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Graham Barnfield's weblog, being gradually replaced by his Twitter feed -

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Friday, September 29, 2006

With Extreme Prejudice

The extremism debate in Britain today is driving me to extremes. The reasons?
  • Participants only see what they want to see. The facts get grafted onto existing agendas. (This includes manufacturing quotations. Step forward Stephen Schwartz: the British police don't use the phrase 'South Asian community', as no-one here uses that phrase and no-one would know which community was under discussion [or indeed, where South Asia is, but that's another story]).
  • "Communities" are part of the problem here. Why go through a bunch of self-appointed mediators -- "community leaders" -- to do politics? I was brought up as a Baptist and have always lived with in spitting distance of a church or two. But insofar as there's any connection between public life and me, I'm treated as an individual citizen most of the time. This is starting to change -- my local authority clearly had the "white community" in mind when it put out a flyer urging residents to refrain from pogroms -- but the authorities could try addressing British Muslims individually for a change, or even aspiring to a secular politics. (Even the Pope seems to be headed that way...) Thankfully, the state treats my erstwhile religious affiliations as about as relevant as my teenage sporting achievements. All in all, the post-7/7 debate in Britain would be very different if conducted over individuals' crimes rather than community beliefs.
  • The concepts "radicalisation" and "extremism" are part of the problem, because they confuse words and ideas with deeds. For too long lawmakers and pundits have treated thinking and doing as being the same thing - it's like media studies redux, where images are omnipotent. If people advocate stupid, nihilistic and reactionary ideas, respond to them with better ideas. A battle of ideas, in fact. If they take bombs onto public transport, a more practical response is needed ...


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