Two particular news reports have caught my eye in the last few days.
The first was about vehicle rentals – specifically the call for a robust review of current UK procedures for hiring vans.
In response to the horrifying European terrorist attacks of recent months, it was suggested that the authorities ought to make it more difficult for would-be mass murderers to secure the use of their preferred mode of transport (and destruction).
The second story was about trains – revisiting an old proposal about introducing women-only carriages. It was a reaction to (entirely understandable) concerns about a rising number of reported sexual assaults committed against female victims on public transport.
And you would be forgiven for thinking that, despite what may well have been the best of intentions, both suggestions had rather missed the point.
The simple fact is that the evils of modern terrorism will not be overcome by a bit of incidental tinkering with vehicle rental regulations. We might actually need to look a little further and deeper than that – starting with the urgent need to confront and challenge the mindset and behaviour of those who glory in death.
And the evils of sexual assaults on trains will not be overcome by isolating potential victims in secure carriages. We might actually need to look a little further and deeper than that – starting with the urgent need to confront and challenge the mindset and behaviour of men who regard women as no more than objects to be abused for their own gratification.
As a brief aside, the latter idea recalls to mind an appearance at the Oxford Union, several years ago, by the actor Leslie Nielsen. If memory serves right, he was invited to speak about crime prevention in the guise of Lieutenant Frank Drebin – his bumbling character from the Naked Gun films. Lt Drebin duly proposed the creation of ‘Victim Compounds’ – secure locations where decent, law-abiding folk could be corralled for their own protection, leaving the men of malice and violence to roam the streets and fight amongst themselves.
Satire colliding with reality.
But here’s the thing: it is undoubtedly that little bit easier to introduce segregation on trains than it is to resolve the generational ills of misogyny and male violence. And it’s fractionally more straightforward to introduce a bit of extra form filling at car rental firms than it is to unpick extremist ideologies that are beyond the comprehension of most of us.
Terrorism and violence are difficult you see.
And difficult demands far too much of us. Difficult takes far too long. Difficult costs far too much. Difficult is, well, just too difficult.
So we change the focus – and we fix our attention on the short term. We want to be seen to be doing something – anything – about the particular wicked problem in front of us. And so we pursue quick fixes – sticking plasters that turn out not to be solutions at all. At the same time, we turn away from the prospect of a far greater good – because it requires too much time; too much energy, too much in the way of resources. Because it’s just too damn difficult.
But it hasn’t always been so.
When William Wilberforce and Olaudah Equiano and Hannah More first confronted the evils of the slave trade in the 1790s, they understood that there were no quick fixes. No easy solutions. So they devoted their entire lives to its abolition. They were prepared to do whatever it took, for as long as it took.
And they remain amongst the greatest heroes of our history.
Terrorism & Violence against Women are two of the overwhelmingly urgent issues of our time. And we aren’t going to fix them overnight – or in anything like the tight timescales demanded in this impatient world of ours. In fact, it might just take a generation.
You could say the same about Knife Crime; about Child Abuse; indeed, about Modern Slavery.
And if we are serious about finding answers to these seemingly impossible challenges, we need to be prepared to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes.
Or we will just keep on missing the point.