IASPM-ANZ Statement on the Federal Government’s ‘Radicalisation Awareness Kit’

At the start of this week, the Federal Government released its ‘Radicalisation Awareness Kit’ into schools. The kit includes a fictitious case study about Karen, explaining how although she came from a ‘loving family’, “[w]hen she moved out of home to attend university Karen became involved in the alternative music scene, student politics and left-wing activism.” This then led to attending demonstrations and finally the sabotage of logging operations and Karen’s arrest.

Our organisation strongly objects to the linking of participation in the alternative music scene to radicalisation of any kind. There is no reputable evidence to suggest that listening to certain types of music leads to particular political outcomes for the audience. Suggesting that young people who listen to certain types of music are in some way more ‘dangerous’ than others is not only insupportable, but can have negative consequences for those young people, as we will outline below.

To begin with, however, we need to note what an extraordinarily wide net this case study has cast through using the phrase ‘alternative music’. This could mean almost anything, from music such as heavy metal and electronic music that pushes boundaries musically, to music-based subcultures, such as goth, emo and punk. It could also mean anything that is not distributed on mainstream record labels, and the live music that is performed in thousands of independent venues around the country.

Not only does this demonstrate the absurdity of suggesting a link between music and radicalisation, given how many people come into contact with this type of music, but it means the government is casting aspersions on a very large proportion of the Australian population.

It is worth remembering also that the live music sector – most of which can be considered ‘alternative’ in one way or another – is worth around $16billion to the Australian economy (on conservative estimates). It is surprising therefore to find the government undermining, rather than supporting, this sector.

The idea that young people who like certain types of music are problems waiting to happen needs to be challenged, as it has consequences for them. We have seen this in the US in the wake of the Columbine massacre in 1999, where unsubstantiated media reports suggested that the music the killers listened to influenced their actions. This led to the targeting of differently dressed students at schools across the country, with some being expelled or arrested mainly on the basis of their perceived association with particular types of musical subcultures.

In the UK, work by researchers such as Paul Hodkinson has clearly demonstrated the way that visible identification with alternative music scenes and subcultures can lead to discrimination, particularly in the form of bullying. Sometimes though it can go further; Lancaster goth Sophie Lancaster was killed in an attack motivated by her subcultural clothing. This has led to the adoption of laws that have made discrimination on the basis of membership of a subculture a type of hate crime, on par with discrimination on the basis of sexuality or race. This recognition of the legitimacy of young people’s identity construction through music, and protection of their right to do so, is forward thinking, and shows a very different approach to what we see in this awareness kit.

Attending protests and listening to alternative music are not gateways to radicalisation. On the contrary, young people should be being encouraged to take an interest in politics, including lawful demonstrations, and to explore as many different forms of culture as possible. For the government to frame these things as frightening and problematic is misguided at best, and can have real-world negative consequences for young people at worst. Alternative music, and music generally, is an art form that can be especially powerful for young people as they develop. We should not further alienate those that feel isolated or ‘alternative’, but instead invite them to discuss their difference and seek help if they are in danger.

IASPM-ANZ calls on the government to withdraw these materials from schools.