The radicalisation of the young 15-year-old killing an innocent man has shocked the country. The arrest of what seems to be a cabal of radicalised young men of Muslim faith surprises no one and their influence over a seemingly innocent and impressionable young man doesn’t surprise many of us either. That is because we have been conditioned to regard radicalisation as a Muslim thing and something we should be afraid of.
The world is now the battleground of the radical, the terrorist, the lone wolf martyr. This aspect of our lives seems recent but on reflection I’m not sure that it is.
Violence in the name of religion, righteousness, or culture has been going on for centuries and well we all know it.
The Persians did it, the Greeks did it, the Romans did it, the Spanish and the English did it, the Chinese did it, the Cambodians did it, and so on.
The Christians did it to each other, the Muslims did it to each other, the Buddhists are doing it to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the Chinese are doing it to the Uyghur Muslim minorities, the Hutus did it to the Tutsis, the North African newly-created states are doing it to their own peoples. These are just some examples and we can all add to this list.
My own experience was the race riots in Malaysia in 1967/68 when I lived there. I saw some awful atrocities perpetrated in the name of cultural ethnicity. The Malays slaughtered Chinese and the Chinese returned the favour.
When contemplating why this is so, and why is it so infectious, I was reminded of some studies I did in sociology many years ago which addressed socialisation.
The theory seemed to be that humans are a herd animal and we develop norms, standards, rules governing our society and we inculcate them into our offspring. If these differ from the herd next door we feel threatened and sometimes react violently.
The process of dealing with people who do not conform to our notion of society is resocialisation. This is manifested most obviously in the rehabilitation of offenders in our prison system. But this is only the tip of the iceberg and we live with examples of resocialisation every day.
When I was sixteen, I went to a Catholic school in Melbourne. I was an average student but happy with my lot. As part of the indoctrination of the Church I started to feel the call of the vocation. The vocation of the priesthood and in particular the life of a missionary priest overseas.
(Interestingly, we still get visited here by missionaries trying to covert us to their brand of Christianity, because we are pagan lot aren’t we? I chortle at the sight of a Mormon missionary standing at my door wearing a badge declaring him, and his partner, as the Elder Joe Bloggsfeld and he being younger than my grandchild. Where the Elder bit comes from mystifies me.)
Back to the priesthood. I had been brainwashed by the Micks into believing that theirs was the only true faith and everyone else was wrong and needed saving. However, we weren’t encouraged to use violence to save souls; that went out of vogue in the 1800s. Note here that it was part of the process though.
Cigarettes, girls and booze arrived (in that order) and I opted for another path. Enter, stage left, National Service. The Army. This was where I experienced and witnessed the process of desocialisation, followed by resocialisation.
This is where my rules of engagement with the world at large were torn down and replaced with that of the prevailing order of the Armed Forces. They destroyed my independence of thought, my inquisitive and challenging approach to directions and created my blind acceptance of the rightness of authority greater than my own. They destroyed my mould and created another.
This is institutionalised brainwashing, just like the religions do it to their adherents.
But it is OK because after all, we are on the side of righteousness. Our God is the only true one and we must defend our faith. Really?
When the authorities talk of tackling the radicalised youth, they are talking about the young Muslim kids who are likely to turn violent in response to the perceived evil being perpetrated upon their kind, or because their God demands that infidels be put to the sword.
We, as a society do need to look to change the path of these young people. We do need to change their perception of why they are here on Earth, we do need to give them more relevance to the Australian norms of freedom and respect. We do need to give the troubled young people the relief they need from their internal battles and we do need to remove the negative influences in their lives.
But make no mistake. This is not a Muslim thing. The creature we are dealing with is not only a Muslim phenomenon. It goes on all over the world with different people killing each other in the name of some abstract concept like religion or ethnicity. The Muslim aspect is just the most obvious, the most widespread and the most recent stage in the history of mankind.
The most insidious embryo of radicalisation is found in the entrails of religious fervour. But the process of radicalisation can be reversed with desocialisation and resocialisation. It is a lengthy and costly exercise. But it must be done with care. Care must be taken not to merely replace one set of radical thinking with another. Converting Muslims to Christianity or Buddhism is not the answer.
What surprises me sometimes is that we see examples of resocialisation (and radicalisation is just the most extreme of this process) all the time. As I said, it is in our religions, in our schools, in our armed forces, in our police forces, in our political parties and in our social groups. Indeed, in some cases it is even in our families.
I don’t know the answer but I also don’t think that many in our community understand the process of radicalisation and resocialisation and if it is not understood, an antidote is a long way off.