Last night I went to bed after watching the news, which covered the story of a 17-year-old boy from West Yorkshire who had become an Islamic State suicide bomber. When I woke up, the radio news was talking about how to stop young people becoming 'radicalised'.
Tragic personal stories and a worrying topic of our time. But what seems to not be discussed is why young people can become radicalised this way. The standard government message is that there are 'bad people' who are indoctrinating others, and by focusing the message on this the solution becomes how to stop these bad people.
But surely there is more to it than that? To help clear my thinking I quickly drew a rich picture. A few things start to appear. The conflict in Syria must appear quite exciting and attracting to people whose immediate future does not seem very enticing. This is one thing that the media sometimes discusses, but I also wondered about how shoot 'em up computer games may also contribute to this, by creating a blurred connection between the gameplay and reality. The sophistication of modern games really do create an almost real experience, and could well make people think that real conflict is similar.
Then we have the questioning of belonging to the United Kingdom, which must be experienced by some people within the ethnic minorities. The anti-Muslim rhetoric which has been going on since September 11, 2001 means that a whole generation is growing up conscious of this negative message. What allegiance might they feel to the United Kingdom? Britain's colonial activities in the Middle East, and our post-colonial involvement in both Iraq wars are also highly relevant.
And another strand relates to a story which appeared a few days ago. Apparently, now that university education is widespread, quality employers are resorting to the 'posh test' to distinguish between people: if you have the right accent and class background you have a much better chance of getting a good job. How alienating would that be, cutting across all ethnic distinctions and affecting everyone from the working classes. Perhaps this is why radicalisation is not confined to people from ethnic minorities.
I am sure that this quickly drawn rich picture could be elaborated. However, my quick analysis illustrates how the current debate about 'radicalisation' really needs to move on from convenient, simplistic analyses to something more sophisticated if politically difficult.