In the aftermath of the debate on social resilience at the Fire Congress, Dr Dave Sloggett questions political messages about the resilience of society in the aftermath of the attack in Manchester.
It cannot be said to be ironic when exercise play during the Fire Congress suddenly crosses the divide between fact and fiction. Sadly all too often these days the gap between the two representations of the world narrows, making it easier for the world to take on an image that is apparently fictional in its nature.
In Manchester Arena on the evening of 22 May 2017 that divide between fiction and fact was crossed. What had been a desk top exercise held at the Fire Congress, suddenly took on a frightening reality. This was heightened by the fact that within twenty-four hours the threat level in the United Kingdom was increased to critical. An aspect played out in the Fire Congress scenario. It is the third time that the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), which decides on the basis of the overall intelligence picture, has increased it to this, its highest level.
On the two previous occasions it remained at that level for four days. Given the backdrop of the general election and the decision to mobilise troops onto the streets under the much planned Operation Tempera it seems unlikely that on this occasion the level will be reduced quickly. Imagine the furore, if the threat level was lowered before the election only to see another major attack occur?
That could quite literally change the outcome. Public opinion can be very unforgiving when it comes to government’s failing to provide the very basic levels of security; even if the alternative appears to have had long-term sympathies with terrorist groups.
Sadly the attack in Manchester is unlikely to be the last. Supporters of the so-called Islamic State (IS) took to social media within hours of the attack proclaiming that it was carried out by a “soldier of the Caliphate”. Despite the statements of reassurance being said by political leaders of all hues their narrative that the United Kingdom will remain strong and resolute does not easily chime with the way many are feeling.
Many people are feeling vulnerable and at risk. The day after Manchester people travelling on trains or walking down streets will be literally jumping every time they hear a muffled bang. For terrorists that is a win. When society at large becomes nervous the terrorists are succeeding.
It is a much used cliché in such situations that political leaders have to rise to the occasion. Another form this takes is to sound ‘Churchillian’. Evoking a by-gone era where one master of narratives was able to create texts that resonated with the British people. Sadly contemporary political leaders simply do not find such rhetoric easy to come by. They live in a world dominated by political correctness. Afraid to speak to the people in a language the people would grasp, fearing being accused of stoking racial or ethnic tensions.
This situation creates a society that is a lot less resilient. It makes it easier for terrorists to appear to win. In today’s social media environment, where expressions of grief appear so quickly and suddenly go viral, it is questionable if as a society we are resilient enough to deal with a series of tragic events.
Generation ‘snowflake’ as younger people have been called is real. It means that society at large is vulnerable and less resilient. A point made at the Fire Congress and one agreed on by all attendees. While we may not yet fully understand how that vulnerability manifests itself fully it is a reality. For society to be able to be sustained, in what might be a new wave of terrorism triggered by IS, it is important that this reality is grasped. To allow it to cross the divide into fiction will only make our society even less resilient than it manifestly is today.