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Is Radicalisation Brainwashing?

I was inspired…

When do we lose control over our brain? Brain washing is being controlled psychologically.

When do we lose control over our brain? Brain washing is being controlled psychologically.

Whilst working in a school in North London last term, I was delivering the radicalisation workshop, a child asked me ‘is radicalisation like being brainwashed?’ followed by ‘are you tricked into being a terrorist?’.

It knocked me back initially, and I almost caught myself saying ‘it is like being brainwashed’ or ‘yes, you get piled with information until you think the only answer is terrorism and violence’. Yet, I held back a second and thought about it. Are young people and terrorists who are radicalised not aware of their actions? Do they not know what the implications are? Are they not acting as themselves? It got me thinking. That is something I love about working with Y5&6, they challenge us and my perceptions every day.

Brainwashing? Really…?

Can a brain be washed? Interesting question…

We all have some sort of understanding that brainwashing is being controlled psychologically, to the point where you do not know what is happening or going on. Someone could control your actions, make you think a certain way without you being able to see any alternatives. It is changing someone's views against their will. Persuasion can also be used to brainwash someone. So, do radical extremists (used in a terrorism context) persuade others so much they brainwash them? We explain, in the workshop, to the children that radicalisation is convincing someone to be a terrorist: i.e. convincing them to use fear or violence against civilians.

So… Radicalisation may be seen as brainwashing?  But is it?

No one is born a terrorist, we know that because there are many factors that link into an individual's risk to being radicalised. It can depend on vulnerability factors, influences from around them, influences from family, looking for somewhere to belong, high levels of isolation, having a sudden disrespect for others or lack of empathy for victims of attacks.

A terrorist often has an agenda or a motive. The individual who carried out the Pittsburgh Massacre in a Synagogue believed that he wanted all Jews to die and also that "they (Jews) were committing genocide to his people”. He had been convinced and persuaded to have these views, yet he was aware of what he was doing and why. Maybe radicalisation sometimes involves brainwashing, but we can’t reduce its explanation to just that.

Although it’s good to be aware of the risks of children being brainwashed: we do not want to counteract this with more ‘brainwashing’. We want children to build resilience and the ability to disagree with those who try to push a violent agenda on the most vulnerable members of society.

Taking Responsibility

If we teach children that terrorists do not have control over their actions, they may think that it is something that cannot be controlled or stopped or altered. Radicalisation is when someone convinces you to be terrorist and although you can get wrapped up in the wrong thinking and teaching, it is possible to move away from these thoughts and behaviours. Encouraging peace and using passive activism means that the world can be a better place. Anyone can be radicalised, any race age or gender. It is important to recognise if any child's behaviour is changing, that they may need guidance and help to get back on the right path.

There is support for teachers and an amazing example of when intervention has worked are these cases on the Educate against Hate website.

https://educateagainsthate.com/teachers/are-there-real-world-examples-of-cases-where-successful-interventions-have-stopped-a-young-person-being-radicalised-2/

So…Finally…

…Why does this matter? The language we use with children can be very influential and important. Recognising that people are convinced to commit these acts is important - that no one is born wanting to hurt others, but also remembering that we need to do something about it and promote positive attitudes. Offering an alternative, and exposing vulnerable individuals to different cultures, races and communities. We can all bring together everyone into a world of acceptance and love. Let us encourage the next generation to be inspired, protected and inspired.

We don’t need to change them,
Just help them to keep doing what they do best,



Ele Girling