Following the war in Syria and the rise of Daesh, western society is more determined than ever to curb the number of men, women and children turning to these organisations. Tactics already employed will undoubtedly have some effect; internet censorship will certainly prove useful in the goal of trying to prevent online recruitment, for example. Yet nonetheless, I believe there’s one area where we fall short: the language we use when describing such people.
Surely, if we’re trying to lower the number of ‘homegrown terrorists’ we churn out each year, the last thing we’d want to do is make terrorism sound appealing. Yet synonymous with ‘terrorist’ are words like ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’, which seem to put an exciting spin on the act of systematic murder. After all, when would the ‘extreme’ ever sound less appealing? When has the ‘radical’ option never been more attractive, at least superficially? Given that many of the potential recruits we’re talking about are children, this likely presents even more of a problem. If it’s considered a radical move to join a terrorist organisation, this may help influence such a decision, even if only subconsciously.
Another danger presented by this kind of terminology is the fact that, in the context of Islam, words like ‘radicalism’, ‘extremism’ and ‘fundamentalism’ all imply a sense of untainted purity. They legitimise the doctrine practised by Daesh or al-Qaeda as a somehow purer interpretation of Islam than that of most normal, law-abiding Muslims, which could present a further danger to the aforementioned crowd. If you cherished and respected your faith, you could easily conclude that an extreme form of that religion – a purer form of that religion – would be favourable. The problem also lies in the fact that this kind of interpretation is wholly untrue; look at most of these organisations and you’ll see that they’re not really fighting for the caliphate. They’re just angry and bloodthirsty people looking for an excuse to kill others.
Now, I’m not suggesting there’s a black-and-white separation between Muslims and terrorists, and, as someone very critical of all religion, I’ll happily make the point that much of the violence carried out by these so-called fundamentalists is rooted in traditional Islamic principles, yet it seems like they’re currently portrayed as more legitimate followers of the same creed. We need to call a spade a spade and accept that sloppy language of this kind only conceals terrorism’s ugly reality.