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The etymology of the word du jour, ‘radical’




Iraqi policemen raise their weapons during a training session at a camp in the Bardarash district.
Iraqi policemen raise their weapons during a training session at a camp in the Bardarash district.
SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

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The word “radical” is in the zeitgeist.

The word has been used to describe the political ideas of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, as well as the religious beliefs of Colorado Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear and the San Bernardino attackers Tashfeen Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook.

In the past, the adjective had also been deployed to describe everyone from political activists to civil rights leaders.

The FBI today uses the word carefully, and sees the use of violence implicit in the process of “radicalization”. While the U.S. Homeland Security Department shies away from the use of the word altogether, preferring the term “violent extremist” and “violent extremism.”

What does “radical” mean? How has the term’s meaning changed over the years? What does becoming “radicalized” mean?

Guests:

Timothy McCarthy, core faculty and program director at the Carr Center for human Rights Policy at the  Harvard Kennedy School. He’s a historian of social movements, whose books include “The Radical Reader: A Documentary History of the American Radical Tradition” (The New Press, 2011). He tweets from @DrTPM

David A. Snow, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine who focuses on collective behavior and social movements