Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish-German Marxist revolutionary of the early 20th century, once said ‘Freedom is the freedom to think otherwise’. One could argue the outsider is the embodiment of this philosophy, especially when outsiderdom is not so much choice as instinct. Being an outsider within society is often triggered by an instinctive response to the herd – a response that rejects them. For me, it began at school. The majority of my classmates wearing a certain item of clothing and a particular haircut or being into the same band made me want to go in the opposite direction. I don’t really know why; that’s just the way I am. It wasn’t a contrarian’s approach, spurning whatever was popular just for the sake of being ‘different’; it came from a place I trusted, one that had a deep-rooted aversion to uniformity, whether in terms of a dress code or opinions.
I appreciate for many people this is an alien reaction to the consensus; most feel comfortable belonging to a community of like-minds, all thinking and dressing the same, all listening to the same music, watching the same TV shows and movies, eating the same food, reading the same books, and choosing the same enemy. Authority particularly likes it when uniformity is embraced; control of a large demographic is far easier when that demographic embraces uniformity, when it unthinkingly complies with the rules that govern uniformity without question or complaint.
Being an outsider can undoubtedly be an isolating lifestyle, and the downside is that many outsiders’ natural antipathy towards the herd can sometimes manifest itself in worrying ways. Many of the perpetrators of high-school massacres in the US are long since detached from their classmates and grow to detest them to the point whereby the only way to achieve a sense of victory over them is turn up at school with an AK47 and slaughter them. The symptoms of alienation usually follow a linear train of thought in such cases, one that was exploited with sinister cynicism by a mysterious organisation in the 1974 movie, ‘The Parallax View’. A journalist played by Warren Beatty stumbles upon the clandestine Parallax Corporation, which is training political assassins by recruiting disaffected outsiders and appealing to their isolationist stance by telling them how special they are and how everyone else isn’t.
To dehumanise one’s opponent is, of course, one way in which a soldier can be persuaded to kill another human being in combat without being stricken by guilt at taking a life. Similarly, those that prey upon the lonely outsider encourage this separateness from the herd yet simultaneously offer an alternative community to the one they’ve rejected – as long as they’re prepared to submit to its ground-rules. Religion, generally one on a cult level or one that is perceived as a minority faith, is exceptionally skilled at exploiting this state of mind. It could be Jim Jones or Abu Qatada acting as the charismatic spokesman for the faith; but it can be sold to the recruits in possession of a persecution complex as a faith with a persecution complex; and the outsider now has an official seal of approval to punish the persecutors.
Of course, Islam is far from being a minority faith, and though it may now be the second largest religion in the UK, it still accounts for a very small percentage of the population; moreover, the percentage of that percentage that follows the most extreme and nihilistic version of Islam (the one that has its origins in the land of our good friends, Saudi Arabia) is even smaller. However, perhaps with only Irish Roman Catholicism in the 1950s comparable in the way it can exercise control over its followers in terms of demanding absolute submission to its doctrines, Islam can be a cradle-to-grave lifestyle guide encompassing moral, legal and educational needs that instil a sense of outsiderdom and isolation from non-Muslim Britain – whether deliberate or accidental – even if the majority of its followers are ordinary individuals who would no more contemplate blowing themselves up in a crowded room than you or I would.
But the outsider nestled within the secure parallel universe of British Islam is far more dangerous than the hairy-palmed teenage Twitter troll because he is prepared to step out of the bedroom and enact his fantasies. Many of us feel the material status symbols the west tells us we need are for those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing; but we don’t feel compelled to murder consumers because they don’t share that view. The extremist convert, on the other hand, already feels an outsider due to the separatist manner of his upbringing, and conversion to ‘the cause’ exacerbates his own personal sense of outsiderdom even further.
The news that several far-right thuggish dimwits have been arrested for posting videos of themselves advocating murdering Muslims is hardly something that will cause any of us sleepless nights; though as BBC presenter Stacey Dooley discovered when she spoke to some of the Radical Islamic protestors marching through her hometown of Luton five years ago, equally vile messages being spread by those at the forefront of the demo were being tolerated without fear of arrest. But this has been happening for a long time; remember the public book-burning when ‘The Satanic Verses’ was published? Yesterday it emerged that one of the three perpetrators of events in London at the weekend had appeared in a Channel 4 documentary last year, playing the ‘in plain sight’ Jihadist taunting a policeman on camera without being nicked; perhaps Eddie Izzard’s beret had been knocked off somewhere down the road and the copper in question was en route to that emergency instead.
One of the Muslim voices heard on the national news in the days following the attacks in London came from a trainee female lawyer who bemoaned the lack of integration and increased separatism of Britain’s Muslim population; she made a salient point, yet contradicted it by being clad in full burqa uniform with niqaab veil, seemingly unaware that dressing like the Bride of Vader serves as a barrier to integration for many. Apartheid imposed either within or without cannot create for real the inclusive harmonious Britain on display in the arena housing last Sunday’s Manchester memorial concert. Most outsiders can reject it without the need to blow it up or attack it with machetes; but not all.
© The Editor