here are at least two ways to define radicalism. One is through etymological accuracy, the other popular interpretation. Etymologically, the word ‘radicalism’ originates from the root ‘radical’. Merriam-Webster Word Central website stated that:
Our word radical was formed from the Latin adjective radicalis, which simply meant “of or relating to a root.” The Latin word radix meant “root.” This meaning was kept when the word radicalis came into English as radical, but new senses developed too. Since a root is at the bottom of something, radical came to describe what is at the base or beginning, in other words, what is “basic, fundamental.” Later, radical was used to describe something that was extremely different from the usual. Then, as a noun radical came to be applied to a person who wants to make extreme or “radical” changes in the government or in society.
Indeed, the popular interpretation for the word ‘radical’ is currently related to extreme changes in government or society. Andy Fitzgerald has written that even though being labeled a ‘radical’ is nowadays often meant as an insult, history tells us otherwise:
It’s a similar scenario with “radical” – a word often used to evoke associations with extremism, instability and an absolutist approach to politics. But the popular usage belies the important role many radicals have played in promoting democracy and justice throughout history, not to mention the continued role radical ideas and activism have to play in unfinished projects .
Fitzgerald wrote that in the context of the United States of America, “it was “radicals” who were responsible for sowing the seeds of two of America’s most important social movements: worker rights and racial justice.” He cited Saul Alinksy, the father of American community organizing, who wrote, “America was begun by its radicals. America was built by its radicals. The hope and future of America lies with its radicals.”
If the word radical has negative and positive interpretation, in Indonesia the word radicalism is more often than not perceived negatively. A popular definition of the word as can be found in casual conversation and mass-media is described in Wikipedia Indonesia:
Radikalisme adalah suatu paham yang dibuat-buat oleh sekelompok orang yang menginginkan perubahan atau pembaharuan sosial dan politik secara drastis dengan menggunakan cara-cara kekerasan.
Namun bila dilihat dari sudut pandang keagamaan dapat diartikan sebagai paham keagamaan yang mengacu pada fondasi agama yang sangat mendasar dengan fanatisme keagamaan yang sangat tinggi, sehingga tidak jarang penganut dari paham / aliran tersebut menggunakan kekerasan kepada orang yang berbeda paham / aliran untuk mengaktualisasikan paham keagamaan yang dianut dan dipercayainya untuk diterima secara paksa.
To discuss radicalism in Indonesia, this paper uses this last definition, focusing on the phrases “cara-cara kekerasan” and “fanatisme keagamaan”. Another focus is on Islam as the religion of the majority.