When we think of people who have been radicalised, we think of Jihadists, don’t we?
We think of foolish young men, lured to Iraq or Syria to join Isis or persuaded that their route to paradise begins with a suicide bombing at a pop concert. We think of what the tabloids and MPs alike describe as “hate preachers”. We think of camps in the desert where training in the use of weapons is accompanied by the relentless preaching of a murderous distortion of Islam.
Because the risk of Islamist terrorist attacks on British soil is as high as it could be – further atrocities are inevitable – the state diverts considerable resources to identifying and scuppering the plots of those who want to kill us in the name of the establishment of a global caliphate.
For the majority, then, radicalisation is a problem affecting other people.
But radicalisation comes in varieties other than Islamist. This is something about which I suspect many of us are recklessly complacent.
The recent revelations about the Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein, have instigated a wider audit of the behaviour of men in power; a number of high profile figures in show business and the media now stand accused of sexual assault and harassment. There will be more cases to come. Many men in positions of power will be feeling very anxious, right now. Good.
But when those men are called to account and stripped of their power, will the world suddenly change? Are these men the last of a dying breed?
Of course, they are not.
Even now, a new generation – or part of it, at least – is being radicalised, being encouraged to hate women. And this is a poison which may affect any family, regardless of their faith.
One does not have to travel into the bleak recesses of the dark net in order to find those who preach hatred of – and violence against – women.
In fact, disturbing views can be found in the most seemingly innocuous places. If your kids play video games, there’s every chance they and their mates are also watching online videos ostensibly about video games. And if they’re doing that, there’s every possibility they are also visiting message boards where gamers congregate.
Certainly, there are plenty of videos and sites which give no cause for concern, but there is also a dark and substantial sect within that gaming community that espouses and encourages the most extreme misogynist views.
I am telling you nothing you do not know when I describe instances of women receiving rape threats for perceived crimes such as the expression of opinions. The men who join these hateful campaigns against women are not lone wolf operatives, they are part of a much larger group that has designed an ideology that not only ranks women as worthless but also demands that they should be made to atone for whatever slight adherents to this cult of misogyny feel they have suffered.
The temptation when considering threats made online is to write them off as empty, as nothing more than keyboard warrior puffery. But as their radicalisation continues, why wouldn’t these young men become more likely to act physically rather than only virtually?
Naturally, if you’re a parent, you’re all over the issue of internet security and filters. There’s no way that your kids can access anything inappropriate at your house. But there is always going to be a kid with an iPad and parents who don’t know how to restrict internet access.
I wonder if a failure to understand the nature of internet message boards and YouTube channels has made parents complacent when it comes to scrutinising the content their kids are able to view? I’ve had countless conversations with fellow parents about the impact of the extreme pornography that’s available online (and which it would be naive to think can be securely concealed from children) but few discussions about the sexism (and white supremacy and anti-Semitism) that permeates so much online content.
One of the prices of the internet’s democracy – the ability of each and every one of us to have a platform – is that content that would not make it on to television (for any number of reasons from legality to taste) is out there, often with the approval of millions of wide-eyed followers.
The Weinstein scandal will, I expect, make it more difficult for predatory men to operate. A light has been cast not just on a particular case but on an entire culture and men who would once have seen their abuse of power over female colleagues as a perk of the job will find it more difficult to get away with it.
But make no mistake, while there are powerful voices speaking up for equality, there are hugely influential voices arguing that feminism is at the root of all that is wrong with the world. Puffed up “alt-right” commentators, YouTube stars who specialise in being “ironically” shocking, and online gamers who question the integrity of women who dare enter their world are all part of a bleak backlash against feminism.
This deeply insecure reaction would be laughable if it wasn’t clearer than ever that sexual harassment and assault is commonplace. As it is, a lot of young men are currently crystallising some completely abhorrent views about women.
If someone is caught using the internet to express extreme views of an Islamist nature, they may expect to attract the attention of authorities; we must hope there is similar monitoring of those who share details of the atrocities they would like to inflict on women.
Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, his victims have had to endure accusations about their motives and their integrity. To the army of avowed woman haters that clogs up the internet’s drainage system these women are fair targets. But that’s what radicalisation does, doesn’t it? it teaches that others are the enemy and, thus, worthless.
How depressing it is that for so many young men, that enemy is women.