Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The battle begins

It is easy to see the assassination of Dana Seetahal as the ending of a life. That is, for a large part, what it is to most of us. But it is also the furtherance of something far more sinister, and a milepost marking our wrong turn, our continued descent into dangerous places.

More assassinations will come. This is not the end. Far from it.

We were upset when Akiel Chambers “drowned’’. We recoiled in horror at the ghastly treatment of Sean Luke. We grieved for the murder of former West Indies captain Stollmeyer, for Christopher Aleong, shot by his car, for Corporal Clapham, murdered outside the Woodbrook police station. We are shocked when assassinations are carried out in the precincts of our courts, and when adults violently assault other people’s children in our schools.

And yet, we have done nothing.

Our inaction is driven by six crippling factors. The first is fear. That we have a culture of violence and assassination here has been tacitly accepted, so the problems have continued unchecked. In denial, we ascribe reasons for the murders of high society people we witness (we have stopped grieving for the murdered poor). I have heard many hypotheses about what happened to Ms Seetahal. This sense-making blunts the impact of the atrocity, and makes us believe that we are safe because we are not doing what she was doing so nobody wants to kill us.

The look-the-other-way syndrome has allowed for the development and perfection of killing dexterities in relative obscurity, far from prying eyes, the occasional demonstration of which leaves us in horror. Few have the courage to attack this head-on, because to do so means almost certain death.

The privileged classes will express shock and dismay, but when it comes to the exercise of political influence to arrest the problem, such token expressions fade away, good intentions dwarfed by the monumental scale of the challenge that presents itself to those who dare to look.

The second factor is therefore ignorance, manifesting as the society’s profound miscalculation about the size and nature of the security problem. In this there is a significant information asymmetry, because there are people here who see the monster very clearly, and know full well that this is not the end, but rather the acceleration of a very dangerous trend.

However, in general we have kept our heads in the sand and treated the lawless part of our society as a criminal fringe, never willing to recognise, far less acknowledge, that this body of people has moved from an edge of our democracy to become a society of its own. And that society has different morals and different beliefs, some of which have a religious edge.

So the third factor is religion. What started decades ago as a division of class was obscured by intellectual misdiagnoses about race, which unfortunately sat well with decades of political irresponsibility, leaving space for fermentation of dangerous ideas.

In our case this has now taken on a theological dimension, and as many countries are finding out, poverty, perceptions of inequality and radical ideas peddled with a religious slant are an extremely dangerous cocktail. Newspaper reports are only now coming to appreciate what has been painfully obvious for some time—that a number of our people are travelling for theological reasons but crossing borders to fight in dangerous places. They return home radicalised, well-trained, battle-hardened and extremely violent. And they are really hard to spot because they cluster in places people associate with peace and love—places of worship.

We may have captured Ms Seetahal’s murderers, but we have not stopped the movement. It now has a life of its own.

Fourth, just as this was happening, the State miscalculated and took apart critical components of its intelligence infrastructure. The dismantling of this, at precisely the time that terrorists among us were growing more sophisticated, was a strategic mistake of massive proportions committed by the political class. Our intelligence is now driven by technology, but we still need human assets on the ground to support pre-emptive security postures. We do not have them.

The State is rebuilding this infrastructure, but it will take years and a lot of money. Music to the ears of some, but toys alone isn’t going to solve this problem and the human infiltration required is even harder. So we are very much in reaction mode.

Fifth, much of what passes for radio and television talk shows here, particularly by social activists and political commentators, is beginning to resemble hate speech. Parallels to radio exhortations in Rawanda during their civil war can be found.

Bacchanal has created cynicism and indignation, and many people arrive at work angry, having been regaled by commentary that supposedly exposes the stupidity or corruption of public figures but which in fact are extreme and intolerant views unsupported by data.

The steady diet of manufactured controversy by some irresponsible journalists has wholly diminished the quality of our national fabric. Every time someone says this, journalists howl. They would do well to improve their skills instead, and the society should be willing to invest to ensure that they do so.

We have not, and some journalists and radio and TV hosts continue to foster intolerance if not outright hatred. This feeds a seething rage in the society that is now unstoppable.

Sixth, because we have not seen and therefore cannot acknowledge the scale of the internal threat against us, we are unable to come to terms with the sheer force now required to get this under control. This is not about the defence of a nation, contrary to the Ministry of National Security’s advertisements.

It is about taking back our space, and for that to happen we must offend, not defend.

We do not have the fortitude yet for the kind of aggression that is required to win back our peace. We misunderstand what it is going to take to get the genie back into the bottle. We do not yet see that to win this, we must attack, not defend, and we have the courage to do neither.

And so, in the face of our paralysis, the storm has gathered. The dogs of war have assassinated a State prosecutor and legal luminary. She will not be the last. Watch for more as the agenda for destabilisation unfolds. We have run out of time.

Now, the battle begins.

• Rolph Balgobin is an

Independent senator