‘Good men’ must do something if we are to survive these turbulent times
How can we digest the almost continuous flow of worrying news in recent weeks capped by the truly catastrophic and apparently entirely avoidable fire at Grenfell Tower? How can we make sense of the threats posed by a sequence of terrorist attacks in London and Manchester? Where does the alarming decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from the Paris Accord on Climate Control fit in this scenario where the will of the majority is opposed by that of the United States? These developments are linked by the fact that we all know about them as they happen in the 24/7 world of constant news feeds; we are made immediately aware of breaking crises and the need for political leaders to comment on them. They call for robust responses and confident and sometimes courageous rebuttals. Yet our leaders are found wanting and incapable of dealing with the forces of fury that are unleashed.
Extremism and Terrorism
First the terrorist attacks. In her recent statements the Prime Minister has addressed the need to adopt a new approach and a much more aggressive focus on eradicating fundamentalism from our society. As she put it “it is time to say enough is enough,” a sentiment endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn and other political leaders. Not only in Europe but increasingly in Asia, the consequences of the conflict in Syria and the Middle East are being felt as the overspill of jihadists has an impact in the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere.
Dr Tawfik Hamid, a speaker at the Asia Scotland Institute last year, is clear on the forces that have contributed to the proliferation of radical Islam. The author of Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why It Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat It, he details his bold plan for Islamic reformation that could eventually change the jihadists’ minds and end their reign of terror. He is clear that for too long tolerance of extremism and attempts to reach politically correct solutions have played into the hands of extremists and as a former physician he likens this terrorism to a cancer that can only be cured through surgical operation. While Muslim communities must be held accountable and reject the aggressive teachings of rogue imams, this challenge has to be handled on a global scale and in a closely coordinated manner. Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge/Borough Market are forcible reminders in the UK.
With over 20,000 suspected jihadists in the UK, the scale of the security and policing challenge is very significant.
Global coordination is what we all believed had been achieved with the landmark Paris Climate Agreement. Saving the world from this threat was something that nations working together would successfully address. So our disappointment at President Trump’s announcement from the Rose Garden of the White House was palpable. The global media pointed to the abrogation of leadership on environmental issues by the US Administration and ironically that leadership role will almost certainly be assumed by China. In the topsy turvy world of global politics this was hardly a scenario that many would have envisaged two years ago.
Even as we assess the consequences, many states and cities in the US have broken ranks with the administration and declared that they will continue to follow the Paris Accord. Michael Bloomberg has already pledged $15million to support the UN cause and said: “Americans will honour and fulfil the Paris Agreement by leading from the bottom up – and there isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us.” In the worst of times there may yet be a good outcome driven not by the President but by the voices of common sense in the United States and elsewhere.
Elections and Democracy
The sequence of elections in the US, UK and Europe, show democracy at work. Through the use of social media there has been a growth of populism and a move away from narrow nationalism. No doubt incensed by this, those who reject the election of leaders in this way – and would rather impose their own regimes – have increased their terrorist activity.
It has also attracted aggression of another kind through cyberattack and interference. The terrorist assaults briefly interrupted the democratic process but also generated universal condemnation from leaders around the world. It is possible that the events may be a catalyst to wake up those who believe in freedom and democracy and will encourage us to reassert ourselves.
Carne Ross, in his book The Leaderless Revolution, writes of how ordinary people will take power and change politics in the 21st century and the Asia Scotland Institute recently explored this concept and the urgent need for a contract to moderate the spread of fake or false news and the ability of non-state actors to attempt to influence events at the second of their Kinross House Meetings, held jointly with the Ditchley Foundation in late May. Yet what do we make of the misguided and poorly run recent general election where it seems that younger voters overturned the pollsters’ projections, voted against the Establishment and, at the time of writing, have helped put the Prime Minister’s future at great risk.
In her recent message to the people of the United Kingdom the Queen wrote the country had been “resolute in the face of adversity” but that “it is difficult to escape a very sombre mood”. In confronting the mounting challenges that seem to envelop us it is worth remembering what Edmund Burke wrote in the mid-18th century: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Hold the thought!
Roddy Gow, Founder and Chairman, The Asia Scotland Institute