From crisis to carnage

An Utoya memorial

By Dr. Alan Bruce


It has been a remarkable summer for those of us who work in the realms of innovative learning, security best practice and social change. As we complete the third year of systemic socio-economic crisis, nothing seems to be getting any easier. There was a time when one could reasonably expect things to settle down, or return to some semblance of normality. By now it is probably evident to even the most hardened optimists, that all may not be well in this best of all possible worlds.


Developing the competence, flexibility and skill both to anticipate and respond to crises and conflict is a critical strategic priority for those tasked with preserving social harmony, rights and respect for each other in any law-bounded polity. This in turn depends upon a sustainable social contract between citizens and the State. This contract, often obscured if the focus concentrates purely on the economy and its fluctuations, is at the heart of security. It also posits a critical challenge for those charged with developing and maintaining security. And that is the creation of a clear and unrelenting focus on the community, linkage with the community, engagement with the community and the creation of that most elusive element in security-community dialogue – trust.


Recent decades have witnessed an unfortunate degradation in the concept of ‘community’ in both media analysis and in many national policy discourses. As people have moved from concepts of citizenship to consumerism, so also have social concepts shifted from a rights-obligations axis to an earn-spend axis. This has unfortunate implications. It tends to blur understanding of the complex web of social connections and mutual links that sustain contemporary society. It also reduces a highly complex set of relationships over the entire range of key life events (birth, learning, relationships, parenthood, work, ageing, death) to the immediate paradigms of production, consumption and commodification.


Even in this very limited conceptualization of society, there also lurk problems and challenges. Policing and security are not simply regulatory mechanisms for market operations. They are sophisticated learning paradigms where social benefit and value is not simply measured by crimes ‘solved’ or ‘reduced’, but where an integrated and planned response is made to threat, uncertainty and injustice. And if anything can truly be said to characterise the times through which we are living it would be - threat, uncertainty and injustice.


Not the least worrying aspect of all this has been the growing hysteria in hitherto rational circles about migration in general and Muslim migration in particular. In country after country, a ‘debate’ has been manufactured that starts with half-truths and conspiracy-nuanced discourse about the spread of a contagion. This contagion is variously described as alien, foreign, destructive, insidious and growing. When combined with the insecurities and disruptions of recession and unemployment, we have a set of conditions not seen since the 1930s. This time however, as it has been presciently observed, the scapegoat of ‘Jews’ is replaced by one of ‘Muslims’.


Migration and cultural-demographic transformation inevitably produces unfamiliar issues, new problems and even stresses. But it does not have to be an inevitable catastrophe. It can be a beneficial and win-win environment, where human ingenuity and curiosity produce new and vibrant communities that work, learn and co-exist in creative ways.


I have followed the anti-immigrant discourse in ever-growing numbers of European countries with increasing interest, and some elements of alarm. This discourse has a foundation, a rationale and (more worryingly) a support base. There is a twisted logic in the steamy world of bigotry and other-centred loathing. It is the fear of the Little Man (so well described once by Erich Fromm), wrapped up in the posturing and pretension of those increasingly aware of their ultimate powerlessness in the face of the shifting tectonic plates of globalised power relations and economic uncertainty.


If security responses cave in to this fear, if policing competence neglects the community (and that community is now irreversibly diverse), if monitoring intelligence neglects the evidence of real threat, then nothing can prepare us for the savage slaughter perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Norway at the end of July.


This attack caught security resources off guard, both tactically and strategically. This attack was not irrational. Based on the bizarre logic of assumed contagion from immigrants, Muslims and (menacingly) those politics and policies which encourage multiculturalism, the attacks sought to use sheer terror in a targeted and focused way. Like most of us, I watched appalled as the Oslo bombing was followed by the tracking down and killing of so many innocent young people on Utoya.


What we have seen since the appalling massacres in Norway is a slipping of the mask of the populist far right and its assorted crew of strange cheerleaders – the growing reality and impact of European racism and intolerance.


From the outside, what is remarkable is that resurgence of crypto-fascist ideology and racism has been most evident in the heartlands of supposed tolerance, progress and advanced social democracy. Thus we see the rise of poisonous mindsets throughout the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, England and Belgium. In Germany its progress has been more uneven (for evident historic reasons) while in France and other countries it has been intermixed with nationalist myth-making and twitches of the phantom limbs of colonialism.


The crimes of Breivik strip away the verbiage and bring us back to the basics of what racism, intolerance and neo-fascism are really about. It has been remarkable to see how the populist right and its apologists have managed to reassemble their arguments within hours of the images of slaughtered children and shattered government buildings filling our screens and laptops.


Breivik was not a solitary, lone-wolf, unstable psychopath. He is a depressingly typical example of the average steroid-enhanced wannabe Nazi. His attacks were logical and consistent. He was actually articulating in a brutal way the positions of many of the new populist parties by attacking government (pictured in thrall to international liberalism), social welfare and immigration policies, youth, ethnic minorities and (most significant) an established Labour party that he blames passionately for its “sell-out” of the Norwegian/White/Christian way of life.


Breivik did most assuredly not act alone. He is part of a well-connected movement of pathetic but dangerous neo-fascist conspirators who dream of a time when Europe will be composed of folks just like them. These types have been active for decades and they pose a serious and immediate challenge to individual, social and human rights. People like him take the poisonous rantings of their cheerleaders to a depressing extreme – but the pedigree is clear. The smug posturing of populist leaders ultimately underpins the actions of Breivik.


As usual with racist conspirators, they are squirming now to deny responsibility for their words and inflammatory rhetoric. It is critical for pro-active security strategists, therefore, to be alert to what is at stake here. Dangerous levels of fear and threat, stoked by scare-mongering tactics, can produce threatening levels of instability. The brutal reality is therefore, that the prime threat comes not from migrants or minority cultures living and working among us, but from those who would use the real facts of new, multicultural communities to attack not only these minorities but those that are seen to support them, advocate for them or engage with them. This is made no less depressing by the fact that we have seen all this before.


Let’s cut to the chase. Some months ago, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel spoke to state that multiculturalism as a policy had been tried and failed in Germany. It was now over (interestingly she prefaced her remarks by stating that immigrants, as originally expected, had not simply uprooted themselves and “gone home”). The fact is that, as a consistent policy objective, multiculturalism was never actually implemented in Germany.


Grudging acceptance of the need for immigrant labor is not the same as pro-active policies of intercultural engagement and mutual benefit with trained and competent staff administering enlightened policies of shared existence. The OECD supported Migrant Rights Index research in fact can only point to three genuinely multicultural policy driven countries: Canada, Australia and Argentina. And, interestingly, these are countries with startling success in developing stable and successful intercultural approaches to diverse societies.


Failure at European national levels to articulate real multicultural alternatives (or in some cases like Denmark and the Netherlands active efforts to reverse multicultural policy) leads to the emergence of policy weaknesses and security lapses where the swampy undergrowth that spawns creatures like Breivik is not challenged. And he is not alone….


While the police and security apparatuses have been diverted to pay attention to new restrictions on the threat of burka wearing housewives, or unemployed immigrant youth, or preventing construction of Swiss minarets, or deporting Roma or “controlling” immigration they have – by their own stated admission – not investigated Breivik and his networks because “there was nothing abnormal to investigate”. Those who look most disturbingly like us may be the most to fear. They are just normal people protecting their threatened existence.


But normal political movements do not hunt down children and blow their brains out at a summer camp. In the chilling words of Breivik, his actions were “gruesome but necessary”. And for some Europeans, he will be a prophet….

A memorial to the murders on Utoya

For policing and security related intelligence services, it may be time to think the unthinkable. The real problems may lie elsewhere, not necessarily where the populist mass media in a frenzy of panic says they lie. The threat may be most immediate and most unrelenting amid those folks who seem so ‘normal’ and well adjusted. Good investigation skills rest on observed patterns. And the evidence for these particular patterns is clear. Good community linkage, subtle and pro-active community engagement, effective diversity management competence and some essential sociological research skills would all equip policing better so it is not deflected by the diversionary hares let loose by populist racists.


Social conflict and terrorism are not inevitable by-products of free movement of labour and migration. Ethnic minorities can and do assimilate and in the process create huge benefits for host societies. Whipping up a crisis and then blaming the victims is not something policing can or should benefit from.


There is no point seeking equivalence. What distinguishes the populist anti-immigration underworld is its consistent scapegoating of minorities and those who are different. And it does all this in the cause of “defending” what “we” have and “our” culture. This poses serious and immediate challenges to complacency. It may be an instructive irony to observe that one of the countries most enmeshed in economic crisis and indebtedness in Europe (Ireland) has no organised far-right, no anti-immigrant movement and a genuine level of inclusion and welcome for immigration. And in independent research, its police service has the highest expressed levels of satisfaction for its fairness, independence and professionalism among immigrant communities.


I have just spent the last few weeks in Greece. It was a privilege to visit Syntagma Square and to talk, discuss and interact with some of the many young people, community groups, political groups, rural women, ecology groups, Church bodies, immigrants, bloggers, journalists, teachers, unemployed, men, women, children, artists, musicians, acrobats and even police who are encamped in the centre of the Greek capital and have been for months. What some of you may see on TV is the very odd riot, demonstration or hurled tear-gas canister. What I saw was a veritable daily exercise in community democracy and dialogue where people ask themselves what it means to be a community and if there might be a better way than market turbulence and debt-ratings agencies.


This is not a time to be naïve. There are real stresses and strains in our societies and history shows that reaction to crisis can be vicious, nasty and horrible. But it is precisely because of this that informed security learning responses are required. ‘Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it’, said George Santayana. We have a real opportunity amidst this crisis to think in new and innovative ways. It is not the responsibility of policing or security professionals to develop national intercultural policies. But it would be wise for those charged with articulating best practice and professionalism to be aware that intercultural practice works best, produces best policing results and develops communication and information channels with the community (and all dimensions of that community) which are indispensible to long term security success.


I don’t know about you, but that is pretty cool to me. Or is there a nice blond, blue-eyed “normal” young man lurking in the shadows hoping to machine-gun this sensible alternative thought and model of pro-active engagement?


Or maybe that kind of thing only happens in Scandinavia?


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