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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 25-Jan-15

 


Sunday 25-January-15

Us, them and non-violent extremism

I watched a BBC documentary recently about Islam in Britain and the tensions around religious terrorism that are now being felt in a number of countries. The underlying question was how people become radicalized, going from peaceful citizens to violent jihadists who justify murder in the name of belief.

At the root, it seems, is the separation of groups that creates a them and us situation. This often happens between religions where those with other beliefs (including secular ones) are mentally distanced, enabling them to be talked of in a polarized way, as if they are all very similar and very unlike us. The different clothing of Muslims probably has an effect here. In the multiculturalism found in Britain, there are large homogenous communities of people of single ethnicities and religions within which a them-and-us narrative would seem to very likely take root.

This mental separation and polarization naturally leads to more extreme views where the other side are easily depersonalized and seen as bad and deserving of harsh punishment. Yet most people also feel the weight of law and social values that say we should not harm others. The result is a form of passive aggression where they talk politely about punishment without directly advocating it. In the BBC documentary, for example, people were calmly expressing understanding of why others would want to stone to death a person who left the religion (committing apostasy) while they themselves would of course not take part. This 'non-violent extremism' was found to be a jumping-off point, a key step taken by those who did take up jihadism.

Another underlying issue is the question of primacy: state or religion. This is a question that has caused controversy in many countries, for many centuries. Religious belief is so personal, it can easily lead to people putting it before all other beliefs, including that we should obey national laws.

A question is what to do about all this. The government is considering extending its anti-terrorism laws to encompass non-violent extreme groups. Others are questioning multiculturalism and demanding a policy of integration rather than allowing separated communities, although just how this might be achieved is unclear. The UK government is also being seriously challenged by nationalist groups who have been gaining ground with their own version of non-violent extremism. Increased isolationism seems likely, with possible exit from the European Union and strengthening of immigration restrictions.

All that I feel we can do individually is to not get swept up by it all, seeking to understand rather than blindly oppose others, including the extremists, violent or not. If we can accept without condemnation, then we have the first step to a more peaceful coexistence.


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