Deradicalisation#2; “Salvation in this life”

Highly important to the theme of the Islamic Education Conference seminar on June 2, this entry builds on the previous post on deradicalisation which summarises some key findings in Mohammed Elshimi’s recent presentation at Edinburgh University: Identity, Citizenship, and Security: What is Deradicalisation?

Deradicalisation; it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are

Mohammed Elshimi, a phd student at the University of Exeter, presented “deradicalisation” as being in fact not about radicalisation, but about identity and citizenship, something which is of vital importance to educators preparing students for peaceful co-existence in the  21st century global village. We have already discussed the potential role of Religious Education in a number of posts.

It is among my contentions in my previous talk and at the IEC seminar that this can only happen by a dialogue on a firm, but equal, footing in one’s own authentic identity, and that we, as educators, are responsible for providing tools to facilitate that.

In summary, radicalisation is a political response to homegrown terrorism, but what makes the concept different to all previous approaches is that does not relate to criminal actions, as much as it relates to ideas, giving rise to the concept of counter subversion: to subtly construct from scratch a new narrative about Islammoderate Islam practiced by moderate Muslims.

Technologies of the Self; Salvation in this life

In relation to the practical creation of this new brand of religon and new brand of human, such as the Prevent Strategy, Elshimi quoted Foucault on the Technologies of the Self, which  “…permit individuals to effect, by their own means or with the help of others, a certain number of operations on their bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct and way of being, so as to transform themselves…” (Foucault, 1988).

with the help of others being the key here. Quite literally, as one Senior Prevent officer stated: “As police officers… we began a process of holding people’s hand, picking them up, and walking with them; [places and people] outside his universe of reference…” 

Another anonymous quote from the research says it all: “It’s almost like mind control, thought control, it’s about your thoughts, your beliefs, and we will put you through something that will actually make you have correct thoughts.” 

Quoting the same slide, in the concept of deradicalisation technologies, it means making subjectivity in the image of the state and to create integrated subjects of the liberal order – a process which Elshimi pointed out affects everyone. We add the obvious, that the current order is blamed from all sides for its inability to deal effectively with basics such as a stable economy, an education system geared for the 21st century and preserving the environment for our children.

And not only is the definition of what Muslims have to change from (radicalisation) and what they have to become  (moderate) up in the air. Rather, the holes these human pegs are desperately whittling themselves (and being whittled) to fit into also have no solid shape; As one ex-police officer said: “It’s about getting them to sign up to those elusive British values (…) “

There is no doubt that random murder  in the streets are a crime (regardless of the killers’ rationale) and must be stopped. But our point is, of course, that in the battle for those elusive British values  (which we have the audacity to assume still include democracy)  democracy itself is being undermined.

Mind your language rather than shut your mouth

This brings us back to discussion on teaching precise language; for without an authentic, open dialogue, viewpoints will only become more extreme. Due to the highly elastic nature of the concepts, everyone is under permanent threat of being seen as radical. This relentless (self-) censorship creates a number of problems:

One is that any activity by a Muslim could be possibly be re-framed as radical; this means that a woman deciding to don a scarf or face-veil for entirely personal reasons is suddenly politicised in her own mind and she rightly fears she may potentially be suspected of harbouring terrorist ideas. (See Ms. Tania Saeed’s research on women in the UK choosing to wear the niqab.)

Another is that any critique of Blair’s Weapons of Mass Destruction stories which sparked the destruction of Iraq, or of mass media, or of the economic system, or any critique of any issues coming from Muslims – even if the critique does not even reference Islam – may be safely written of as radical. Might need to hold that guy’s hand, Bobby!

…but some animals are less equal than others…

Not only does this mean that Muslims have no voice, but the UK looses vital, and much needed, new and fertilizing ideas, which should precisely provide the multi-faceted, multicultural society with the adaptability and versatility to make it thrive, over and above the monolithic machine-states such as China and Iran, which we shake our heads at. Muslim communities have thrived without banking for centuries – given recent events, it might be interesting to find out how.

But the permanent state of fear of the radical brand, this basic assumption that anyone who does not madly love every aspect of contemporary society, including aspects which many of white British non-Muslims find disturbing or even repulsive, keeps many Muslims from opening their mouth across the board – at school board meetings in Birmingham especially, I’ll wager. It’s the reverse of Focault’s Panoptikon, where the few watch the many – now, through this subtle perception management, it’s the synoptikon: the many watching the few.

If we follow this trend to its logical conclusion, people will be watching themselves for thought crimes before 2084. Indeed, invoking another Orwellian concept, in this 4 legs good, 2 legs bad classification system, even writing this post, which questions the validity of the concept of radicalisation from a Muslim perspective, puts me at risk.

By succumbing to this fear, however,  I would not be able to point out the fundamental anti-democratic and anti-pluralistic ethos this doctrine potentially creates, not be able to note that it does NOT stop, but rather strengthens “radical” elements through disenfranchisement,  and finally not be able to suggest another path based on an education system that would supply the tools to counter murder in our streets through – radically – different means than government identity programs. All of which, I might add, should count as civic duty.

I have already outlined how this building of healthy Muslim communities through the managed social constructivism of Cooperative Learning should be done in my recent BRAIS presentation.

And the fact that it would simultaneously supply British business with the collaborating, tech-savvy and self-reliant workforce it craves for the 21c would make Heads turn towards the Muslims across the country. And who knows, perhaps afford a way to actually make those British values a bit less elusive through open, honest public discourse of the highest calibre. That’s what should come out of the Trojan Horse, as we mentioned.

If educators succeed at this provision of good tools, the Technology of the Self might indeed end up as “Salvation in this life” – as Mr Elshimi with an ironic twist entitled one of his slides.

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Disclaimer: This material represents my own focus and understanding and may not accurately reflect the intentions of the speaker.

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