The recent attack in New York City has brought up the notion of “radicalization” once again.
I’m not certain how official law enforcement agencies use this term, but in popular discourse it’s typically reserved to describe a Muslim who has been brought to a place where violence against an infidel is considered appropriate 1. The problem of radicalization, however, is not only a problem within the Muslim community. Our culture needs to own up to a much wider reality. Radicalization isn’t a Muslim problem, its a human problem.
Radicalization is what leads angry white people to become white nationalists. It’s what led a fed-up progressive to attack the Republican baseball team. It’s what led to white police officers being targeted in response to racially charged incidents by African-Americans who were tired of being told it was all their fault. It’s even what led to some police officers to chant, “Whose streets, our streets” as they confronted protestors in St. Louis. Radicalization doesn’t have one catalyst, it has many catalysts. Any time a group shifts from seeing other human beings as people, and begins to treat them as hated objects, radicalization is under way. It doesn’t need to be organized or directed, it just needs to move toward the intention of destroying the “hated other.”
In the United States it’s far too easy to see radicalization as “their” problem 2, but that’s a lie. There are radicalized people in our country who look like every segment of our society, many of whom believe they are aligned with positions each of us may hold. Radicalized people are, in a sad irony, as diverse as the great tapestry of humanity itself.
So when an event occurs where a radicalized person from a different background than our own commits an act of terror the question shouldn’t be, “What are people in that community doing to condemn this act?” It should be, “Are we keeping our eyes open for those who are being radicalized in our own community, so we might persuade these agonized souls of a better way forward?”