Radicalization is a loaded expression which lumps together Islamic radicalization at one extreme and social activism at the other.
According to one definition, radicalization is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that reject or undermine the status quo.
So, if any individual or group of people who wish to bring about a change or support a cause, but adopt extreme methods e.g. through violence or terrorism, then one can argue that they have been radicalized.
However, some would argue that any form of progress or change would "undermine status quo". Those wishing to return to their roots and stable societal values would be regarded as the "radicals".
It would seem that radicalization of young people from well established minority communities in Western countries is a complex issue and can be misunderstood or exploited.
As for "extreme methods", the other condition for "radicalization", that too becomes rather subjective. Young Sikhs disagreed with Gurdwara managment at Leamington in the UK and started a protest. It is not clear at what stage that protest - hopefully an invitation to talk - became "extreme methods" in the management's view so that armed police were called in when responsible community leaders could have settled any disagreement about the Sikh Reht Maryada (The Code of Sikh Conduct & Conventions).
On 14 September, a Shashank Joshi wrote about the Leamington Gurdwara incident in The Telegraph and linked Sikhs to Muslim extremism. His headline reads, "We cannot let religious conservatives poison our society - whether Muslim or Sikh." From his angle and that of some on Sikh forums, conservatives are the radicals.
Therefore, these conservative Sikhs have been radicalized and are "poisoning our society"! But surely, if they have been radicalised then they cannot be conservatives. If they are truly conservatives then they are the ones trying to preserve religio-cultural values which give us stability.
It is becoming popular to say that young people are being radicalized by extremist ideologies. Yet many of these young people are simply trying to re-discover their roots and return to established religio-social values. Therefore, for the purpose of Government policy "extremist ideology" needs to be defined more carefully and on the basis of better education about communities.
I quote a senior colleague with appreciation,
"The term radicalization is rather loaded and implies some sort of deliberate brain washing and then utilisation by some forces for ulterior motives. People often associate this term to what is happening within the Islamic community when it conjures up certain images. The protestors in this< [Leamington Gurdwara] case have widespread community support as they are quite simply raising the issue of violation of the Rehat Maryada and at other times protesting at injustices towards Sikhs in India."
He goes on to clarify,
"I am not in support of activities that bring adverse media coverage towards Sikhs, covering of faces during protests etc but do think it is dangerous to start using terms like radicalisation of the Sikh youth as it has many unintended consequences."
Individuals and groups questioning the current state of affairs, are sometimes regarded as a threat by the establishment. They are seen to be "undermining status quo". Too readily, they are then branded as radicalized when they protest.
Instead of understanding the reasons for activism in many fields, and appreciating it and giving it a positive direction and support by passing just laws when needed, generally, the establishment - the politicians, the media and vested interests e.g. international trade - tends to oppose it. The activists resort to protests and, at some point, there is even breakdown of law and order.
Depending on the wrong perceived or suffered, some resort to violence and start earning the qualification, radicalized . Political and religious issues can be easily exploited by preachers of hatred to radicalize young minds. This is referred to as the "slippery slope" to radicalization even in fields not normally associated with violence to begin with. For example, even environmental issues and charity work in the field in war-torn zones can lead to radicalization.
The media plays a prominent role too by either resorting to hype in the headlines or totally ignoring issues and concerns e.g. those of minority communities. Investigative journalism can help but it is time consuming. Shoddy journalism is cheap and looks for sensational headlines. To quote a colleague,
"We all need to be wary of unscrupulous and sloppy journalism that seeks to play on stereotypes and to sensationalise; this is what improves ratings and sells newspapers and perhaps we get the journalism we deserve."
In case of Sikh youth, the careless approach of the mainstream media continues to be a matter of grave concern. Western media has done hardly anything to educate itself and the public about the Sikhs even after the Sikh killings in the US due to mistaken identity. To quote a report,
"Since 9/11, the Sikh American community has had to face repeated harassment over basic tenets of their faith, such as wearing a turban and keeping a beard."
Identity Sikhs are profiled as terrorists. Youth resentment and protests against such treatment is to be expected.
The impression gained is that radicalization of youth in the plural British society is a term used too conveniently to lump together all types of activism and just grievances. Radicalization of youth does not happen overnight. There is a reason or a provocation and extreme positions are adopted incrementally. Matters are made worse when the establishment turns a blind eye to the real issues and concerns.
Yet, a desire to bring about change towards a just society is a legitimate human goal. It is central to Sikh teaching. Social activism is not a threat but a welcome sign of a vibrant and healthy society. Activists in social, religious and political fields should understand that change for the better in society takes time.
It is possible that, rather too hastily, youth movements are branded as radicalized without a careful study of the underlying causes and possible remedies at national and international levels.
© Copyright Gurmukh Singh (U.K.)
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