Throughout history, notable events have occured when people have found a way to challenge the status quo often by opposing (even breaking with) social customs and the law. I'm not on that level of opposition so in some respects, I am to blame for developing a sense of 'switchedoffness'. I should challenge what is not right or what conflicts with my inner beliefs. I have the power of protest because of where I live and should use it, I remind myself. I was raised in a democracy and presumably I have the freedom of speech that others don't. Privileges that make me fortunate as well as responsibilities that come with those privileges.
And yet a few days back, I sat through a very uncomfortable meeting on the matter of 'extremism'. You know, the whole argument about anti-establishment information being drip fed into young minds by anti-state agents. Typically, Islam comes up (in truth, isn't Islamic ideology what this is all about?) though they throw in the other objectionable - right-wing Nazi-sympathy - (a late addition to the topic) as some kind of neutralising factor so that the Muslims in the audience don't feel that they are under seige.
It's true; extremists exist. And they do much damage - take a look at Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria etc. There must be a counter narrative to challenge blinkered thinking - a free education system that allows people to make up their own minds in these places - sometimes backed with counter actions (intelligence). But on this occasion I sat through this meeting, democracy, freedom and all, and I felt like the most disempowered person there is. I remained silent, unable to speak up but also torn between what I know/feel is happening to what I am being told. My problem is that continually, the freedom to speak out in protest of government policy, to voice an alternative view, is being marginilised under the weight of the media that cherry picks its commentary when reporting major world events. Remember, they filter the news for us and as most people passively consume, we don't often think about the after effects.
Why is it that the popular counter narrative to extremism (headed by the likes of Malala Yousafzai etc.) now feel like the conflict of an old establishment with its own less-than-benevolent interests against newer forms of protest against them? Why is it, that despite my clear revulsion at the tactics employed by militants (Taliban, Boko Haram* etc.), I think that there is an argument that they should be part of the dialogue for building long term peace? Why is it that I just don't trust the media, the motives of governments driven by capital interests and their third world stooges when they claim that they are fighting for 'freedom' and 'democracy'?
Damn it. I live in a democracy, but dare I speak in favour of something that runs counter to the popular narrative, then I'll be lumped with the extremists that I object. Despite the hundreds of TV channels, most converge at the same place. And despite the millions of websites, the vast majority again, spout a narrative that has been predecided. Dare anyone seek an alternative view? IPs are tracked, web-searches are indexed and profiles are built. It begins, over time, to erode one's confidence to speak up and certainly affects my confidence in state instutions. I'm reluctant now to believe in much of what I'm being told and have learned the art of silence. Extremists/counter-extremists; I don't think that we are in a safer, better world, but not for the reasons that we are told. In a way, my freedom of thought is my most precious freedom, but it is isolating and useless without the freedom to speak up.
The truth, as they say, is out there.