Heroes among the civilians

In response to a cartoon about the Israeli response in the Gaza strip on GoComics, someone wrote:

Do not look for heroes in this conflict. There are victims and terrorists on both sides.

I felt compelled to reply.

There are heroes.

  • The war reporters. Over 80 dead and many imprisoned.
  • The aid workers. Over 100 UN aid workers dead.
  • The medics. Over 280 healthcare workers killed and at least 14 strikes on Doctors Without Borders medical facilities or vehicles.
  • Then the less glamorous ones who are trying to keep the sanitation working, digging people and bodies from buildings, burying corpses, trying to identify people’s remains.
  • And there will be countless incredible feats of courage by civilians that will never be known or recognised.

No medals for any of the above though. Medals are saved for the people with the armour and guns and creating the harm.

Fear created by the media to make profits

Someone asked: “It’s weird that people have to stop feeling safe anymore.

The media drives that. “If it bleeds, it leads” has always been their mantra. it gives an impression of a world that in a state of violence. That’s actually not true for almost all people almost all of the time.

The media also requires people to keep coming back, because they are funded by advertising. Telling happy stories does not do that, whereas keeping readers in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear does. Hence all the fear-mongering they produce.

And now we can have videos of violence and pictures of bleeding women and blown-up babies and dismembered perpetrators, that has made it all much worse for us. We did not evolve to be constantly bombarded with images of dismembered people, but as social animals living in family groups working together collaboratively.

We are being conditioned to fear. And it is totally unrealistic compared to the statistical reality.

For example, more Americans get shot by other Americans in America every few months than all the Americans ever killed by terrorism by any method in the entire world ever put together. So what is the real threat – terrorists or other Americans with guns?

Can being nice prevent violence?

ACT (Action Counters Terrorism) e-learning is a free short course for the general public on what to be aware of and how to look out for terrorist activity in public places.  A recurring theme in it is to be polite, to challenge people who are looking lost or suspicious, to ask if such people need assistance and offer to help such as taking them where they need to go.  Essentially saying excellent customer service has a side effect of countering criminality.

It is interesting that by being nice and polite to people it makes it hard for them to be violent and anti-social.

What impact would it have on those who want to harm our society if everyone they came across in our society was friendly, open, polite, helpful in a self-assured way?  Perhaps if we had such a society, there would be fewer people who wanted to harm our society in the first place.

We need more data on peace-making

Accept repentant Boko Haram fighters or they go back to terrorism, presidency urges Nigerians

This is a news story about young men who had been members of a terrorist organisation being allowed to repent, and the national leader asking people to allow them back into their communities.

19/09/2019 “the establishment of ‘Operation Safe Corridor’ in Gombe State has been described as a global model in combating insurgency in the world” link.

11/06/2020 “No repentant Boko Haram Terrorists combatant who has been reintegrated into the society will evade arrest if he reneged on the pledge” link.

Anyone who thinks one cannot negotiate with terrorists and one must fight fire with fire could do worse than look at Operation Safe Corridor. The deradicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration (DRR) process of ex- Boko Haram members seems to have been a remarkably impressive demonstration of best practice in tackling extremist violence.

General Olonisakin: “the Armed Forces of Nigeria is not only trying to win the war but to also win the peace”.

It must be incredibly tough on those still displaced or still in areas affected by Boko Haram. Forgiveness does not come easily.

It’s quite an example though of how violent groups recruit and kidnap young people to do their fighting for them, and how such fighters themselves can also be the victims.

I’ve written before about trading justice for peace. Punishing these young men would have been injustice on injustice and not resulted in any peace.

Violence is complicated. Peace is really hard.

I do hope all this gets researched and documented. An observation:

“The operation Safe Corridor is good, but how much have been invested in communities to bolster their resilience capacities, heal their grievances and give them back their lives to enable them embrace these formers? What is the post deradicalisation programme that can effectively monitor these formers to track their progress in reintegration or further resurgence in their old tracks? What has been the role of formers in the process deracalisation or PVE? These and many more should be reassessed and appraised.”

Absolutely – data is needed and needs to be published about conflict interventions and resolution as a bigger picture. This was a major conclusion from my Master’s in Peace Studies – a lack of off-the-shelf case studies fro those new to or outside the field.

Essentially we have the Oxford Research Group’s ‘War Prevention Works : 50 Stories of People Resolving Conflict’ from 2001 and High Miall’s ‘The Peacemakers: Peaceful Settlement of Disputes Since 1945′ from 1992.

I think there is a desperate need for Practitioners’ Manual for Peace based on evidence from past interventions, which requires that consolidation of data to underpin and inform it.

I do find it interesting it appears to be being led by the Armed Forces of Nigeria. How’s that for defence diversification?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It is being argued the British Army should not be prosecuted for war crimes committed in Northern Ireland.  The argument goes that if the terrorists can get away with their crimes because of The Belfast Agreement, then it is only fair the Army does too.  But this assumes there was a level playing field in a combat between terrorists and the Army.  Yet that is not how it was.  The Army was called in to support the police; the Army were there as a policing force.  The combat was between the loyalists and nationalists, between paramilitary republicans and paramilitary unionists; the Army were apart from them and intended to keep the peace.  As such, they are not exempt from adhering to civil, military and international laws.

It is indeed unfair that at an individual level a squaddie should be subject to laws and punishment that a terrorist is not.  But that is how it must be: the police who uphold the law must be subject to those laws.  And that includes the Army when they are the police force.  It is also unrealistic to compare the expectations of behaviour of a salaried, trained, professional soldier with a support structure and command structure to a civil terrorist operating within a totally different social environment and structure.  Yes, it is reasonable to expect the Army not to be criminal in their operations and so yes it is reasonable to expect them to be subject to punishment if they break the law, especially when they are there to keep the peace.

The state and its agents must work within the law or they are not entitled to be in their position of authority.  Unless, of course, we are to live in a criminal autocracy or dictatorship where the agents of the state can kill its citizens without fear of redress.

Because once the British Army is granted exemption from law in their operations, they will be expected to commit war crimes as expedient ways to achieve results.  And then we will be the bad guys.

 

The state and the fear of violence

I’ve just seen an interesting quote in one of my old Open University text books.  DD101 Exploring Social Lives, page 373:
 
“A state claims a monopoly of legitimate force, but ironically it is only because ‘competitors’ (that is, criminals, terrorists, etc.) contest the state’s claim to have a monopoly of legitimate force that the state exists at all. A state that really did have a monopoly of legitimate force would have no reason to exist. Think of a state in which everyone acted peacefully and regarded all laws as legitimate. It would be wholly redundant!”
 
(Hoffman, 2007, p. 45)
 
Hoffman, J. (2007) ‘Sovereignty’ in Blakeley, G. and Bryson, V. (eds) The Impact of Feminism on Political Concepts and Debates, Manchester, Manchester University Press.
 
Meaning: it is in the interests of the state to ensure there is always a threat of violence to its citizens to ensure its own survival as the ‘protector’. Or rather, the fear of the threat of violence.
 
So, the state is required to keep its citizens in a state of fear to ensure its own continuance. Scary stuff.
Now, since we know you are not a criminal until you have been found guilty of a crime, the ‘criminals’ Priti Patel refers to here must in fact by ‘citizens’, i.e., everyone who might break a law whether or not they have done so. That is, all of us.
 
“The new home secretary, Priti Patel, has said she wants criminals to “literally feel terror” at the thought of breaking the law.”
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49213743
So we should all have a permanent feeling of terror at what the state might do to us if we misbehave.  Lovely.

“Religious” violence

My response agreeing with someone’s post on an Open University blog:

Every conflict which has escalated into terrorism has ultimately been resolved by listening.  “I think there has to be a political solution.  All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.”  (Jeremy Corbyn)

I think you are right.  In this case it is not militant Islam that is the problem, that is the excuse.  It is the tool used by cowardly and genuinely evil people to get angry young men to commit murder and become suicide bombers.  It is the lazy branding used to explain the behaviour and ‘other’ those aligned with or sympathetic to their views.  But the claim that it is the cause or the causation is misinterpreting the situation; if it wasn’t religion making the divide it would be race or nationalism or political belief.

There were a lot of unhappy people in the Middle East cross with the Western world, united in a woolly concern about cultural imperialism or economics or tired of being sidelined or concerned about the future of the Middle East given an apparent bias in financial and political support to one particular country, or even a number of other things too.  And we weren’t listening, so the shouting got louder until a couple of buildings got destroyed in New York.  Given they were a global emblem of globalised capitalism I suspect we can take a guess at what the protest was about: cultural imperialism and the imposition of products, media output and values upon a number of closely-related societies who found those impositions increasingly intolerable.

And when protests are not heard, they get louder and louder until they go bang.

I am not aware of any great effort on the part of Western governments to say “Hmm.  There’s some unhappy people here.  Let’s find out what the problem is and come to an agreement.”  But there are many calling for airstrikes and selling weapons and destabilising governments and killing civilians.  And the protests are getting louder and more frequent.  The combined political view seems to be “The question is whether we can kill people who hate us at a faster rate than we make other people hate us by killing so many people.” (David Mitchell)

If there is a religion involved here, I fear it is the worship of Mammon or Plutus, or one of their many allies.

Why do otherwise sane people do this?

Do you mean the suicide bombers and murderers?  I think that is fairly easily answered; a lot has been researched and written in psychology and criminology about how people can be made to believe what our philosophy says is nonsense or wrong.

Do you mean those who recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip and despatch them?  The easiest ones to explain: power-hungry cowards who get a kick out of disruption.  ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ probably cover it.  Every terror group needs those, as does most nations I suspect – I bet there’s plenty work in the various secret services.  It’s just these ones are the baddies and ours are the goodies.

Or do you mean the government leaders who believe airstrikes really are accurate, that military intelligence from foreign agents is never unreliable, that killing people because they hold a different passport is morally good, that killing people will make the related survivors more friendly, that using their land for our proxy wars won’t upset anyone?  The sort of people who proudly proclaim they would conduct the first strike to start a nuclear conflict?

We need to UNDERSTAND violent, militant Islamism – and writing if off as a form of insanity is simply an admission that we don’t understand it.

I agree.  Coming to the realisation that you have no option left to make your voice heard other than kill yourself and take others with you, is a very sane act.  When done in our name we consider it the highest form of self-sacrifice and heroism.  And it is done to make a point, whether it is holding out one’s hand in the flames when being burned at the stake for religious freedom, dousing one’s self in petrol and self-immolating for national freedom or any of the people who have died on hunger strike in prison.  These people are not killing themselves and others because they are insane.  They are trying to make a point, to be heard, a final desperate act in the hope their life can mean something by throwing it away.  Or rather they are the poor unwitting victims of the militant section of a much larger unhappy group of people.  It is that larger group who need to be heard.

But I don’t think we know who that group are.  And I’m not sure we’re even asking the question.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Woken by the 6:00 news as usual. Just one story: an explosion in a Manchester night club; Police say it is a terrorist bomb; grandparent in hospital with shrapnel wounds; children killed; people running, screaming, panicking, crying; the election suspended by all parties.

Stupid: the media reporting it as terrorism before it is confirmed. Exaggerating the known facts to sell news. They make things worse when they do this.

Stupid: the reporting of screaming, crying and panicking. Mobile phone footage on the main story site taken by some bloke outside the venue running away showing other people running away. Rather outweighs the other footage taken inside of an orderly evacuation. But it’s a funny kind of panic where someone gets their phone out to record themselves running down the street. Not the most useful evidence for the facts. But it does help create the moral panic – well done BBC for playing into the hands of those who want chaos.

(It probably is just random that the stories next to the video of the explosion are “Muslim comedian who sat next to a Trump” – omigod how did Trump survive? – and “The mysterious case of the missing Briton”.)

Stupid: a quote from every major political party – provided between the night-time explosion and available for broadcast by 6a.m. to say they are suspending election activity because of the blast. Well done, you’ve done the terrorist’s work for them, even if it turns out not to be a terrorist attack. You’ve stopped the election activity. So the government has ceased, democracy has ceased, you’ve added to the moral panic and the terrorists just won.

Every party that has done this is not fit to run a multi-racial, multi-religion country with a history of empire and links to the rest of the world and that likes to think it can stand on the world stage giving opinions based on centuries of experience.

Whatever happened to “starve them of the oxygen of publicity”?

Yes, it probably was a terrorist attack. Yes, it is appalling. Yes, it is pathetic they targeted teenage girls. I get all that. But I do not get the response. When did we become so frightened?

So, having written this rant, I shall finish my cup of tea, get dressed and go to work. I shall continue to talk to people and, more importantly, listen to people who have different opinions from mine, then try to discuss them in an open and friendly fashion, exploring differences and celebrating the things we have in common. As a citizen, that is how to combat terrorism. Not falling for the media- and political-party inspired fear and division that serves their ends but makes life more miserable.

Go and make a new friend today. Or at least, reach out to someone and say “Hi!”. Or just give a stranger a smile.

Make tea, not trouble.

Keep calm and carry on.