How to radicalise a nation in five simple steps

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I grew up in North Manchester in the 1970s, I was the only Asian child in my school, and my family were the only Asian family in the town.

For me growing up always felt slightly unsafe, my childhood seemed to be overshadowed by insults and threats of violence – a political and cultural climate that did little to challenge prejudice and discrimination.

As I grew up and into my late teens,  the incidents of racism began to fade away, and society became somewhat less intolerant, well at least for me. The era of Right-wing extremist and dark days on the National Front seems like societal mishaps buried within the grim archives of the 1970s and 80s.

During my university years, I had forgotten that discrimination and fascism had even ever existed in the United Kingdom. On my course everyone seemed to be born of foreign parents and yet they were all so confidently British.

I do recall that when I was nine years old, I wrote my first project on the second world war. I remember reading a paragraph in a book I had borrowed from the library that said that fascism in the UK was very unlikely to ever really ugly had because of the nature and constitution of British society and its people.

We now live in a society where young people have the privilege of growing up and being educated amongst peers from different ethnicities and religions, and to for them, this diversity is not something that they perceive as a dividing force but as a regular part of their upbringing. I also realise that living in a middle-class, educated bubble can protect you from the raw realities of life where some communities fight tooth and nail for what little resources they have and that can manifest in the form of hate.

I am now nearly reaching my 50th year, born in the Midlands; I spent most of my childhood growing up in the north of England and now live in London. I’ve worked as a diversity trainer and advisor for the police and the government for over ten years. While I realise that ignorance and fear are still prevalent in our society, I honestly never saw this new wave of fascism within our global, diverse society coming.

One of the areas I studied while training to be a diversity advisor was to explore organisational bullying and harassment in the workplace and the causes of collective discrimination and hate. Interestingly enough the behaviours displayed in bullying and harassment are very similar to those that can occur in a much broader context and even in cases of genocide on a societal level.

What do I mean by this? Gordon Allport was an American psychologist in the 1950’s who explored values, prejudice and discrimination. Allport wanted to explore how it was possible for genocide to have occurred within society and in particular Nazi Germany. He devised a scale that mapped the journey of prejudice, discrimination to extermination – called the Allport’s Scale of Prejudice and Discrimination. He divided the stages into five steps which consist of anti-locution, avoidance, discrimination, physical attack and finally extermination. Allport’s scale has been one of the most defining and influential models of human behaviour that I have studied and explained many of my childhood experiences growing up in 1970s England. Other psychologists have mapped Allport’s scale against many examples of genocide, which all follow the same pattern and go through the five steps to genocide.

The first step is anti-locution which is the equivalent of buying into prejudices against a group of people and are rooted in fear, conformity, ignorance and upbringing. It can merely consist of believing the myths, legends and narratives created by powerful sources within our society. Those authoritative sources do not have to be overtly discriminating, or purposefully teaching hate towards a particular group of people.

All anti-locution needs to be is a drip-drip process, or negative images, headlines, sound bites, stories or lack of diverse representation on our television, in dramas, within literature, or a one-sided version of history and even more so now fake news on social media. Anti-locution is generally where a majority of people will buy into prejudice.

The second step is avoidance and when you begin to buy into those myths, legends and negative narratives against the group of people you fear. It is unlikely that you will want to mix with the people you fear, invite them to your home for dinner or interact with them. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also explains that for people to reach self-actualisation and feel a sense of safety belonging, it’s also within our psyche to strive to mix with people with whom we share similar values, beliefs and cultural practices.

Discrimination equates to mistreating someone, because of deep-rooted prejudices and intolerance. Over the decades the battle against discriminatory behaviour and practices has lead to policymakers creating legislation to protect our rights so that we can live our free from discrimination or hate.  Currently, the law protects nine protected characteristics including disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, faith belief, age, marital status. However, even our laws and policies can unintentionally discriminate and be unlawful. This is why checks and balances must be put in place to ensure this does not happen. All policies should go through rigorous consultation and equality analysis before they hit the streets so to speak.

The penultimate level on Allport’s Scale is  “Physical Attack” which manifests in the form of verbal abuse, destruction of property,  blatant bullying, harassment and victimisation. Hate crime can be physical or target someone’s property and it can occur anywhere, on the street, in the workplace and now even virtually on social media. Extermination is the end of the process resulting in the complete removal of the person or community from society.  Where violence is involved,  it equates to genocide.

Despite our robust and well throughout legislation underpinned by our Human Rights laws, many of our leaders and decision-makers have failed to notice the mass of hate accumulating within our society over the years. Most of all they fail to see their part in this, via their political rhetoric.

As we rise steadily up the scale of prejudice and discrimination,  superficially fewer people seem to be involved in the act of physical attack. Dig a little deeper, and you will see that the silent majority are egging the perpetrators on and continually empowering those who dare to hate and carry out physical attacks against victims of discrimination and hate crime. Misinforming, twisting or confusing what people believe is true is, in fact, it’s a dangerous game to play and can have a devastating impact on our society.

I look back on my life here in the UK, rarely do I see anything on TV, in our dramas and on mainstream TV that resembles the last 50 years of my life, my experiences and my family. Where are MY stories of tears, struggles, triumphs and joys on the small screen? I only see stories of father’s killing daughters, ISIS sympathisers and sexual predators. So what I fear most is when fascism raises its ugly head again, there will be very little that will make me seem human to those who wish to see people like me eventually disappear off the face of the earth.  I have heard some people describe the level of hate against some groups reminiscent 1930’s Nazi Germany.

A whole new generation of young Europeans is also experiencing what I experienced as a child in 1970. Policymakers and leaders, don’t’ realise the harm they are causing with their careless rhetoric and the hurt are causing these children. Their childhood should be something that we should all be protecting our lives.  These scars will never leave them it will shape and influence their values, form their beliefs and ultimately dictate their behaviours as they grow into future citizens of the UK  and the world.  I know because like many thousands of other second-generation Asians, we have been there already.

You wonder why there are ordinary people here in the UK confused and distrustful of Muslims, as evident in Channel’s 4’s  documentary “My week as a Muslim.” But Channel 4 is also guilty of perpetrating negative attitudes and stereotypes in documentaries such as “What British Muslim Think?” The damage and harm they have done associating the values, beliefs and behaviours of 3 million British Muslims into one clumsily put together questionable survey is what fuels prejudice, discrimination and hate crime. They are dehumanising us all and playing into the narrative of the far right. There aren’t enough balanced portrayals of on TV, in dramas, in the press to offset the damage cheap tv has on our everyday lives here in the UK. Like I said cheap TV at our expense.

If we continue to define ourselves via colour, language, ethnicity and faith and not via our shared universal values, we will continue to make the mistakes of our ancestors and find ourselves headbutting each other into annihilation. I ask our decision makers, leaders and commissioners to read social media blogs, speak to people with grievances. See the hate crime figure increase, watch before your very eyes the rise of violent and non-violent extremism and how extremists on every side of the spectrum, will use terror against us all to reach their unfulfilled political ends.

A politician was murdered for her political views, people are trolled and threatened with violence, murder and rape or doxed on far rightwing websites and the rise of right-wing extremism is still not taken seriously. There have been incidents of threats beatings and killings for speaking a language other than English post in Brexit Britain. A Muslim family appears on a Christmas advert, and all hell breaks loose when many Muslims have been celebrating Christmas in the UK for decades. This is not a sudden surge, this is decades of drip, drip messages from many even mainstream legitimate sources.

If those with a voice and platform continue to blame groups of people with clumsy unguided rhetoric, even the best thought out policies will not save us. As I explained it only takes five steps to radicalise a nation. I hope we haven’t missed the boat and it’s not too late to repair the damage or will be looking back on this blip in history and thinking what the heck was we thinking?

The threat of ISIS-inspired extremism and the rise of the far right worries me so much, I can’t often sleep. Our Prime Minister calls for us to do more to stem the threat within our communities despite the lack of funding opportunities, and policy gaps, there has never been mass support or sympathy for the actions of ISIS and terrorism. Maybe our leaders have failed to recognise those champions on the ground that make it their life’s mission to combat terrorism and extremism when it manifests in all communities. I witness how they spend every day on social media putting out fires and countering extremist narratives from both ISIS and far right while putting themselves and their families at risk. What worries me more is how easy it is to create mass hate against people of a religion who consist of 1 billion of our world’s population, who represent every strand of diversity you could think of, who are consistently blamed for the actions of a few, whose only wish is to achieve their warped world vision and goals through nothing more than political violence.

Alhambra Women’s Network Blogger

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