Facing up to the post Paris challenges
As I write this, Europe and the wider world is trying to come to terms with the Paris tragedy. I cannot yet digest either what has happened or why. Initially, all that I could do was join with millions of others and express my sympathy for, and solidarity with the French. Like villages, towns and cities across the planet, Birmingham lit up its buildings in red, white and blue, held vigils and observed the Europe-wide minute of silence. #ViveLaParis went viral and rightly so.
Expressing concern and grief for the bereaved and injured are, of course, natural human emotions.
But so are anger and the desire for retribution. And almost as soon as the outpourings of compassion were expressed, so were the calls for revenge heard. These are feelings and intentions that are easy to understand, but difficult to reconcile.
So, against a complex to backdrop of international terrorism, where does the local authority role fit into all of this? We don’t make foreign policy. We don’t provide intelligence or counter-terrorism services (although we do work with those who do, of course). We don’t even run the school’s anymore (but we did give them some clear and well regarded advice).
Notwithstanding this, it is clear to me that, as the appointed civic leaders, it must be our job to support and complement our elected leadership in using its community leadership role to provide information, advice, guidance and – above all – reassurance to all our citizens that the actions of a few must not diminish or unduly change the rest of us. Additionally, we can do something that central government can’t easily replicate; reach out and reach in to every street, neighbourhood and community of our places; engage people in trying to understand and respond constructively to these troubling events; and work harder to comprehend and accept each other better.
For me, what’s happened in Paris creates an agenda for the whole of my city – for terrorism of the kind we have just seen is a threat to everyone. And, I am a little fearful presently, so we must act with alacrity. Many urban areas in the UK, Birmingham included, are struggling to manage and mitigate a rhetoric that can too easily conflate the actions of a terrible few with the benign culture/faith/values of the many. This is most acute at present with the adherents of Islam – but there are many other examples.
Therefore, in working to secure and build the cohesion of our communities, we have to challenge simplistic type-casting lest this, itself, becomes a further reason for grievance and jealousy amongst a wider body of hitherto upstanding citizens.
So, as we move forward from the terrible events of 13/11, councils across the land will be mobilising to bring the civic and the civil together to address openly and honestly what it is that we need to do to ensue that peace and love defeat hate and war every time.