Radicalisation is a cancer in our society

A vigil after the London Bridge terror attack.

JUST as one man’s meat is another man’s poison, one man’s radicalisation is another man’s awakening; one man’s conversion is another man’s apostasy.

Like anything, and especially great change based on evolving personal beliefs, radicalisation is a subjective process. Nevertheless, from zeitgeist’s perspective, saying someone has been radicalised means they have crossed a line, taken a step too far, that they may have been exploited and may have become a threat to society.

Many of us — but not all of us — would challenge the suggestion that last year’s 1916 centenary celebrations were an exercise in radicalisation. Despite that, historians are coming to the view that the 50th-anniversary celebrations of 1916 were one of the many reasons that made the Troubles in the North almost inevitable. Those long-ago 1966 celebrations, held in a far more insular, toe-the-line Ireland, are now seen by some as a renewing event for violent nationalism.

That may be the hair-splitting theory of the matter but today we report on the very real consequences and the process of Islamic radicalisation.

The story of Aaliyah, aged 26 who converted to Islam when she was 18 and was known as Marcella, challenges us to at least recognise the enemy within. Her story means that, in the lexicon of another conflict, we cannot stand idly by.

Aaliyah grew up in care in Ireland, so often a precursor to an unhappy life lived in extremes, but moved to London where she fell under the spell of Islamic extremism after 9/11. She helped extremists travel to Ireland through Belfast and suggests that there may be as many as 150 extremists living in Ireland today.

She describes how they would celebrate each new attack by fellow zealots; and how she was engaged to an extremist — “a complete animal” — for eight months and how she was told they would have one child every year to “fight in the war”. That relationship eventually ended but left her scarred physically and emotionally.

Because of our of history, European history too, we recoil from the idea of a repressive security response to these challenges but Islamic extremists will persist and accelerate their terror campaigns until we are tempted to react in a way that would help their cause. That would be an error so we should act now while we still control the agenda — but how we react is one of the questions of our age.


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