When I hear the oft-repeated argument that there are violent extremists operating on British campuses, I know it’s true. I have heard countless students and professors alike advocating the use of extreme violence to enforce their way of life on others. They recommend bombing campaigns, full-scale invasion and counter-insurgency against recognized states in the full knowledge that it will result in the deaths of thousands of innocent. Shockingly large numbers of them support kidnapping and torture, otherwise known as rendition and enhanced interrogation. Others openly support state terrorism – the use of extreme violence or the threat of violence to intimidate other societies into changing their policies. They call it ‘shock and awe’. I have even heard some express pride in the genocidal murder of millions as they waxed lyrical about the glories of the British empire. Some campus extremists I have heard advocate the building of horrible, indiscriminate weapons that can incinerate entire cities without distinction between soldiers or civilians.
When I hear the oft-repeated argument that universities radicalize students, I know it’s true. I have known countless former students who have gone on to join violent organisations where they received weapons training, bomb-throwing instruction and specialized training in all the dark arts of killing fellow human beings. I have also known former students who have gone on to work for fundamentalist groups like banks, investment firms, the Treasury, the Conservative Party, the IMF and others – groups who won’t be swayed by evidence or rational argument but who cling rigidly to discredited ideologies and try to remake the world in their dark image, no matter how much suffering it creates. Strangely though, I know far more former students who have gone on to become peace workers, aid volunteers, arms protesters, human rights lawyers, diplomats, journalists, and teachers. I guess that is a kind of radicalization, too, wanting to help people less fortunate than themselves and change the world for the better.
When I hear the oft-repeated argument that extremists preachers or websites turn young people into terrorists, I know it must be true because I have heard that ordinary young people can be turned to suicide by listening to rock music and that dancing leads to unwanted pregnancies. I confess that when I accidentally overheard Osama bin Laden speaking on the BBC in one of his videos, I had a sudden urge to build a homemade bomb. I had to make a cup of tea to calm down. I’m sure this is how the mind works: you hear someone suggest some radical kind of action and you can’t help but rush out and act on it, which is clearly why the government must ban all extremist speakers (except those in their own cabinet, of course) and block all extremist websites, apart from The Times.
When I hear the oft-repeated argument that extremism leads to violent extremism, I know it’s true because I too want to end capitalism, overthrow western imperialism, free Palestine, force China and Russia to uphold human rights, end the arms trade, and a great many of ‘radical’ goals. I have many friends who agree with me, and we have been discussing these issues for years, most often while drinking red wine after a barbeque. Sometimes we even have the urge to do something. I remember we once looked up Amnesty International online, but then realized you had to give money and write letters. We opened another bottle instead.
But when I hear the oft-repeated argument that tackling violent extremism means promoting British values, I admit I get a little confused. Aren’t British values about an ingrained intolerance for people of other religions, language, race, and culture and how they are ruining our country? Don’t we want to convert them all to Anglicanism, football hooliganism and drinking tea (or lager)? Aren’t British values about settling conflicts primarily through violence, as we have done for centuries in the colonies, Suez, the Falklands, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya? Aren’t British values about the valorization of military might and the glories of war? Don’t we have statues to war in every village and street corner? Don’t we celebrate our martyrs on Remembrance Sunday, Battle of Britain Day, Armistice day? Don’t we value the power that comes with owning weapons of mass destruction? It seems to me that the government doesn’t need to worry about these violent extremists; they have already clearly demonstrated their commitment to the most important British values.