Radical Innovators Beware — In the Arts, Sciences and Philosophy


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Terrifying Implications of Radical New Deradicalisation Initiative in France


Despite cultivating the image of being a country renowned for its cultivation of intellectual endeavour, and most notably philosophy, Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, announced on 9 May 2016 a radical initiative to set up a dozen deradicalisation centres (Plan d’Action contre la Radicalisation et le Terrorisme, Dossier de Presse, 9 mai 2016). This has been widely reported and has elicited extensive commentary (Kim Willsher, France to set up a dozen deradicalisation centres, The Guardian, 9 May 2015; Lara Marlowe, France unveils counter-terror plan in battle against jihadism, The Irish Times, 9 May 2016; Norwegian Defence League, France to set up 12 muslim extremist deradicalisation centres, NDL News Media, 9 May 2016).

Neither “radical” nor “deradicalisation” was qualified in the announcement of the plan, although clearly the presentation of the 2-year, 80-point plan was intended to address concerns about homegrown terrorism and would-be extremists. So serious was the threat from radicals and the appeal of their “deadly” doctrines, it was claimed that a “general mobilisation” was now required in response to the greatest challenge the country faced in more than 70 years. The argument was however strangely reminiscent of that used in recent support of the extraordinary cross-party attempt to “block” any electoral success by the National Front in France.

The radical new initiative by France goes beyond the provisions of the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN). Launched by the EU in 2011, this is an umbrella network connecting people involved in preventing radicalisation and violent extremism throughout Europe. However, as that EU preoccupation is currently framed, “radicalisation” is not qualified, except by implication as the precursor to violent extremism. This conflation is also characteristic of analogous public announcements in the UK (Josh Halliday, Almost 4,000 people referred to UK deradicalisation scheme last year, The Guardian, 20 March 2016).

Given the systematic lack of government qualification of “radical”, “radicalisation” and “extremism”, the question here is what implications the French initiative might have for those engaged creatively in radical initiatives. This is now a question for the arts (painting, drama, sculpture, etc), the sciences (fundamental physics, chemistry, biosciences, etc), technological innovations of every kind (including public health, surveillance and weapons research), and philosophy (in the French tradition). Presumably these would also include radical humanitarian initiatives in response to the socially disadvantaged. Many such initiative are typically presented as admirable because of their radical nature. Some may even be rewarded by prizes in their respective disciplines — or as Nobel Prizes, Right Livelihood Awards, and the like

Clearly anybody in France, or those attracted to the quality of thinking for which it has been reputed, now needs to be exceptionally aware that their extreme views (in relation to the inadequacy of conventional patterns of thinking) may be effectively criminalised by the new directive. Irrespective of any possible qualification in relation to creativity, “radical” is now effectively to be conflated with potential threat. This is of course consistent with the traditional conservative perspective of those anxious to prevent any change to business-as-usual — no matter the inadequacies which the latter may exhibit.

In the light of the variety of tangible measures in the French Action Plan, the concern in what follows is that these are designed in response to elusive intangibles. As a matter of subjective experience, it is necessarily unclear as to the nature of radical or the terror it may engender. Ironically, the radical measures could themselves be experienced as “terrifying” in contrast to the acclaimed values of peaceful, civilised societies and the advancement of knowledge therein.

In addressing the central issue of the nature of the shadowy intangibles against which concrete measures are to be taken. The exploration here is based on an English translation (by Google) of the original French Dossier de Presse. In an experimental modification of the translation, XXXX has been substituted for radicalisation and its derivatives, and YYYY for terror and its derivatives.

This opens the possibility of considering how XXXX may be interpreted in terms of creativity, imagination. insight, inspiration, and the like — often appreciatively acclaimed as “radical”. Similarly, YYYY can then be explored in terms of the wide variety of fearful experiences in contemporary society, typically excluded from simplistic definitions of terrorism. Together these operations raise the issue of whether the quest for “normality” has itself already become abnormal and a source of fear — possibly for many.

The question could then be asked whether the French government’s Action Plan is usefully to be recognised as very much a strange metaphor of France in a time of change. Does the Action Plan constitute a mirror of its own condition — in the spirit of the early argument from a systems perspective in the human sciences by Gregory Bateson (Mary Catherine Bateson, Our Own Metaphor: a personal account of a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, 1972)?

The method adopted follows from a previous exercise (Towards a Generic Global Issue Statement: evoking an instructive pattern of unquestionable responses, 2009; Template, 2009; Racism example, 2009). The argument is framed by concern with the strategic implications (Eradication as the Strategic Final Solution of the 21st Century? Indicative checklist of possible domains of application, 2014; Norms in the Global Struggle against Extremism: “rooting for” normalization vs. “rooting out” extremism?, 2005). Brief reference ia made to previous arguments by which this approach is framed.

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