radicalization develop? Are not all forms of radicalization a reflection of the society from which they evolve? Are they a rejection of society’s official avenues to absorb its own challenges? Distrust emerges when people lose faith in the official avenues for justice.
I for one, have long ago lost faith in anything my leaders claim.
So if youngsters are radicalizing in Iraq, Libya, France and Great-Britain, what then forms the common thread? Surface observers have pointed to religion. Yet, many studies have shown, religion often doesn’t play any role whatsoever. In fact, Interpol’s yearly report on terrorism in Europe shows how little the phenomenon of terrorism is actually linked to religion.
I often feel ‘radicalized’…. But who decides what ‘radical’ really means? If ‘radical’ means caring about our planet, the people on it and a certain willingness to fight for those things, I would say being ‘radical’ is something we need to encourage. Complacency and obedience have wrought havoc on our dying planet. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KxOVy52EiE). As global threats continue to grow, official channels of ‘justice’ continue to offer more of the same: repression. Like the newest Tory plan to ‘curb radicalization’.
We have seen too much to be fooled by rhetoric.
We have seen the illegal war in Iraq and its disastrous consequences. More than two million people killed by Western bombs and its consequences. We protested because we knew we had to, because humanity demanded it from us. Our leaders lied blatantly. We realized it at the time. They killed millions and then they secured fat contracts, growing rich in the process. We saw the Americans move into Iraq, securing its oil fields and privatizing the economy while the country burned. It is still burning today, changed from a relatively stable and prosperous country to one of the unsafest places on earth.
We saw torture sanctioned in the name of the ‘greater good’ of fighting an evil that was conveniently dubbed terrorism. It made all opposition to this almost sound like treason, famously summed up by George W. Bush when he stated that “you are either with us or with the terrorists.” In his epic classic 1984, George Orwell develops the concept of Newspeak, the language developed by the totalitarian regime to control the thinking of the people. He describes it as such: “the purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible (…)” A Youtube compilation from those days speaks volumes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsqPeqhKJ7Q
Then there were CIA rendition programmes for which international treaties and laws were swept aside, while the orange overalls of Guantanamo Bay presented us with a grim image of what our leaders considered to be justice. Iraq and its aftermath seasoned us, it schooled us; this was a world in which the violent pursuit of greed and power was sugar coated in Newspeak. Freedom, democracy, human rights, regime change, weapons of mass destruction, international law, terrorism, peace, transition, the United Nations: these things became hollow phrases, empty words, deployed at will to achieve selfish objectives.
They revealed to us the order of things. They showed us our leaders weren’t driven by any form of sincerity or higher goal. They had shown they were willing to kill for profits. The pinnacle of market-driven consumerism and self-interest was sold to us as government policy. I guess 50 Cent’s album title Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (coincidently released a month before the invasion of Iraq) wasn’t just an expression of self-proclaimed gangster-rap. This was the world our leaders were shaping for us: officially sanctioned gangster capitalism, underpinned by violence. Leading by example, Bush and Blair showed us the way.
We are the War on Terror generation and this was our awakening. And there was more to come.
In 2008, the economic crisis hit. Gangster capitalism came crashing down. Or so it seemed. Another myth was smashed; the one in which we comforted ourselves with the thought that it might be bad in other places, but we really are the lucky ones. Once again we looked at our leaders, who stood naked, seemingly helpless and exposed. This time they orchestrated the biggest theft in modern history: austerity. As billions flowed into emergency funds to hold up mal-practicing financial institutions, public wealth was being relocated into the pockets of private owners. Big government, so shunned by neo-liberal apologists, was back. It towered. Financial institutions were ‘too big to fail.’ “We are doing this for you!” they squealed, as zombie banks were kept afloat with OUR money. Were bonuses ever paid back? Did any of these financial criminals ever get prosecuted? ‘Tough on crime’ seemed to only apply to shoplifters and rowdy youngsters. The real players of gangster capitalism all held on to their stolen assets. They even managed to steer governments back towards the path of self-destruction, as the recent Tory election victory has demonstrated. Luckily we don’t have to worry about these financial parasites anymore. The Tories are asking us to focus on immigrants and people on benefits. They are the real enemies. And besides, there is still a massive bill to pay off. We are now bankrolling the gangsters, while their pit bulls are drawing up policies in Downing Street.
It’s a funny thing this austerity programme. While the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the race to the bottom has begun in earnest. As Greece is being bullied into impoverishing its own people to feed the greed of international creditors, desperate immigrants are clinging to the side of wooden rafts, chasing the myth and the lies that they’ve been fed by their spin doctors. Britain is flexing its muscles to face yet another round of disastrous cuts to public spending Its favourite Middle-Eastern ally and biggest recipient of UK military ‘aid’ is tearing apart the nation of Yemen, dropping bombs on civilian areas while refusing to allow humanitarian aid to enter the country.
We are the War on Terror generation. We have seen too much to believe in their lies. Radicalization will continue to grow while our leaders sell us nothing but despair. Let’s hope we can politize this anger, transform it into a movement capable of taking on the immense odds stacked against us and our planet. Because while the temperatures keep rising, the windows of choice shrink to tiny proportions. We need civil disobedience now, while there are still options. We owe it to ourselves!