On Terrorism Glasnost and Tolerance

A lot happens in a very short time, ranging from the good to the horrific. The Berlin Wall coming down 30 years ago reminds us of the optimism and euphoria of taking down boundaries. I was listening to excerpts from the Cold War Classic Tunnel 29 on the radio, and it was only a few years before that people were being shot in making their break for freedom. I have never liked small spaces and tunnels petrify me. They entomb us, restricting our movement to a shuffle forwards towards the light ahead, the freedom we desire so much at the other end. Its amazing to see the courage to risk one’s life for freedom when we take it all for granted. Then all those restrictions came tumbling down with the wall. These were heady days throughout Europe as boundaries between East and West melted away, and the Glasnost of cordial relations melted the permafrost of geopolitical divisions.

That’s a world away from the hubris and innate nationalism we see today. ‘Get Brexit done’ means a return to some degree of isolation as we look to take on the world on our own. All this at a time when Russia is developing its own ultra-nationalistic self and America withdraws into itself. Its not a propitious time to seek new friends and alliances or sink or swim on our own. Even our unity at home is in danger of breaking up with Scotland seeking an IndiRef2 and Northern Ireland becoming closer to the South. Where has all that confidence and enthusiasm gone as we chunter along towards losing the battle to save the planet – it should be Fix the Planet not Brexit.

What’s all this got to do with terrorism. Only yesterday there was the horrible incident on London Bridge – yet more deaths under the guise of taking out innocent victims of some sort of Western coalition against Islam. True – one man’s terrorist can be another man’s freedom fighter. But the head of UK mosques rightly said earlier today that that is no way to earn your place in paradise – violence begets violence and intolerance leads to more intolerance. It takes one bad egg to put the government’s de-radicalisation programme into the dog house. I work with wonderful colleagues – probation, police, imams and fellow mentors and I believe de-radicalisation can change hearts and minds and make most radicals reintegrate themselves in society whether they are Jihadists or members of the ultra nationalist right wing groups – currently the fastest growing terrorist threat. Remember Christchurch as so called Christians are not immune to radicalisation.

I write these words in uncertain times. I sense that people today are less tolerant than they were when the Berlin Wall came down. They are polarised about politics – and I have questioned where the consensus in the middle has gone. We seem to have forgotten that we live in a global society with global problems that require pan national solutions. Terrorism is in part an ultra-nationalist phenomenon whether we talk in terms of intolerance stemming from ego centric little Englanders or the religious fundamentalists of Isis and their mythical Ummah or Caliphate. We won’t solve these problems on our own. Terrorism is an international phenomenon. It won’t be solved by incarcerating these for longer across the board without a real understanding of how de-radicalisation can change these people into more tolerant and respectful citizens. Norway spends one third more on prisons than we do and its re-offending rate is half ours so simply banging people up in over-crowded prisons doesn’t work. . It takes a cool hand to resist the demand for greater punishment and wisdom to know where to spend the extra cash; it needs greater emphasis on the cause as much as the symptoms. We need to heal the wounds created by decades of intolerance – to work together just as we did in 1989 in Germany and indeed in South Africa. Ubuntu! That should be the war cry. So go tell your politicians to think measuredly, speak kindly and act to heal a goddam broken world.

November 2019