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Published: 22:09, July 25, 2021 | Updated: 10:48, July 26, 2021
Extensive cooperation imperative in dealing with radicalization
By Paul Yeung
Published:22:09, July 25, 2021 Updated:10:48, July 26, 2021 By Paul Yeung

When the National Security Law for implementation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was promulgated by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in late June last year, Hong Kong society generally welcomed and supported it, but some people expressed incredulity toward the monumental legislation, wondering why it was necessary when the city remained mostly safe despite rioting in certain districts from June 2019 through June 2020. 

That question was answered on the night of July 1, when a man seriously wounded a police officer in the left lung after producing a knife from behind his back and then stabbed himself to death afterward to avoid justice. Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung immediately described the incident as a “lone wolf-style terrorist attack”, which showed that the National Security Law couldn’t have come at a better time. 

The “lone-wolf” attack, coupled with a series of arrests on suspicion of plots to launch terrorist bomb attacks in Hong Kong, targeting cross-harbor tunnels, courts and streets, has triggered hot debates among members of Hong Kong society on how domestic terrorism should be defined and whether domestic terrorism has taken root. It is natural for people to engage in such debates. But they are out of focus: The bigger concern should be political radicalization, which is much more pervasive than domestic terrorism.  

How should we deal with radicalization? Normally there are two approaches — prevention and deradicalization. For Hong Kong, the proper way is both, simultaneously, and there is no shortage of such exercises around the world, especially in developed Western societies. To succeed, however, the key lies in extensive cooperation among all parties, institutions and communities as well as government departments, the legislature and the judiciary

Political radicalization, or radicalization, is a process that includes outbursts of terrorism. In international discourse about “radicalization”, we also often hear concepts such as “radicalism” and “extremism”, which also refer to disruptive and destructive campaigns that challenge or undermine the existing constitutional order — often resorting to unusual means, including creating fear through bloodshed and even death. Therefore, instead of arguing over the definition of domestic terrorism, Hong Kong society should focus on the overall radicalization of society. Some ready examples of radicalization can be found in the many social media posts that instigate arson, or attacks of or even the killing of police officers. A more recent and appalling example is the University of Hong Kong Students’ Union Council’s stunt to glorify the act of terrorism, which could have sent out messages encouraging impressionable and radicalized young people to emulate the lone-wolf attacker — if making explosive devices is too hard or too scary for them. Such psychological manipulation is a sign of radicalization.

Hong Kong society must not underestimate or ignore the growing threat of radicalization, even though the city now has the National Security Law to fight and deter domestic terrorism as soon as it rears its ugly head. As many people noted, Hong Kong has remained largely safe and peaceful despite the violent “black revolution” (June 2019-June 2020). The prevailing sense of numbness is not surprising but all the more alarming. Let’s not forget the “black revolution” was actually the manifestation of radicalization that had been going on for years in Hong Kong. It feeds on negative feelings commonly found in capitalist societies, thanks to institutionalized income and wealth inequality and unbridled individualism. Frustration, sorrow, anger and denial, all these negative feelings need an outlet, and it often leads to violence, which completes a vicious circle that eats people alive. This should raise an alarm in the minds of all Hong Kong residents before it is too late.

How should we deal with radicalization? Normally there are two approaches — prevention and deradicalization. For Hong Kong, the proper way is both, simultaneously, and there is no shortage of such exercises around the world, especially in developed Western societies. To succeed, however, the key lies in extensive cooperation among all parties, institutions and communities as well as government departments, the legislature and the judiciary.

From a global perspective, international cooperation is equally important if not more so because encouragement and support by external hostile forces have been instrumental in the radicalization of Hong Kong society and will not stop in the foreseeable future. Hong Kong is late to the “party”, so to speak, as the outcome of radicalism in the Middle East, Africa, South America, South Asia and many Western countries has been witnessed by the world for many years. In some broken societies, it has inspired flares of extremism, particularly among extreme-right groups. Everybody knows extremism is a synonym for terrorism, and Hong Kong has experienced it, too. That is why we should join other victimized societies in fighting extremism in all shapes and forms, including its apologists and whitewashers.

In such efforts, the government no doubt will play the leading role, but it needs every bit of support and cooperation it can get from the general public, especially institutions of education, civic organizations, social services, the business community and religious groups. The better organized and coordinated they are, the more effective counter-extremism campaigns will be.

Radicalization is real, and those who label it as “scaremongering” all have ulterior motives. They are also a reason why we must pursue extensive cooperation among all walks of life to stop radicalization in its tracks.

The author is senior research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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