Creating people's geographies
Home-grown terrorism has been bred from social dislocation as well as the destruction of alternative ideologies of hope
Jeremy Seabrook | Friday August 25, 2006 | The Guardian
Does Ruth Kelly’s call for a “new and honest” and “mature” debate at the launch of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion suggest that discussion hitherto has been stale and disingenuous, or even infantile?
Perhaps so. Attempts to understand why young people may grow up in this country so profoundly estranged from its values that they become home-grown terrorists have been prohibited by politicians – faithfully echoed by the media – under the pretext that to do so would represent justification for acts of terrible violence. In this way, those committed to the war on terror immediately disarm themselves of the most useful instrument to tackle the phenomenon.
The British government vehemently repudiates the suggestion that its foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, its slothful devotion to the fate of the Palestinians and its urgent inactivity in the Israel/ Hizbullah conflict have contributed towards the making of fanatics. The motivating factor of choice in the official view is that some suggestible young Muslims have fallen under the sway of powerful preachers of hate, brainwashed and promised a lurid caricature of paradise as a reward for the cult of death.
Part of the problem with home-grown alienation, of course, is that globalisation has a profound impact on local lives, not just economically but socially, culturally and spiritually. Kelly recognised this when she acknowledged that “global tensions are reflected on the streets of local communities”. National borders are increasingly fragile defences against the influence of events that seep through barriers erected to contain them.
That many actual and potential terrorists are not from the most deprived backgrounds, but have often received a good education and have promising prospects, has puzzled observers. This reckons without the widespread psychic disturbance that always accompanies social dislocation, particularly mass migration, which brings contradictory belief systems into stark and sudden proximity – a shock exacerbated for people who, detached from majority status in their place of origin, become a stigmatised minority at their destination. The resulting cultural mix is bound to be volatile and unpredictable, as suggested by the approval of extremists by the 13% of Muslims in Britain who thought the July 7 bombings justified. It should also be remembered, however, that the self-immolation of others is sometimes not unappealing to those who would not dream of imitating them.
The home-growing of alienated people is a complex process to which a significant contributor is poverty and discrimination – the very exclusion that the government has proclaimed its desire to remedy. For too many young Muslims integration means the emergence into a subculture of gangs, crime, drugs and alcohol. If Islam offers redemption from this ugly version of social absorption, we should rejoice that some young men escape the embrace of the prison system. Those who speak glowingly of “our way of life” rarely have any great insight into how poor and marginalised people actually live.
Many people – Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and those of no religion – have expressed repugnance at the distortions of human purposes both in the excesses of globalism and in the reactions against it. But since all secular alternatives have been annulled – thanks, in large measure, to the triumph of the west over communism, and its encouragement of Islamist fighters in Afghanistan and elsewhere – it is inevitable that people should now seek divine succour in their otherwise hopeless predicament.
You don’t have to be young or Muslim to be alienated by a society that spreads its rewards with promiscuous and random detachment from anything recognisable as worth or merit. The intemperance of that society is mirrored in its impact on the Earth. Alienation from a way of living that requires using up the Earth’s treasures with increasing speed might be considered a rational, humane response. But alienation can become a force for creative change and renewal.
What kind of anger and despair makes some people believe that only ideologies of transcendence can alleviate the wrongs and evils of this life? It is not only the tragic delusion of today’s “radicals” that they are moved by ideologies of otherworldly emancipation, it is also a consequence of the destruction of alternative ideologies of social hope.
In the light of this, it becomes slightly more explicable why many opponents of these developments can think only of surpassing the brutality inherent in the dominant global ideology. Who needs even more cruel acts of violence than those wrought by unsustainable developmentalism? If today’s “radicals” were indeed animated by spiritual motives, they would be seeking not to add to death and dispossession but to redeem creation from the ruinous fate written into the profane pursuit of endless economic expansion in a limited world.
Unfortunately, the powerful are unlikely to engage with such complex questions. The demand that Muslims police themselves, that “moderates” restrain “extremists”, that “true” representatives and “real” community leaders present themselves to authority, suggests not a strategy for integration but reversion to anachronistic imperial attitudes.
· Jeremy Seabrook is the author of The No Nonsense Guide to World Poverty