In the June edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, editor-in-chief Serge Halimi wrote a very small piece on radicalization. He claimed that movements everywhere, including the student movement in Québec, were a sign that that the present tendency was towards radicalization. Though this is a correct assessment, we nonetheless live in a world where words like “radical” have the properties of a scarlet letter. This in itself proves that we have very little understanding of what the word truly means.
The first thing to understand about radicalization is that it’s reactionary. Radicalization is an expression of frustration, anger and hardship. One is not born radical (although one could argue one could be born with the tendencies but that is another issue); rather he or she is turned into a radical.
The second key element to understand is the contextualization of radicalization. What Germans may consider radical may only be a daily attitude in a place like Cairo, for example. So ‘radical’ is merely a question of interpretation and perception.
I argued in a post last autumn that one of the characteristics of the various ‘radical’ movements is that people are finally acknowledging their anger and expressing it. I also argued that one of the biggest issues in the Western world has been the denial of the legitimacy of violent emotions (anger, rage, frustration) and this has sterilized the political atmosphere, leading to growing apathy and stoicism.
So within this context, is it not surprising that the political elite looks to brand refusal as radical. Québec Liberal parliamentary leader Jean-Marc Fournier did his best to incite fear and describe the province as being in a state of war when he spoke of balconies with gas cans or spreading white powder in the Montreal subway, trying to incite violence and fear. This language was used to describe people that have essentially been using pots and pans to disturb and to express their discontent.
What is great about Fournier’s comments is that they’re actually a wonderful abstract of the attitude that has been plaguing western politics for a while now: the inability to listen.
I mentioned above that radicalization is reactionary. People speak out about what they want, or how they want things done. Decision makers refuse to acknowledge the demand. People raise their voices and still no one listens. People take to the streets and get a bit of attention but are derided as students and hippies. People riot and get blamed that they don’t want to talk, that they are not open to dialogue.
The deafness and blindness of decision makers is exactly what is radicalizing these people. Years of neglect, pig-headed policies and politics is what is inciting these people to fight back and refuse to give up. This is not being radical, by any means. It is merely the desire to be acknowledged and to be heard. And this is not happening.
Need more proof? Québec Minister of Natural Resources Clément Gignac declared that if people want a democracy, they need to become a candidate. Read the last phrase again just to make sure it sinks in. Last time I checked, countries of the western world take great pride in being a representative democracy. That means as a representative, you work for somebody else. Theoretically, the ‘somebody else’ is the people (i.e. electorate) but in practice it obviously means someone else.
This “radicalization” is merely the fruit of our labour. We raise children telling them that we live in a world where we the people are the rulers. A great majority of us were cynical about this for a very long time, but a growing part of the population is taking this very seriously. And because this is truly radical – a radical change – the fear it instills is what leads to stigmatization and branding, which is in itself a radical action. In the end, what you reap is what you sow.