Freeing Radical

Have you ever had a pet peeve?

That little thing that just nags you when it crosses your path or is whispered on the wind.

Kind of a silly question though . . . isn't it? Of course you have one or two of those. Probably several. Probably many hundreds of those nagging little things, and different ones in different situations.

We can all agree that people who don't use their blinkers while trying to change lanes, or people who write checks at the grocery store are fundamentally hated, so that can't be considered a "Pet" peeve as much as it is a universal hatred for our fellow man.

Nope . . . a pet peeve has to be something almost uniquely personal. It might even be the kind of thing that you keep to yourself in mixed company, heck, it might even be the kind of thing you never express outloud so as to not commit yourself to a fight with the person you're sleeping with.


I've had this one festering for a couple of years now.

It's the term "Radical Islam"

Not the Thing (that's for better writers to tackle) I mean the Term.

Now I write the words "Radical Islam" and immediately what comes to your mind are images of ragged men in deep black beards, women covered from head to toe, AK47's , sand, and a language which is beautiful when spoken poetically, but terrifying when shouted at the stream of conscience.

. . .  and you'd be wrong.

You're actually thinking of the militant wing of Islamic Fundamentalism.

There's no such thing as Radical Islam and I'll tell you why:

Now by the time I was in high school, the word "Rad" was pretty much out of fashion. That didn't stop me from using it both ironically and unironically.

It, to this day, it is one of my favorite words. In fact, I made a bet with a co-worker that I could bring the word back into the common vernacular simply by replacing epic, awesome, cool, wow, and damn, every chance I could.

My dream hasn't come true, but I won't actually lose that bet until I'm dead AND forgotten.

Rad . . . or Radical . . . isn't a synonym for extreme (though you will find them together in any standard thesaurus), it's actually a term to describe a revolutionary shift away from the common understanding and to reimagine the universe with a new set of rules.

The Declaration of Independence was radical. The General Theory of Relativity was radical. A television network that played nothing but music videos was radical.

In terms of political spectrum, radical is the word used to describe the far, far, far left. It is literally the line between revolutionary and . . . well . . . crazy. As in, it is radical to consider animal rights legislation in the constitution, but crazy to suggest that my nephew's guinea pig be issued a social security card.

There is a reason why the word radical is almost always paired up with the word new. 

The reason why I love the word is because it is the exact opposite of strict interpretation.

I don't believe in the strict interpretation of anything. Not the laws of man, not the laws of god, not the laws of math or the laws of the universe.

(Actually . . . that's not entirely true. You should really read Ikea instructions thoroughly or you're gonna have a bad time.)

Fundamentalism is anything BUT radical. In fact, the word you're looking for here is "Reactionary." A term that is used to describe not a step forward, but several steps backward.

And please don't get me wrong here. Reactionary is also NOT crazy. Hippies wandering off into the woods to create a small socialist utopia is a reactionary return to a simpler form of existence. Following Jim Jones into South America is crazy.

A good example is this: The NRA that fights tooth and nail for the succinct rights spelled out in the second amendment is reactionary. The NRA that fights tooth and nail for gun safety is radical. Same organization with extreme views, not opposing views, and in a very real sense, complimentary.

You don't hear about the fight for gun safety, but I promise you, it's in their original charter, in fact it's the reason why the organization began in the first place, and you don't hear anything about all the safety programs/classes that they put in place for any would-be gun-slingers because it just isn't the sexier part of what they do. No sex . . . no headline.

Anyway . . .

Back to my pet peeve.

Somewhere, somehow, the word radical became the go-to word to describe the people whose fundamentalism has relocated them to Crazy Town.

And I can totally see the allure. Just about everything that we can think of that might be described as radical, was once seen as crazy. Only time . . . sometimes . . . can differentiate between crack-pots and genius. So I can see why the term "Radical Islam" can be uttered by the mouths of babes on Facebook, MSNBC, and the Huffington Post.

But I heard it used on NPR the other day, and the BBC right after that.

Now, I don't hold any news organizations to exacting standards, I've met too many people in this world to consider that. But NPR and the BBC are pretty excellent with their lexicography, which means that the word "Radical" is mutating to mean extreme, hard to port, stubborn and probably, most likely, nuts.

Thing is though . . . I want my word back.

I want radical to be adopted by the people who want to blow my mind and not the people who want to blow out my brains.

And I think we need to fight it. We need to rise up and take back, not just radical, but all kinds of words that have mutated from the positive to the negative. I want the word liberal to become generous again, and I want the word conservative to become responsible again. How great would the "Great Debate" be if only we could learn to use our words correctly?

And maybe, just maybe, we can conceive of a world that doesn't need to hurt people in order to make it's point.

Which . . . you know . . . would be totally rad.

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