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Media, War & Conflict

Media and the myth of radicalization Andrew Hoskins and Ben O'Loughlin Media, War & Conflict 2009; 2; 107 DOI: 10.1177/1750635209105608 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Media, War & Conflict SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC) Copyright © The Author(s), 2009 Reprints and permissions: Vol. 2(2): 107–110 DOI: 10.1177/1750635209105608


Media and the myth of radicalization •

Andrew Hoskins University of Warwick, UK

Ben O’Loughlin Royal Holloway, University of London

In research undertaken between 2004–6 as part of the ESRC New Security Challenges Programme (‘Shifting Securities: News Cultures Before and Beyond the 2003 Iraq War’, see, our collaborative project found a growing mutual disrespect and suspicion between policymakers, journalists and citizen audiences. This ‘media-security nexus’, and the growing securitization of everyday life contributed to the marginalization of British Muslims and other groups. These developments suggested that policymakers face a range of new challenges, especially in the legitimizing of security policy to hostile and sceptic national and diasporic media that question key policy assumptions. Even since 2006 this media-security nexus of policymakers, journalists and audiences has developed, and deteriorated further. And one of the principal vehicles of this deterioration is radicalization. The discourses of and around the term radicalization have exacerbated our current mediatized environment of ‘hypersecurity’ (Masco, 2006). Thus, the sense of risk is heightened by mainstream news and other media’s ‘premediation’ (Grusin, 2004, forthcoming) of the catastrophic, notably the tendency for potential future dangers to be afforded a continuous public discursive presence in the hope that this may in fact mitigate them, if and when they do occur, and also mitigate blame for the failure to prevent their occurrence. The resulting condition is that of hypersecurity, as the new contingencies of threats reflexively feed in to shape responses that exacerbate the very fears they propose to mitigate.1 One of the problems with the term ‘radicalization’, as emergent findings from our current study indicate, is that British audiences are uncertain about its current usage and contextualization and see it as mis-appropriated in politico-media security discourses. For security policymakers and journalists alike, ‘radicalization’ can anchor a news agenda, offering a cast of radicalizers and the vulnerable radicalized, and legitimating a policy response to such

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Media, War & Conflict 2(2)

danger. Its attractiveness is enhanced because of its ‘fantasy-like character’ (Furedi, 2009) and association with that major intangible of ‘the internet’. With such a lack of specifics or evidence about radicalization, it is easy to garner anxiety and fear around it. In mis-appropriating the term ‘radicalization’, the British Government has either made a strategic error or perhaps is knowingly obfuscating what are in fact long-standing feelings of alienation by young British Muslims that predate the establishment of the term in an Islamic ideological context since the July 2005 London bombings. In other words, it is a discourse of political convenience. However, government pronouncements on the dangers of radicalization do not operate in isolation. The reporting of the death and injury of civilians and particularly of children in the 22-day Israeli assault on Gaza appeared to test British journalism in this regard. In early 2009, the British media propagated the notion that this coverage had resulted in virtually overnight radicalization. For example, Furedi (2009) argues: Unfortunately, this dramatic framing of the threat as ‘sudden radicalisation’ means that extremism is seen as a kind of psychological virus afflicting the vulnerable and those suffering from a psychological deficit. This depiction of radicalisation as a symptom of vulnerability overlooks the fact that, frequently, ‘Muslim anger’ expresses confidence and self-belief.

BBC2’s Newsnight, aired on the 12th of January, was particularly irresponsible in this respect. The programme linked a series of government announcements, community responses and protests in London with extremist threats posted on various Islamic websites, all under the rubric of ‘radicalization’. To cite the programme’s anchor, Kirsty Wark, in her opening remarks: ‘Tonight, here in Britain, fears of the radicalizing impact of the conflict in Gaza. Newsnight has uncovered evidence of propaganda and recruitment efforts.’ This ‘evidence’ appears at best extremely thin, and included a survivor of the London bombings comparing language she had found on various websites with the 7/7 bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan’s martyrdom video. Given the rapid rise and establishment of the discourses of radicalization in the UK, security journalists need to adopt a more critical and reflexive stance towards official pronouncements in relation to radicalization – and to terror threats especially – through contextualization and precision in relation in their deployment of this term. Overall, there is a mediatized political trend in the UK in conflating disaffection amongst certain groups with an idea of ‘radicalization’. We are suggesting that this not only covers up a trajectory of alienation and prevents engagement with its root causes and the development of effective

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responses, but also propagates insecurity and anxiety around something that even MI5 consider is intangible (see Travis, 2008). In other words, there is no generalizable set of characteristics, single demographic profile, or typical pathway to violent extremism. Indeed, the threat posed by and the pursuit of so-called ‘online radicalization’ and the online/offline distinction make little sense. Paradoxically perhaps, just as web analytic techniques offer tools for security services to mine unprecedented volumes of our financial and communication data, it is not clear that radicalization can be identified through analysis of online activity anyway. For instance, there is a need to research ‘convergence’ – the seamlessness through which extremist materials can be sent, by Bluetooth, for example, and consumed on mobile media including phones – without the internet coming into play at all. Moreover ‘the internet’ has an overbearing resonance among media and political discourses of radicalization. It is as if society is endangered by the technology itself, which enables identity theft, the ‘grooming’ of children by paedophiles, or indeed ‘grooming for jihad’. This has enabled the establishment and legitimization of radicalization as a prominent and present threat in current security discourses across media and government, though not, yet, among wider news publics.

Acknowledgements This commentary draws on emergent work undertaken under the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Programme ‘New Security Challenges: “Radicalisation” and Violence – A Critical Reassessment ( nsc/). The research project is: ‘Legitimising the Discourses of Radicalisation: Political Violence in the New Media Ecology’, Award Number: RES-181–25–0041, led by Andrew Hoskins (University of Warwick), Ben O’Loughlin and Akil Awan (both Royal Holloway, University of London).

Note 1

Hypersecurity and premediation are just two of the emergent characteristics of what we call ‘diffused war’ (Hoskins and O’Loughlin, forthcoming).

References Furedi, Frank (2009) ‘Muslim Alienation in the UK? Blame the Israelis! Is It True that the War in Gaza Has Heightened Community Tensions Here in Britain?’ URL (consulted 15 Feb. 2009):

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Grusin, Richard (2004) ‘Premediation’, Criticism 46(1): 17–39. Grusin, Richard (forthcoming) Premediation. Hoskins, Andrew and Ben O’Loughlin (forthcoming) War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War. Cambridge: Polity Press. Masco, Joseph (2006) The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post Cold-War New Mexico. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Travis, Alan (2008) ‘MI5 Report Challenges Views on Terrorism in Britain’, The Guardian, 20 August. URL (consulted 25 Aug. 2008): aug/20/uksecurity. terrorism1

Biographical notes Andrew Hoskins is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick and founding co-editor of Media, War & Conflict. Hoskins is co-author with Ben O’Loughlin of Television and Terror: Conflicting Times and the Crisis of News Discourse (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) and the forthcoming War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War. Address: Department of Sociology, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK. [email:] Ben O’Loughlin is Lecturer in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London, and reviews editor of Media, War & Conflict. Address: Department of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 OEX, UK. [email:]

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