Panel discussion on radicalisation @ Wenak Labs

7 november – Panel discussion on radicalisation @ Wenak Labs:

In addition to the slam competition, the ACSP (African Cup of Slam Poetry) organised numerous workshops and panel discussions with the help of its invitees. On the morning of 7th of November, one such panel discussions took place at Wenak Labs. A four-headed panel, with the moderation of Mirjam de Bruijn, professor of Contemporary History and Anthropology of Africa at the University of Leiden, discussed the theme of radicalisation from various perspectives. Panelists were Amee (slam artist from Ivory Coast), Remadji (director of CRASH – research center for anthropology and humanities, in N’Djaména), Wim Schaerlaekens (representative of the European Union in Chad) and Valsero (rapper and activist from Cameroon). Faced with an international audience of slam competitors of the 20 countries, as well as engaged Chadian youth concerned with questions of injustice and their political system that touches on many aspects of radicalisation, these panelists approached the theme of radicalisation from their personal and their professional backgrounds.

Voice4Thought, with its vision to give a voice and a stage to the people, captured the discussion.

Radicalisation is usually perceived in a negative sense, to mean violent extremism. However, doesn’t radicalisation also mean to be reactive, and to want social change? It may be time to see radicalisation as a positive and necessary force? With these words, Mirjam opened the panel discussion. A diverse audience explored Mirjam’s questions and suggestions, which relate to the way radicalisation is framed, and what its consequences are.

Remadji started by contextualising the whole radicalisation debate: since 9/11, the negative perception of radicalisation is ubiquitous. In the war on terror, all attention is directed at (religious) violent extremism. The fact that radicalisation is a process, that installs itself in the history of every single society, is often not understood. To understand this process of radicalisation and its place in society, it is important to investigate radicalisation in its diversity. We lose a lot of time asking ourselves: who do people radicalise? Instead, we should ask the question: how do people radicalise?

Amee illustrated the process by referring to her own position as a female slam poet in Ivory Coast. She said: ‘’I have radicalised; I want change. Particularly when it comes to issues of gender, and women’s position in society. In Ivory Coast, women are taught to get married, to have children. We never teach them to become the president. Poetry slam has taught me to diverge from what I was taught. Female poetry slammers are rare: women are not taught to speak up. We teach them to remain silent. Consequently, without really having wanted it, I found myself in this battle for women. I believe now that we need to be radical to change the position of women. If we don’t fight, things won’t change for the better.’’

As a representative of the EU in Chad, Wim Schaerlaekens admitted that the EU focuses largely on (religious) violent extremism, which he felt raises the question of missing important dynamics as well as opportunities to change dynamics. “With the current approach that the EU takes, do we actually obtain results?”, Wim said. With regards to the question of what radicalisation means and includes, he furthermore suggested that it may also mean to defend something that already exists, instead of wanting to change what is there. The wish to not change things seems popular, and refers to the rise of populism and nationalism in the world.

Turning to this question of what it means to be ‘radical’, someone from the audience raised the question: until what point we can be radical? The real problems arise when people start to question human lives.

Wim: We can be radical and at the same time look for dialogue and compromises.

Remadji: If radicalisation is a process, there are also degrees of radicalisation. A discussion about radicalisation then allows us to understand the evolution of a rhetoric of radicalisation.

Valsero: I am someone with an opinion, so I always confront my environment with my ideas. In my environment, radicalisation is more political than religious or anything else. Radicalisation can be an affirmation of oneself. It can be defined as a contestation of ideas of others, of the state for example. It becomes a problem when we start to impose our ideas upon others. We therefore have to fight against this imposition of ideas on others. In Cameroon, we no longer discuss with each other. As a society, we have become extremist.

Mirjam: We need dialogues in order to prevent radicalism from becoming extremism.

Tokama Keumaye, activist and entrepreneur from Chad, added: Radicalisation emerges from an idea of injustice in society. A certain feeling of battling this justice settles in a person who radicalizes. Something which has brought radicalisation in Africa is the way history has been wrongly written. I am a radical myself; I am against a system that is extremist, because it doesn’t allocate value to everyone in society.

Thuthukani (South African slam candidate ACSP): What happens when pacifist radicals don’t get shit done? Slammers in South Africa perform about rape, and feminism – but at the same time, women still get raped and killed. Don’t we need extremism, don’t we need to burn things, before people really start to take our point seriously?

Huguette (Burundian slam candidate ACSP): so what do we do then, if we, as slammers, don’t have the power to really change things? And discussing amongst ourselves will not change things either.

Amee: We have to re-educate the population, and learn to listen to others.

Remadji: I am surprised that you seem to see the limits of your ability to change things through slam. Social change is also a process, it doesn’t come in a day.

Valsero: It’s not the groups like Boko Haram that create radicalisation, it’s the system. It’s not about organising a fight against radicalisation. It’s about creating a world in which people talk to each other and listen to each other.

Valsero and Tokama Keumaye

Wim: I don’t believe in a big system in which the international community simply imposes everything. There is a lot of space for manoeuvre, and the international community is diverse.

Audience: What is the difference between being radical and being engaged? Perhaps we are not all radicals, and one only becomes radical when marginalized?

Remadji: When we are talking about extremism, radicalisation, etc. it is important to pay attention to semantics and meaning – what do you mean when you say you are radical or extremist? In my opinion, you may use any word you like, but when you resort to violence, I am no longer with you.

MyName (Cameroonian slam candidate of the ACSP): History creates convictions. Can we take humanity to see that we are all on the same quest?

Audience: There is a difference between radical radicalisation and positive radicalisation.

Mirjam closes the debate with a reiteration of these words: when the oppositions are too harsh, positive radicalisation turns into a negative one. As we live in this world, let us engage with it.