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Radicalisation of young could cure political apathy, says Royal Holloway University expert

05 July 2013 Royal Holloway, University of London

If we are able to take the outcome of radicalisation away from violence, young people might be encouraged to experiment with radical views in order to shake them out of political apathy, according to a terrorism expert at Royal Holloway University.

Dr Akil Awan, who was the lead academic expert witness at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Uncertainties this week, briefed parliamentarians and policymakers on violent extremism in Britain, before taking questions on the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy.

“Policymakers, the media, and security services are guilty of using lazy language which has had the negative effect of presenting radicalisation as a simple process, when academics were still uncertain about the causes”, said Dr Awan from the Department of History at Royal Holloway.

As the country prepares to mark the eighth anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings this Sunday, he said: “If we were able to manipulate the outcomes of radicalisation away from violence, then radicalisation of young people could be a good thing. It usually indicates a political awakening and a desire to change the world around them for the better.”

He contrasted the political engagement of radicals with the widespread apathy among Britain’s youth in recent years, evident from very low voter turnouts among 18 to 24-year-olds in the last election.

“This is naturally of great concern for wider society. The extent to which people are engaged with politics is critical to a democratic society, but the potentially dangerous language which has brought terms like ‘radicalisation’ into the popular lexicon, means young voters can be wary of expressing unconventional views, discouraging healthy political debate.

“There’s an old adage that says: ‘If you’re young and you’re not a radical, you’ve got no soul; whereas if you’re old and still a radical, you’ve got no sense’. That sums up the important part radical politics plays in the normal political awakening of young people throughout history. It isn’t something to be feared.”

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