Jean Barker

Rebels can’t be radicalised

2015-02-27 09:47

Jean Barker

Recent events have got me wondering what gives people the potential to be radical in a bad way – dogmatic, violent and even genocidal. In America, where being radically pro-USA is actively encouraged, people seem to be wondering too.  President Obama even organised an entire conference to try to figure it out.

This got me thinking, that everyone who joins ISIS or one of the other crazy religious mass cults seems to share one disturbing trait. And no, silly, I don’t mean they’re Muslim. I mean that they’re all described to the media as “the person least likely to cause trouble” by their closest family and friends.

The three teenage UK girls who vanished to travel to Syria via Turkey a few days ago were thought to be ordinary, normal, and “integrated into society”. The recently identified Jihadi John dude is characterised as a “polite” and “beautiful young man”.

What ISIS wannabes have in common

What the reports all seem to be saying is it’s the well-behaved kids who are most at risk. This makes a certain amount of crude sense to me. Obedient people are obedient no matter what. They respect authority and want to be led.

Remember high school? If you do, you probably remember being taught that what made Germans vulnerable to Nazism was that they felt bad about themselves, and they wanted to feel powerful, again, and be part of something big and strong and proud.

Hitler fulfilled that urge. He gave Germans a sense of identity. People will do terrible things to themselves and to others to have a sense of identity. If you don’t believe me, read Foucault for Dummies and let’s chat again later.

To me, those who join ISIS are just well behaved people who don’t feel fully accepted by the society in which they live, and long to belong. Instead of joining an army that uses violent means to wipe out ISIS, they join an army that uses violent means to build ISIS. Instead of saluting a UK or US or French flag, they salute the black flag. Familiar action, different authority.

See, I could never do that. I don’t like to salute flags and national anthems make me cringe a little bit inside.  National “pride” always seems to end badly, with people thinking it’s a good idea to “wipe [insert group of humans] off the face of the planet” or “bomb them all to hell”. For me, if one innocent person dies, wrong has been done.

Much to the horror of friends and those who dislike me, I also do not support any of the following groups and actions: Hamas. The Israeli Military. ISIS. Drone strikes by the US government. Historically, I also didn’t support the apartheid third force, or Umkhonto We Sizwe.   

Does that mean I think governments or terrorists should be allowed to go ahead and kill other people or take away their freedoms? Nope. Actually, I would do everything to stop them… everything, that is, except join any violent organisation, including but not limited to any army.
I believe that if you create a society that says violent action is acceptable for one cause, and that the military are heroes, all it takes to turn an outsider into a “terrorist” is to change the cause they support. Likewise, if you teach kids nationalist behavior from an early age, all it may take is a bit of brainwashing to have them saluting a black flag instead of a brightly coloured one.
People are desperate to feel they belong, so turning a “normal” kid into a terrorist isn’t nearly as hard as you might think.

By contrast, tried turning a true rebel into a ruthless killer? In my opinion, you can forget it. You simply can’t, because a rebel will follow neither a government’s orders to fight and kill, nor some terrorist leader’s.

- Jean earned an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting and works in the LA film industry. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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