A new politics of extremism…

Are we entering a new politics of extremism?

In our guest blog for today, Uzair Choughtai writes about a recent discussion on radicalism in the UK.

The Young Foundation and UpRising recently held an interesting discussion on whether the UK was entering a new state of extremism. The Young Foundation is a social enterprise organisation that seeks to bring together insight, innovation and entrepreneurship to meet social needs, whilst UpRising is a programme that aims to open up pathways regarding leadership amongst young adults.


The discussion was chaired by various prominent figures and it was interesting to hear their diverse views on the subject. These included Professors David Conway and Nigel Copsey, who specialises in extremism and fascism, as well as award-winning artist Faisal Abdu ‘Allah.

A lot of the discussion centred itself around the EDL and also the demonising views of Islam from the media, two areas which seem to remain at the forefront of today’s cultural anxieties, and have been for some time.

Faisal began by describing how young people today are growing up with different political shifts. He explains how in today’s society there are so many different cultural, political and religious beliefs that the young people seem to find themselves sifting between several beliefs.

The topic then moved onto whether there is some sort of crisis within the British culture. Faisal made a point that there seemed to be much far more clarity between cultures in the 1970s, a stronger divide between the different backgrounds. Now there seems to be so many different types of people and the groups that they belong to.

Artist Faisal told us that when he asked his students generally about their opinions on English identity, they seemed to be just as confused as he was. People don’t seem to be able to articulate what it exactly means to be ‘English’.

Faisal Abdu’Allah Photography 'Diss-Assembly'

Faisal Abdu’Allah Photography 'Diss-Assembly'

One young person from the audience asked whether people should be educated about the EDL or protected. Professor Conway replied with ‘I think we should educate young people on all these different issues. Even if you don’t know much about a culture or a religion, you should be able to act with goodwill and respect unless someone does something to upset you’.
One person questioned whether a group like the EDL specifically targeted Muslims, or is it a case of ‘blanket racism?’ The panel generally agreed that EDL supporters may feel more obliged to attack an Islamic belief system as they believe it poses a threat to their liberal lifestyle.

When asked whether we were entering a new politics of extremism, Muna Hassan (Campaigner) explained her feeling that we have been in one for some time, adding that 9/11 and the war in Iraq were crucial in polarising peoples’ attitudes towards Islam generally.
The discussion then moved onto the niqaab (headscarf). Muna explained how some debates can be dangerous, as they can end up leading to a law being passed (as France has recently shown). But isn’t it healthy practice to be able up to have an open discussion between different people? Isn’t that the only way we can learn to better understand, and hopefully learn to respect one another? I found Muna’s point questionable: even though the smallest discussion can open an enormous can of worms, creating problems that weren’t present previously, debates should not be stifled or swept under the carpet for fear of the reaction it could provoke.

People don’t seem to be satisfied when you tell them you’re simply a Muslim. They want to know if you’re an extremist or if you consider yourself moderate. People seem to automatically want to gauge how much of a potential threat I am towards their worldview or their way of life. And as Muna explains, she doesn’t even know how to label herself. She knows she’s a Muslim, but it seems people have assigned different levels as to HOW MUCH of a Muslim you are, a mental infographic created as a means of putting their own minds at ease.

Some people may believe that the idea of a multicultural Britain is a bad idea, as it gives rise to extremist views within our nation, a view held by David Cameron who said that “state multiculturalism has failed… Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.”

Professor Copsey explained how his belief that a lot of these negative attitudes are due to a number of problems within society, such as cultural anxiety and economic problems, especially amongst white, working class families. Education is key to tackling these fundamental problems.

One young person from the audience moved the extremist angle away from the area of religion onto the extreme actions of protestors, noting the aggressive behaviour that occurred during the recent marches against the cuts. They questioned why it seemed that whenever the topic of extremism comes up, it always seems to either revolve itself around fanatical Muslims wanting to blow themselves or skinhead EDL supports spouting their ignorant opinions. This moved us to the fascinating question of the legitimacy of violence and protest quite apart from religious areas.

I felt that Faisal made an interesting point when he compared the backgrounds of some of the protestors to those of prison inmates who he visits regularly. He talked about how these people were well-spoken, possessed good manners and held a good level of intelligence. So when referring back to the protestors, he asked us whether, even though the behaviour shown WAS disgusting, could there be a reasonable feeling of justification behind the actions? Other people suggested that maybe these ‘extreme’ protestors are just another example of an aggressive English identity that seems to be brought up quite a lot.

What does it even mean to be British nowadays? I look through the newspapers and it just seems as if the media wants to separate us all into easy-to-understand groups, labelled by a set of rules that are somehow allowed to be applied to everyone. One thing that I really love about Britain (and specifically London) is the fact that the diversity in cultures is so rich. We learn so much from one another without even realising it sometimes, simply from observing how someone of a different faith or culture live out their lives. I think there are examples of people secluding themselves from the everyday world around them but overall it isn’t something that I see day to day. If we make the effort to better understand other people as opposed to being afraid of their differences then maybe our future generations will be able to live freer lives than we have.

And is there even a place where British people can go to actually express their British culture and values in a positive way? It seems that the first thing that seems to come to mind is the EDL or the National Front, or perhaps chanting football fans. Can a person even wave a British flag anymore without being judged as being an ignorant racist? Are facebook groups and online communities the only place where the British people feel safe to express their love for their country? Will Prince William’s wedding ignite the souls of the British people or do the general public not really give any interest? Maybe people simply don’t feel like there’s anything that is exclusively ‘British’ anymore.

A mind once stretched by a new

idea never regains its original

dimensions


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