Last week I was able to observe some of the top police brass doing what they do and it struck me how similar Community Policing is to Counterinsurgency. Both are methods used to control violence in fragmented multicultural areas by building trust and winning over tribal leaders in the hopes of lowering their group’s participation in crime and terrorism while getting them to cooperate with the local forces and act as informants on the bad guys.
In Afghanistan it may be a matter of navigating the Pashtuns, Hazaras and Tajiks, and their various families, while in Brooklynbad, Al-Minneapolis or Londonistan it’s Somalis, Turks and Lebanese, but it’s still much the same game. The big brass, in coordination with local activists who claim to represent the community leadership, unveil a new strategy which involves lots of face time, aid and respect for the assorted cultures involved. The boys in blue or khaki fall in line, but know that it mostly comes down to having enough boots on the ground and hoping that the locals are afraid enough not to try anything big.
We can of course withdraw from Afghanistan, send up the choppers in whirls of dust, ship the gear back home and trim down the military. And some of those ex-soldiers will go into local police forces and security companies where they will be doing the same thing they did back in Afghanistan, but with less firepower and more discretion, because while the people on the ground may be Pakistanis, Somalis or Iraqis, they have the right papers and are officially Americans or Europeans.
Withdrawing from Baghdad or Kabul is a snap compared to withdrawing from London or Los Angeles and even small towns are on the line. 3,000 Somalis showed up in Lewiston, Maine, pop. 36,000. Now Lewiston has nearly double the violent crime rate of the state average. In the Finnish town of Lieksa, it’s the same story. Or in Shelbyville, Alabama. There are Little Mogadishus all over which share the problems of the big Mogadishu. The bigger they get, the bigger the problems get.
There was always a thin line between community policing and counterinsurgency, but the rise of domestic Muslim violence has nearly eliminated the line as the insurgency comes home. In Afghanistan soldiers look for IEDs, while back in London or New York their law enforcement colleagues search for bombs in cars and bus stations. Angry bearded mobs shake their fists and threaten death in London and Jalalabad. And uniformed men visit mosques, take off their shoes and discuss working together with the local leaders on stopping the violence.
The war has already come home and the only real tactic on tap is cultural sensitivity. Display enough of it and you’ll win over the locals and if you win over the locals, they’ll help you stop the violence. And along the way the eyes of the law have to be closed to some of their nastier habits, like beating their wives and killing their daughters. If they turn violent when a Koran is burned, then everything possible has to be done to prevent anyone from ever torching one or drawing an offensive cartoon or doing anything else to light the fuse.
The failure in Afghanistan is predictive of the failures in Europe and America, and vice versa, all the glowing visions of girls going to school and a participatory society giving way to tribal enclaves, violent explosions and blood feuds. The drug dealers pass by the mosque and the corner grocery, while the suicide bomber and the rapist have their atrocities sanctified by the black book of the Koran.
Despite all the best efforts and the fortunes plowed into the project, integration never seems to take off, though there are plenty of spokesmen for it. The violence never goes away, no matter how much outreach takes place or how many young men and community leaders are bribed with aid money. And the clock always seems to keep moving relentlessly to the midnight hour when the masks come off, the bombs go off and the cities burn.
In Afghanistan we discovered that three cups of tea don’t work, but they also don’t work in London or New York. There are plenty of cordial meetings and some tips do come in. A Taliban attack in Helmand province, a suicide bombing on the A train to Far Rockaway, are headed off. And the brass smile and exchange handshakes because it’s working. But then next week three unreported attacks shake their faith. And the leaders they had three cups of tea with have a higher price this time because violence has become their asset, letting them take in money and support from both sides, while acting as intermediaries between the brass and the bombers.
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