A Shock to the Heart and a Sad Message for the Brain
At the outset, be reminded that what happens elsewhere might be the present of others. However, the event also threatens to become your future.
Let us cut back in time. In the early seventies, when new in Europe, to illustrate an aspect of the Greek city-state, I used to exploit the case of Kitty Genovese. She has been massacred in a residential area of New York. There were many “hear witnesses” for her slaughter took about half an hour. No one came to help as nobody wished to be involved. At the time, the kid’s – and the writer’s – conclusion was that “this could not happen here.” The passage of time has brought many changes. One of them is that “it is happening here.” Telling about it elevates the matter to a higher level.
To begin, a generally shared assumption. Some things are unlikely to happen because they are “impossible.” A fitting example: A blind person with cane and dog is safe from assault. The more so, if the fiction is set at mid-day in a frequented place. Now then, if some years ago you listed what could not happen, you would have mentioned the above that has occurred now and that reflects our culture’s deterioration.
Chur, a small town in Switzerland could be anywhere: thus the venue is unimportant. The event reported, no matter how atrocious, is surpassed by its implications. Therefore, the inference is of universal significance and it involves us all as potential victims and as tacitly abetting crime.
The facts. A blind person with his guide dog is waiting at a square close to the entrance of the railroad station. While pausing, the pair is attacked. The assailant kicks the dog and then strikes the blind man. (Here you are spared sordid details.) This improbable scenario escalates further into the realm of the improbable.
There are many witnesses but no one interferes. Then a bus driver registers the scene. He hurries to help, apprehends the impostor, drags him into the bus, locks him in and calls the police. This could be the end of a sad story. Only in this case, the saga continues.
Half an hour later, the attacker is back at the scene of his crime where he sucks empty a can of beer. That done, without any provocation, he fells a passer-by. The rest of the events are murky.
Perhaps the identity of the troublemaker will cast light on a problem we face. The man is an Ethiopian that has “stay” status. That means that his claim to be an innocent victim of government persecution has not been accepted by the lenient agency that handles requests for asylum. The “stay” is justified by the fear that, if sent home, he might be punished for having left illegally. Behind this lurks an unpleasant truth: Not all alleged refugees are victims, and not all of these migrants are peaceful. Apparently, some have traits that would make any good government target them. Supplying such elements with transportation, housing, medical care, clothing, legal counsel, and pocket money, is not necessarily a noble deed but a sign of the foolishness of the gullible.
The central point here is not the crime but the state’s reaction. Is there a law forbidding kicking a guide dog and punching his master? Hardly. Who would think of such an atrocity? The immediate release of the perpetrator is not a sign of police incompetence in Chur – or wherever you happen live. The laws were written with people in mind that had inhibitions, were capable of shame, and who had respect for civilization. The actions of the disrespectful, crooked, hostile and violent-by-principle are simply not covered.
Therefore, the problem can be located in us. Civilization, the way we have developed it for our own use, is being confronted with unanticipated enemies and with originally unforeseeable challenges.
Our well-proven laws, procedures, our humanitarian safeguards and the corresponding tenets of our political culture are being rendered selectively irrelevant. More than that, these ways and values are being converted into perilous weakness. Through this, our way of life is not only questioned, it is mortally threatened. Defending this way of life would be easy, if only the available instruments of power would be concerned. However, might has another aspect: it involves the ability to use its instruments. Therefore, the real threat is that the humanism that had been incorporated in our laws can be used, and is used, to subvert and destroy our order. Often, persons do this that are the beneficiaries of the system we have evolved.
Paraphrasing Lenin, the question is “What is to be done”? Having survived two totalitarian systems, the writer he must suggest seemingly radical measures that depart from our customs and cultural preconceptions.
We need to close by acknowledging that the traditional loopholes that aid the new criminality need to be closed. Unheard of crimes demand limited and carefully constructed counter measures.
The emergency powers of the police need to be redefined and strengthened. Possibly a new category, “crime against the community” might be created. Furthermore, the idea that lurks in the back of our head, namely that the hoodlum is somehow a victim needs to be reviewed. Our reorientation must include the awareness that the liberty of advanced societies can be subverted by exploiting freedom’s protection. Democracy shall not remain the last refuge of the scoundrel that abuses it. Mainly, however, we must become conscious that we have achieved something and, for that, we need not apologize. Even if this accomplishment is, as all man-made systems, imperfect, it deserves to be defended in its homeland against its enemies.