We need to talk about terrorism

Feb 22, 2021 by

by Simon Cottee, UnHerd:

When, earlier this month, a 16-year-old boy became Britain’s youngest person to be convicted of terrorism offences, the British press responded with a mixture of disgust and incredulity, inquiring how someone so young could have become so fanatical. By all accounts, his career in violent extremism started at a remarkably early age: he joined a far-right internet forum when he was just 13. A year later, he had become a fully-fledged terrorist “mastermind” running a “Neo-Nazi cell” from his grandmother’s house in Cornwall. The teen, who can’t be named for legal reasons, had reportedly downloaded bomb-making manuals, spoke of his desire to launch a “white jihad” and had recruited a 17-year-old British neo-Nazi who was convicted of preparing acts of terrorism last November.

The case of Britain’s youngest ever terror offender is profoundly disturbing, reigniting serious concerns over young people and their vulnerabilities to radicalisation. But it also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how we talk about terrorism, particularly in the highly politicised context of today’s post-Trump world.

In a saner time, I suspect we would hesitate to call a 16-year-old who has not actually committed any acts of political violence a terrorist at all. The boy in question was convicted under the “encouragement” and “possession” instruments in British terrorism legislation (two and ten counts respectively).As serious as this is, it isn’t terrorism as we conventionally understand it. It isn’t, for example, the same as carrying out a suicide bombing at a pop concert, or beheading a school teacher.

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