Sunday, 28 May 2017

How to stop another Manchester

The profile is usually the same. A loser who slips through the net, has nothing in their armory of achievements to call their own and gradually turns to hate the world, blaming everyone else for their own predicament.

Their only source of pride is their sense of self-righteousness - being more moral and pure - without acknowledging their own hypocrisy - usually involving drink and drugs. In the absence of a sense of belonging, trapped between two worlds and fitting into neither, the resentment turns to hate which in turn becomes nihilism. All it then needs is a channel.

It's the classic story arc of a loser and usually it applies just as much to far right white nationalists, far left anarchists as islamist suicide bombers. When it comes to extremism there isn't a fag paper's difference between them - and are very often interchangeable. It is not uncommon for politically extreme youth to convert to Islam.

And that's the other familiar part of this profile - men with no real connection to Islam, scant knowledge of it, and are in fact "born again muslims". This is why it doesn't help to be finger-wagging in the direction of UK Muslim communities who are often just as much in the dark as the rest of us.

I think by now this much is known to authorities which is why they direct their prevention strategies at universities and community level youth organisations. Public workers are trained to spot the symptoms - puritanism, devout preaching and a sudden change in habits.

Olivier Roy, one of France’s top experts on Islamic terrorism, argues that it's the Islamification of radicalism that we need to investigate, not the radicalization of Islam, begging the question of why radical youths would choose violent fundamentalist Islam over other destructive creeds to engage in terrorism".

I completely concur. Angry young man syndrome is not at all uncommon. When I was twenty two I latched on to the more extreme end of libertarian politics, occasionally dabbling with other politics on the right, exploring the various strands, alienated from my largely leftist social circle, not especially academically inclined, and very very preachy. I was a massive hypocrite too. Were it not for one or two variables I could just as easily have been recruited by Islamic extremists. As it happens, I got sucked into Ukip for a while, mainly because it was available and I understood it. It's grievance politics. Availability is the key factor. 

In some respects all politics is the losers creed. Successful people tend not to go into politics until later life assuming they even have well developed political views. The more extreme, the bigger the loser. I actually take some comfort in the fact that I'm more of a centrist these days. There is hope for me yet. 

But that's really what explains Salman Abedi - dislocated from his own heritage, having no affinity with the host culture. They exist in a spiritual vacuum. Now you can argue that this a consequence of immigration, but the dynamic is not unique. Social isolation is a common facet to this. The reason it turns to extreme Islam is because it is popularised and available. It speaks to the puritanical and nihilistic tendency.

In fact, the target in Manchester tells us everything. As much as anything this was an act of revenge against women. The loser makes excuses for himself that his inability to get the girls is a moral choice and the impure deserve divine punishment. As much as anything it's misogyny. We find in other attacks there is a similar strand - a lashing out against normal activity where people are finding enjoyment. Things the puritan considers sinful. The joy and love they themselves will never find. 

So what is to be done? Well, we know the psych-profile well. We are seemingly pretty good at detection but it seems we are failing to act on intelligence, partially because of the scale of the problem. 

Oliver Roy notes that hundreds of foreign fighters from Europe are seeking a safe return to Europe by turning themselves in to their embassies in Turkey, according to the Italian press. "This means they don’t have the suicidal instincts characterizing terrorists like Abedi". This has been a common theme where alienated and radical youth have gone out to Syria to find it did not meet their romanticised ideal and seek to return to a normal life.

By this point a deradicalisation programme is largely unnecessary. All that really remains is some form of punishment. What remains is the question of who do we let back in and under what circumstances - and how do we stop them going out there in the first place?

The former seems like the more answerable question though it may prove more difficult to enforce than is assumed. If they want back in, they will find a way. As to the latter question, that is one that requires more substantial action from us. 

In this, it is that spiritual vacuum where radicalism thrives. It is there we must focus our efforts. We need to ask why these young people slip the net, how we can better engage them and how we can engineer a society that is more inclusive. Oliver Roy argues that the “hegemony of secularism” and the rejection of “all forms of religiosity” in the West have created a spiritual vacuum that can be a breeding ground for fundamentalism. He is only partially right though. 

Social trends and globalisation have eroded the role of the church and the mosque where we are increasingly atheist and lack the normative social structures of yore. We are a spiritual wasteland. The question, therefore, is what measures we can take to improve the spiritual life of the nation - be it a reintroduction of cadets in schools, national service, or the kind of classically statist measures that weave a common narrative and sense of national purpose. Some might then immediately scream "fascism" - and they would, to an extent, be correct. Fascist theory is as much about the organisation of society. 

So this is really a matter of choices. To what extent do we wish to reintroduce the state into the private lives of citizens and to what level do we wish to introduce compulsion? The immediate problem there is that we are naturally suspicious of that kind of policy and mockingly cynical of it in a singularly British way.

In days of yore it was easier to create common threads in society. We had only a handful of radio stations, all state operated, four television channels and a heavily proscribed media. That much is forever out of the window. With the advent of smartphones everybody has material tailored for their distinct preferences and biases. In this you can to a degree regulate media policy and prevent the spread of extremist material, but even then, tech savvy extremists are always a step ahead of even the best intelligence. 

I would argue that the destruction of the voluntary ethos has made us more vulnerable in that scouts and cadets are no longer part of the traditional childhood - where stranger danger and state bureaucracy puts people off volunteering. We are all increasingly living insular and selfish lives - and lonelier too, which goes some way to explaining the rise in male suicides. As much as anything we need to reintegrate men and find ways of socialising young people and including them. In this I can report that my experience of cadets was wholly positive, introducing me to some excellent role models - but the problem being that radicalisation actually starts much later where it is much harder to detect. 

In that regard universities and colleges could add a dimension of compulsion to attend social and non-teaching programmes, but this would require considerable funding and would more than likely encounter public resistance. The fact is that we are not culturally or politically prepared to do all these things - not least since there is no guarantee that it would even work. It would seem that the consequence of being a prosperous and liberal society is a cultural vacuum which cannot be filled. That feeds into much of what this blog has discussed on the matter of Brexit - the social divisions and the loss of identity. This is fundamentally a question of belonging.

There are then questions as to how we conduct our foreign policy. In what ways can we bring an end to the conflicts that create festering incubators of jihad and whether we can tackle the spread of poisonous and corrupt ideas - and while we maybe could do something with international development, we cannot expect to see results inside a century. We can maybe do more to cut off income streams from counterfeiting and fraud but we're always behind the curve in that.

So how can we stop another Manchester? Put simply, we can't. Our best efforts will be defeated. That which we can do is already being done. Could we be better at it? Sure. Would it make us a bit safer? Maybe. Do the conditions where hate thrives go away? Nope.

There are those who argue that Poland doesn't have a problem like this because it doesn't have Muslims to the same extent. Poland is still socially conservative, considerably more religious and not anything like as liberal as the UK. It's why their young people come to live here. It's why Muslims come here and not Poland. As much as anything this is because Poland has not experienced the same rapid economic development. In that regard, if we are saying the solution is to become less liberal and poorer, then maybe Brexit does make us safer?

But then that has always been the question hasn't it? How much liberty and prosperity do you trade for safety. And while we can get misty-eyed at the community that existed when we were poorer, it meant few choices, poorer health and less space for personal growth. We can put on our Sunday best and get back in the habit of church, doff our caps to our feudal masters and reinstate the patriarchy and be just like Poland. A place where there are still moves to ban abortion. It may be safer, but not better. 

The Islamist looks upon the West with disgust. We are in their eyes decadent and morally degenerate. That is why they hate us. There is nothing we can really do to accommodate them. We could change our society to full the spiritual vacuum, and in so doing reduce the risks - and there are plenty of good conservative arguments for doing so, but the only way to be truly safe from them is to become them - and that is simply out of the question.

Again we are forced to conclude that the only response to this is to carry on being who we are, warts and all. If we are to become a militarised society with increasingly intrusive government, with armed police on the streets, where people have to conceal their individuality to be free from persecution then way may as well surrender now. Our enemies will have won.  

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