Among the most dangerously overused words of recent years are all the variants of “radicalize”, itself a “verbing” of the overused an oft wrongly used word, “radical”.
“Radical” simply means “of or having to do with roots”. To favor radical change is to favor change at the roots, at a fundamental level. There is probably not a person among us, regardless of political stripe, who does not favor immediate or incremental radical change of something.
So it’s troubling enough when the word “radical” is used as if it means favoring violence, especially needless and indiscriminate violence. It’s more troubling when people, many of them masters of words, act as if it isn’t necessary to distinguish between desire for fundamental change, recognition of a possible role for at least defensive violence in bringing about change (as in the American Revolution), and actual intent to commit acts of violence. Those are three different things. Count them. It’s very troubling when people in power act as if all three of those things should result in the curtailment of rights, and are equally deserving of eradication, even violent eradication. And it’s troubling when people act this way while completely ignoring the role of violence in upholding decidedly non-radical established practices and institutions.
The concept of radicalization further equates openness to and advocacy of ideas with violent intent, but at a whole new level that insults the intelligence and integrity of most of us, and creates danger for any of us who even attempt to develop a full understanding of ideas that do not support or conform to orthodoxy.
The fear of radicalization assumes that the context in which people become willing to commit acts of violence need not be examined, that substantial numbers of people are simply tabula rasa for violent radicals to write on, that all or most of us can easily be transformed in horrifying ways, that we need to be protected from unorthodox ideas, and that we must be carefully watched if we are exposed to any such ideas, or if–God forbid–we spread any.
To fear radicalization is to fear what might happen if people aren’t kept under control, at all costs. It makes entire societies more frightening than anything they might reasonably be afraid of. And, most ironically, it fixes our gaze on any and all difference, and robs us of our ability to focus on any actual preparation for violence that we might otherwise stand a chance of spotting.
We should be fighting violence, not ideas and openness to ideas.