I arrived in Hay-on-Wye very late the previous night after weather delays conspired to make me miss my connection, but my hosts were so thoughtful and willing to go above and beyond to make me feel comfortable – they even collected me from Newport! Thankfully, this set the tone for the entirety of my visit to the festival.
I gave my talk first thing in the morning, still slightly amazed that people would want to listen to me at such an hour on the topic of women’s participation in extremist groups and how we can counter thatt. The Q&A showed a thoughtful, engaged, and challenging audience – the best kind – and the last question I took was from a young girl, not yet a teenager: how should we address those who wish to return from fighting in Iraq and Syria?
I said that I thought we had to respond on a case-by-case basis, that we should see human rights and the rule of law as the guiding principles for our decisions. This means not removing citizenship, which seems like a denial of responsibility, and that we should also help the children born of foreign fighters.
Inspired by my young questioner, I put aside my traditional fear of crowds of children and decided to listen to a talk on the ‘Amazing Animal Atlas’. Here too was an engaged, albeit more vocal, audience. Their thoughtfulness, knowledge, enthusiasm, and clear wonder and surprise at the weirdness of nature was almost as engaging and brilliant as Nick’s talk. It was a refreshing antidote to ‘nti-intellectualism’ and the public narrative that children don’t read and can’t concentrate.
In my talk, I had argued for fuelling children’s creativity as a counter to extremism; creativity breaks down binary thinking and helps develops critical thinking skills. It was motivational to see that in action so soon afterwards.
Katherine Brown is Head of the Department of Theology and Religion at Birmingham University. Watch her Hay Festival 2018 talk on muslim women and radicalization over on Hay Player now.