By Karen Woodall
In the week since the UK began to bomb Syria, we have seen a terrorist incident at Leytonstone Tube Station in London which has given rise to the hashtag 'you aint no Muslim bruv.' This very British way of dealing with what feels like living in a tense and anxious City, highlights the reality that amongst us live some (likely young) people who wish to do great harm in the name of their belief system.
These people are, in my view, alienated from what it means to be human. Radicalised and brainwashed into believing that dying for their cause, so called Islamic State, feeds on the anger and sense of injustice which is natural to young people of all ages. For what is it to be young if it is not to overthrow the norms and expectations of the ruling generations. For this generation of young people however, destruction and death have become an inculcated way of life, in which the promises of what happens after, justifies the appalling acts of killing on the way out of this life to the next.
I work with young alienated people. Not radicalised but nevertheless alienated and I know what to do to bring them out of that psychological state of mind. Alienation is something that can happen to young people in any community and any culture. To alienate young people all you have to do is take away their choices and their power and then appeal to their sense of injustice. This is how many of the young people who I work with are alienated from a parent after family separation. As parents grapple with the question of who holds the power when love has gone, young people are left to cope in the wide open psychological as well as physical space in between them. Should one parent decide to make use of the opportunity to exploit that psychological space and share too much information about the other parent, it is very easy to raise the self righteous indignation of a young person and create an alignment. Once that alignment is complete, anything can be said and done to control the young person's relationships not only with the other parent, but with a wide range of other people too.
This psychological control is what we see in the young people who appear to be prepared to die for a cause that they believe is worthy even of the gift of life, theirs and too many unknown others. Feeding from the exploitation of the impact of war in Iraq and Afghanistan by western governments and coupled with the vision of a promised land, those who use people as living weapons will find it very easy to manipulate these young minds. In states of self righteous indignation, in which the brain, once wired for empathy, is inured to the emotional responses of other humans, young people are sent on killing sprees. These young people are alienated from what it means to be human and have been robbed of their right to a normal balanced life. If we are going to change anything at all, regardless of what we feel about bombing countries around the world, we are going to have to pay attention to how to bring these young people out of these states of mind, in order to give them back their right to life.
How do we treat alienated and brainwashed young people?
We isolate them and disempower them by building alignments with all of the adults around them so that those adults are working with us and not them. And then we contain them and then we put them through a de-radicalisation programme so that they are able to have perspective in their lives and their brains are rewired for empathy.
And the secret to doing this was uttered by the witness to the stabbing at Leytonstone Tube Station when he said 'you aint no Muslim bruv'.
As London stands on high alert, those of us who know how to work with alienated young people must link with those who know what Islam is really about and build circles within circles until these young people are surrounded, not by hatred but by love. Only then will our world become safer, only then will all of the children in the world get the safe childhood that protects them from becoming the sacrifices that feed this spiral of death and destruction.