Across the globe we have seen a change in the political climate, steadily edging towards the right with a now frightening level of anti-immigration rhetoric used by leading politicians which influences communities far beyond their political sphere.
Including but not limited to POTUS No 45: When he proposed to build a wall between America and Mexico and introduced the travel ban for citizens from Muslim majority countries entering the US, a global outcry followed. Since, his anti-immigration narrative has not changed.
During the last five years we have witnessed a number of far-right and Islamist extremist terrorist attacks in the UK. The killing of the MP Jo Cox, the Westminster attack, Manchester, London-Bridge and Finsbury Park mosque to name a few.
With this development so fresh in people’s memory, it is now feared that we may be witnessing a further move towards intolerance, exclusion and the inevitable normalisation of violent extremism. The risk of young and/or vulnerable people being radicalised into hateful thinking that threatens peaceful cohesive society is now higher than ever.
This article will explore the inherent vulnerabilities in people to radicalisation, the tactics used by radicalisers and the work needed to build resilience to such radicalisation.
As humans – as cognitive, social, communal beings – we have an innate need for identity, meaning and a sense of belonging. These basic and yet fundamental needs are less and less supported and strengthened by our increasingly complex society. As the UK is becoming a bigger melting pot of cultures/beliefs and as identity becomes less definitive, less set by society, we find ourselves in a situation where identity and belonging is at a significant deficit. Young people are trying to find their identity and belonging outside families and peers, in an effort to regain a sense of self. We are faced with a generation more vulnerable to having their identity and sense of belonging manipulated than any before.
We also live in a world rife with fake news, conspiracy theories, propaganda and dangerous narratives. This allows for groups to manipulate how we perceive and understand the world around us and therefore manipulate how we find meaning and purpose. Groups can use divisive, over simplistic ‘us v them’ narratives that tell us to perceive the world around us through a lens of one group being a constant perpetrator of all that is wrong with the world and the other a constant victim. The case is the just same for far-right anti-immigration, racist narratives as it is for ‘East versus West’ Islamist narratives.
With an identity and belonging deficit and meaning dictated by simplistic conspiratorial narratives we have seen a huge rise in radicalisation into extremist hate groups. Groups give you a sense of identity, belonging, meaning and purpose. They can build this on extreme nationalist ideologies, extreme religious ideologies and/or extreme political ideologies and still fulfill the individual’s positive need for belonging.
If radicalisation into hateful extremist groups is a result of a matrix of vulnerabilities that include a lack of a sense of belonging, identity and a search for meaning, it follows that resilience can be built in a similar way: by fulfilling the need for identity, belonging and meaning.
The question is, who are we as a nation? What is our shared identity and meaning that will give us this much needed joint sense of belonging?
Democracy, rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of faiths and beliefs: the values we all share and that are bedrock to a cohesive and integrated multi cultural, multi-faith nation.
Yes, we actively vote to support our political opinions and even some of the big decisions our Government makes (e.g. Brexit). We all have equal voting power and we all get a say.
Yes, we are all equal under the law. #MeToo is a great example of how none of us sit above the law, rich or poor, famous or not – regardless of our gender.
Yes, we protect our right to identify and live however we want to as long as it does not harm others. For example, we promote and protect LGBTQ+ rights.
Yes, we protect our ability to choose our faith and not discriminate against others who have different faiths and beliefs to our own.
These values are our own, maybe not ours alone but they are ours to be cherished, promoted and protected.
The UK government has made it a legal duty on schools to teach and promote these values as something that unites us all. By focusing on positive shared values rather than our differences, we actively work towards a more cohesive, more integrated and peaceful United Kingdom.
These values allow us to identify with more than our nationality. Whether we are Sikh, Muslim, Christian, of African heritage, of Pakistani heritage, gay, transgender, male or female – we can all share and celebrate our mutual respect and tolerance, our individual liberty, our equality and our democracy. We are a multi-cultural, multi-faith UK, a place where people come for peace, security and prosperity.
People know they are to be protected from discrimination, human rights abuses and injustices. Knowing both who we are and celebrating it, plays a crucial part towards building resilience to the evils that threaten to attack our multi-cultural society and our tolerance towards and inclusion of different faiths and beliefs.
Lord Ahmad addressed the need to be intolerant of intolerance and the complexities faced by communities in the UK in his January 2018 speech: “I am proud of our religious diversity, but it would be wrong to suggest that it is always easy to integrate religious minorities into a society where there is already a dominant religion. When we promote religious tolerance in other countries we know from experience how challenging it can be.”
How then do we ensure meaning is found in truth, taking into account complexities and nuances, fore-going over-simplistic and dangerous ‘us v them’ narratives?
Building critical thinking skills
Over-simplistic, faulty narratives take a real or perceived problem, like ‘There are less jobs, less prosperity and increased security risk.’ and then apply a faulty, over simplified reason and solution. In this case: ‘Immigrants are taking your jobs, raping your children and committing terrorist attacks.’ Following through with this example: ‘Preventing and driving out immigrants could stop all issues of prosperity, family safety and national security.’
These kinds of over-simplistic hate narratives are interwoven with fake news and conspiracy theories in order to convincingly reduce a complex situation into a black and white ‘us v them’ thinking.
Simply learning the British Values off by heart, is not enough to combat such ludicrous thinking – Critical thinking and a greater understanding of others are central to building resilience and community cohesion successfully:
- We need to resist attempts to dictate our understanding of the world around us is limited to ‘us v them’ group thinking.
- We need to resist pinning blame on whole groups of people and coming to hateful and intolerant solutions based on that.
Let’s take another popular extremist narrative: ‘There have been Western led or Western supported wars in Muslim countries, many Muslims have died and there is a rise in Muslim-hate in the UK, therefore the West and Westerners are to blame, they hate us and want to kill us, we must defend ourselves.’ Couple this with an interpretation of Islam that calls for defensive Jihad and believes in a final war between East and West and you have violent Islamist extremism.
‘Us v them’ becomes ‘We’
Challenging dangerous tribal group thinking requires breaking down stereotypes, challenging conspiratorial thinking and building critical thinking skills. Encountering and building personal relationships with the ‘other’ promotes greater understanding and leads to resistance against intolerant hate narratives against that perceived ‘other’.
Become The Voice combines value-driven and identity-building workshops with critical thinking skills workshops and sessions that allow participants to encounter ‘the other.’ Through our bespoke and in-depth programmes, we aim to build the resilience necessary to keep our young and vulnerable resilient to the draw of extremist hate groups in this increasingly hateful world.