The Guardian (31 March 2016) featured a story headlined Brighton Boys: How four friends fell into Jihad. The four friends in question all ‘fell’ into the Islamic State. How does one ‘fall’? The answer is: unintentionally. If you fall into a swimming-pool it is because you were not looking where you were going. If you enter the pool intentionally, then you dive, leap or jump into it. I cannot recall seeing a headline referring to an individual ‘leaping’ at the chance to join so-called Islamic State (Isis). Again and again, we see a subtle use of language that suggests passivity.
The Guardian article tells us that, “They [the four Brighton Jihadists] started out writing plays, making music, playing football and dreaming of bright futures. Then everything fell apart”. What falls apart? Badly made birthday cake falls apart. Dry sandcastles fall apart. Things Fall Apart, the great novel by Chinua Achebe, describes a man’s relentless loss of control over his own destiny. And, apparently, like a spider’s web in a rain-storm, ‘everything fell apart’ for our young jihadists. Again, the implicit message being, these ‘boys’ were tossed about helplessly upon a dismal breeze. They were not, apparently, in possession of agency.
When an Observer opinion piece asks, “How do we combat the radicalisation of young Muslims?” concepts such as responsibility and guilt are again muddied. We are left with an image of empty vessels waiting to receive evil. There is no doubt that an individual’s circumstances play a large part in contributing towards whether they will go on to do bad things. Give a bad person an outlet to do bad things and they will do bad things. But that badness has to be there to start with. Heinrich Himmler would quite possibly never have harmed anyone had the Nazi party not come into existence. But who would now throw the memory of Himmler that bone?
Indeed, the word ‘radicalised’ is itself a twisting of language. To be radical is to break with tradition. It is inherently assertive. Conversely, to be ‘radicalised’ is to be the object of the transitive verb ‘to radicalise’. It is to be passive, to be ‘worked upon’ by some external influence. ‘Radicalised’ is a word that inverts the meaning of its root word (radical), a word itself derived from the Latin for ‘root’. Radicalised hints at something positive – a newness, an intellectuality. But what is new about turning to the medieval? Radicalised is the antithesis of radical.
When the BBC reported about three Bradford sisters who disappeared to the Islamic State with their nine children last year, the children of the story were not the children of the story. The children were the mothers, who, according to their blameless husbands, had been groomed and radicalised by, amongst others, the police. According to the BBC’s correspondent, Danny Savage, the police have questions that they “have to answer”. An academic interviewed for the item stated that, “There are multiple factors [as to why people join ISIS] – the issue of identity, the issue of religion, ideology, foreign policy, personal circumstances … that can actually influence the process”. But not, apparently, ‘badness’.
Why is this ‘default-setting’ of supposed passivity reserved only for Jihadists? Why not paedophilic murder? Tim was such a nice, kindly man, but then, buffeted by this cruel world in which we live, he somehow became aware that he had fallen into raping and killing tiny children. What beastly thing drew him into this? How can we learn from this so that we might help Tim? ISIS, after all, have a penchant for abusing and killing young girls. Why not broaden out the ‘passivity defence’ to cover all such crimes? Or perhaps the racist scumbags who killed Stephen Lawrence were all a bit, sort of, passive in their crime. All brought up in stupid, thuggish, bigoted surroundings. All egged-on by intense peer-pressure. Come on, guys! Give them a break. Perhaps even shed a tear for these poor lads, led sadly astray by their brain-dead upbringings.
The problem with this approach is that nobody is ultimately responsible for anything. Those who radicalise were, in turn, radicalised themselves. And so on and so on. And in a world without personal-responsibility there is no right and wrong. There is no social-disapproval. There is no stigma. Nothing to restrain. Everybody becomes a victim of circumstance. Which is not true: we all have free-will. Those who run off and join Isis are no better than the Stephen Lawrence killers, no better than Himmler, no better than the Moors Murderers, no better than Josef Fritzl. The wannabe Jihadist mass-murderers did not fall into anything. They jumped.