EXTREME LANGUAGE: ‘Radicalisation', punitive measures and children’s rights

With terrorism making news headlines almost every day, society’s fear of children being ‘radicalised’ is increasing and often results in excessive measures. Mere use of the words radicalisation and extremism can set off alarm bells, with the idea of children being lured to Syria or Iraq becoming so intense that some governments have begun keeping tabs on children's internet usage. Meanwhile school staff have taken to interviewing children for “inappropriate references to terrorism” and even monitoring toddlers in nurseries.  

But before the so-called Islamic State and Al Qaeda, before the Taliban or Boko Haram, there were also radicals. This word used to mean something more than violent extremism and was laden with qualities reflecting freedom of thought and expression, reserved for people with the drive to change the world.

'Extremist' environmentalists and alternative music 'radicalisation'

When Australia’s Justice Minister released a booklet on violent extremism and radicalisation in Australia it was widely ridiculed. One of the case studies linked alternative music and environmental campaigning to ‘radicalisation’, claiming that direct action against logging companies was a form of extremism.

While there have been violent acts carried out with environmental justification, it is not the norm where defending the planet is concerned. Once described as the US’ biggest domestic terror threat, ‘eco-terrorism’ is now hardly recognised as an issue, with increasing protections being urged for human rights defenders who go against corporate interests in defence of their rights and the environment peacefully.

Conflating radical thinking with terrorism

However, lumping people protecting trees from loggers or those burning empty laboratories into the same category as those carrying out a monstrous campaign of violent jihad is to confuse the role of radical thinking and to dangerously limit the ideas children are open to. It should be obvious that parents and teachers have less to worry about if children begin talking about animal rights than if they express a desire to fight for or to marry into the so-called Islamic State, despite the ever widening descriptions of both ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists’. 

The idea that the term ‘radicalisation’ should be applied equally to both cases presents new grounds for violating children’s rights to information, freedom of expression and freedom of belief, and is a poor excuse for censorship and surveillance of under-18s. 

Increased monitoring and control of children’s activities for expressing ‘extreme’ ideas, yet simultaneously shutting them out of the debate and telling them what they ought to believe, is not the way to outdo terrorist propaganda, which relies on a narrative of oppression.

Policies which restrict children’s freedoms should be evidence-based and not the result of knee-jerk reactions to worst-case scenarios or a feeling of fear.

Send us your thoughts

CRIN does not have all the answers but, in the coming months, we will be exploring the concept of ‘radicalisation’ of children more thoroughly and starting policy discussions about children's civil and political rights, including rights to privacy, quality of education and religion, as well as their involvement in debates around radicalisation.

To add to the discussion with your thoughts, experiences or research, email us at [email protected] or tweet us at @CRINwire.


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