Sunday, June 4, 2017

Reflections on transforming leadership in a fast-flowing changing culture

One cannot help but note the targets of the Islamic terrorist attacks, that seem to cluster around contemporary scenes and events: popular music concerts, bars, vacation venues, tourist soft targets like Nice on Bastille Day, crowd-magnets of innocent and unsuspecting innocents. One cannot help but note also that these monstrous tragedies feed more similar attacks, in which the most elementary and crude “tools” or instruments are used to kill: vans, transports, knives, home-made bombs strapped to suicide bombers and even fake combat vests to frighten all.

Recruitment, self-fulfilling and sustaining violence as the agent of fear, disorientation and the distraction of building a massive ‘homeland security’ apparatus that takes money and human resources away from the ‘normal’ provision of human services….these are totally irreconcilable forces. Normal anticipated and expected government initiatives (the provision of schools, hospitals, scientific research, foreign aid and even the national security apparatus) all have resources (both fiscal and human) pulled away from their normal pathways in order to be directed to protecting us from these monsters….really petty criminals whose toxic life purpose has been so squashed into wreaking havoc for the sake of more havoc.

One of their most favoured tools is the social media, whose censorship is complicated and impeded by the national laws rules and regulations that do not permit or encourage internationally-imposed restrictions. With most digital companies operating from the United States, for example, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is highly restricted in any impulse to ask that corporation to shut down all accounts accessed by the Islamic terrorists. Freedom of speech, a noble and laudable national value then is turned on itself by these terrorists, as an instrument both of recruitment and strategic planning and execution. And, thus far, the immediacy and urgency of the crisis does not give governments, including the legal systems, either time or open pathways to surgically block the flow of digital information that enables the flow of dangerous information (how to make a bomb) and the flow of money to finance these operations. Information sharing, another laudable and worthy value, especially between national security officials and departments, while potentially enhanced by digital technology, does not have a similar infrastructure that we have built to research and attack biological microbes like the ebola virus.

And this new transnational terrorist threat can be compared with a microbial virus, lethal, constantly morphing, spreading in ways we have yet to block, and for which we do not have an antidote sufficiently sophisticated that it can effectively combat this toxic virus. The military and the law enforcement components of our established institutions, while over-worked and potentially underfunded in many quarters, are by definition (not by competence) inadequate to defeat this enemy.

Even the galloping advances in technology are part of the “problem” in that the terrorist cells are on the cutting edge of technology, and the institutions that are designed to protect citizens in many countries are scrambling to catch up and to stay ahead of the moving and morphing technology. So there is both a micro and a macro aspect to just the technology divide: micro in the specific devices, and macro in the cross-border legal ‘protections’ and barriers to international co-operation.

To say that the world, no matter where you live, is growing increasingly uneasy, is an understatement. To say that the world will not surrender or yield to the terrorist threat is also an understatement. Witness, the upcoming concert in Manchester later today, both as an act of defiance and as a fund-raising opportunity, that will be broadcast around the globe. To say that Muslims of good faith have an integral role to play in the universal effort to combat Islamic terrorism is another understated truth. To say that the non-Muslim community does not fully comprehend the divide that currently exists within the Islamic world is obvious, and our individual and collective “ignorance” (I do not know) needs to be addressed is also obvious.

Touting platitudes, however, is little more than putting band aids on a deadly tumor: superficial, ineffective and probably more inhibiting than enabling of counter-terrorist research and initiatives by the people who really grasp the nuances of the “disease”. We simply do not comprehend actions like those of trump in selling $365 billion in military materiel to the Saudi’s over the next ten years, the demonstrated long-term funding source of the Salafi version of Islam around the world, and the violent enemy of the Shia Iran, thereby putting America in the middle of this intra-Muslim conflict.

We also do not understand the apparent balkanized efforts between and among nations to combat what muted voices are calling the “scourge of our time”. There is no country, and thereby no city that can confidently claim to be immune to this Islamic terrorist threat. Therefore, there is no perceptible reason to impede collaboration and co-operation even between countries normally at odds or even enemies, from working together deploying their best brains and their best intelligence and their research labs in a concerted, sustained and collaborative initiative on behalf of the world’s people.
Proposing ideas, that most likely have long been considered by the appropriate and deployed “brains” seems somewhat redundant also. The question of whether the world is confounded not by the most creative initiatives to fight Islamic terror but by the problem of securing geopolitical co-operation that is real and trust-worthy leaps to the fore. In many human issues, we face an ideological divide that pits immediate perceived domestic economic needs against longer term global exigencies. This is certainly the case over global warming and climate change, and potentially also over Islamic terrorism.

The Churchillian adage that America will do the right thing after it has attempted all other possibilities is no longer either acceptable or sustainable. Drawing up the draw-bridge over the moat that divides America from the rest of the world (as trump has done on climate) is not only dysfunctional on the issue, it is also modelling an attitude of the ostrich with its head in the sand on other issues. Not that the world defers to America as the sole or prime solution to all world problems. Yet, America’s seat at the table on all global issues can not and must not be left vacant when the world’s interdependence is so glaringly evident.

Devolution to the lowest common denominator, the most isolated and frightened electoral base, on terror and on global warming is not merely short-sighted but also highly dangerous to those very same people.

Collaboration, co-operation and international integration, of course, is far more complicated, and costly and more nebulous of easy identification of the leaders and the followers (not a playing field favourable to dictators) than personal edict. It is also at its root, the only pathway to a political, economic and balanced resolution with the most intransigent people and intractable issues. On intelligence sharing, ingenuity, deconstruction of national and sectoral barriers of pride and independence, and on the search for ways to do different things very differently than our history has previously done, these are at least a minimum that ordinary people of all nations should be able to expect from our political leadership.

We are growing tired of phrases like “We have been quite successful in deterring terrorist attacks” and demand more phrases and actions that demonstrate an international, collaborative and visionary plan that personal political careers are less important to decision-makers than the welfare of the people they serve, not only in their own country but around the globe.

These transnational existential threats will not succumb to merely national placebos or anodynes. Their complexity, severity and persistence require, even demand, the highest and most honest and trust-worthy leadership from all global leaders. And the media that serves as the microphone for world leaders will have to lift their eyes from the hourly ratings numbers, and the instant corporate dividend digital crawl and take stock of their responsibilities offering their audiences a far-more relevant and discerning perspective than the hourly or minute-by-minute dissection of how many people are running down which street and how many ambulances and fire trucks are on the current disaster scene.

We have to demand a different “framing” of our situation, one that serves the long-term interests of all humans, not merely the immediate narcissistic needs of the ‘big boys’ in politics, corporations and media. After all, without us, they are nothing!

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