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Who is the big bad terrorist?

Over the last 10 years, new anti-terrorism legislation and executive measures have been introduced in almost all Western states in the hope of meeting enhanced security obligations. Special powers have been handed over to the executive and ad hoc procedures have been introduced with the belief that these will increase effectiveness and reduce the risk of terror. The rhetoric on who the big bad wolf is has taken considerable dimensions with the US taking a proud lead! This big bad hairy monster is usually portrait with specific religious and cultural traits... If only the Little Red Ridinghood could really see who is behind those big black eyes.

This week, my Institute announced a €1.5m EU grant to run YEIP, a youth-led project on radicalisation. I felt compelled to write this blog as I sensed the criticism of the so called "experts" in terrorism and radicalisation. "What do they know about radicalisation and working with young extremists?", some said. Probably ... they are right! But thank God, we don't.

I have been a reader, a keen student and recently a funder and an evaluator of a number of EU "anti-radicalisation" and "anti-terrorist" projects. In their effort to respond to the "get tough philosophy" of our polarised societies (and indeed justify their funding), most of these projects see those at risk as subjects for control, rehabilitation, incarceration, incapacitation and why not ... death.

And as I read the latest UK immigration policies on refugee children, US blanket bans on muslims and so on, I fear for what is yet to come. In a few days, we will celebrate the 60th year of our European Union, and thus I must ask: "When did financial (potential and alleged) gains take precedence over unity, brotherhood and the freedoms that define our humanity"? And hang on a minute! Aren't these precise financial gains the very reason that led to the two most shameful acts of our last 100 years? And isn't the European Union the move that we, as Europeans, made to say "Never Again" to the same atrocities?

Before I continue, I must make a disclaimer that relates to two personal experiences. In fact, someone would call ‘odd coincidences’. The first happened in 2005 when I was fortunate to have taken the train that was followed by the one that was bombed in Kings Cross, London. With minutes’ difference from each other, I arrived at work completely oblivious of what happened to the train before me only to find out that two of my colleagues were on that train. My job at the time was the Ministry of Justice's Human Rights Advisor (go figure)! The second coincidence took place just a few months ago when I was due to travel to Brussels and stay at the hotel above the train station that was bombed. The travel (which in the end was cancelled the day before it was due) related to a meeting that was organized by the European Commission with the aim of informing their restorative justice policies on terrorism (a coincidence?)

So, I do not write without passion. However, I do want to believe that I write with truthfulness and evidence. And here is my banal message as an "almost victim of terrorism". The road that we have taken is leading international society to becoming more polarised than ever, while the "them" (criminals - terrorists) and "us" (victims) rhetoric that dominates political rhetorics is not by coincidence. I have written about my fears for The Death of Democracy and the Forces of Power and Control. Here, I have to ask: what will it take for society to finally raise the mirror of responsibility and look well into its reflection?

Every time I look into this mirror, I see nothing but myself and a thousand of other fellow citizens. We are the real architects of the social fabric that generates the extremist ideologies, which then gradually corrupt universal values such as tolerance and the respect of life, dignity and brotherhood. We are the voters, the customers, the watchers of policies, which we then call "shameful".

If you are looking for the big bad wolf, you only have to raise your nearest mirror.

The extremist ideology that leads those young men, men and women to act inhumane is not an alien virus of unknown origin. It is a product of our way of living.

Sharing responsibility and the ability to look inside also makes me ask whether a public debate and a restorative dialogue for responsibility-taking and reconciliation might indeed be more fruitful than yet another "war on terror" that could take more freedoms away from every-day people including those who are most vulnerable such as those in hospitals, care homes, foster care and yes ... prisons.

I might not know much about the science of radicalisation, and yes my Institute is not an expert on "radicalised young people". But I know this. It is by truly sharing power and knowledge that we better the fabric of our money driven sector, and arguably society. There is always room for everyone in even the smallest projects, if the intentions are to better others' chances (vs making yet more money). And if there is one thing that I am proud of is the solid foundation upon which I built my Institute and indeed my entire carer as an academic and a practitioner: (1) User & Civic Participation (2) Restorative Justice & Dialogue (3) Individual Empowerment & Responsibility.

I try and try again to visualize this big bad terrorist, but I see no face. If I try harder, then I see the terrorist within.

Comments and feedback are always welcome. Join the debate below and you will enter into a draw to win Gavrielides, T. (2012). Waves of Healing: Using Restorative with Street Group Violence, London: IARS Publications. ISBN 978-1-907641-10-7.

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