Opinion: Just remember we’re all human

antony Gormley statue by kungfugenWhen young adults, who may even at the time have been members of prestigious universities and their more infamous clubs, became intoxicated and indulged in aggressive or loud and disturbing speech, violent actions or were simply careless and destructive, did we automatically assume that when they matured they would behave that way for the rest of their lives? We did not. Indeed some may still be thought fit to take part in the running of our country.

When young adults or older youths indulge in isolated incidents of unwise pyromania, do we say that they will be pyromaniacs for life? We do not, and in general they are not.

When Laurie Lee amongst many others went to fight elsewhere in Europe, when young people from the UK become mercenaries or if they were to become involved in activities in the Ukraine, do we believe that they will necessarily continue to be active in that line for life? No, we do not. Did they or would they bring their activities back to Britain? No, they did not.

When youths and adults are recruited by gangs, the police told me that most will leave them by a certain age. I worked with the police and several dozen organisations in our area to successfully disrupt recruitment to gangs, to redirect the attentions of those on the fringes of gangs and to draw people in the middle of gangs out of violence and into gainful activity, over a whole borough for a sustained period.

If you study anthropology, you will probably  give me many more examples of young adult aggression which generally disappears later in life should the young adult survive the initial violence.

So why do we think that young adults who are recruited into violence in a few parts of the world will buck that trend and will in significant numbers present a threat to our nation with which we cannot cope in the way other countries do, such significant numbers that we need to continue to implement universal surveillance which has been declared unlawful across Europe? Is it because we do not understand that they too are humans and will follow human patterns? Is it because we show prejudice because their appearance, style of dress or family background may be different from ours? Or is it simply the expression of our own xenophobia and our own inability to engage with people different from ourselves?

There is no time like now for the state to give up its dependence on over-intrusive, universal surveillance. We need to learn to cope without it. The longer we live with it the longer it will sap the lifeblood of our democracy.  Doing nothing, however, is not an option.

Techniques for disrupting recruitment to organisations promoting violence and for removing those on the fringes, though surprisingly little used, do work. They involve lateral thinking. I believe that they would work in these cases too. It is just a case of doing so with confidence, with rigour and with success, spreading these techniques to all of Britain’s communities so that we can reclaim our young.


Photo by kungfujen shows one of the figures from Antony Gormley’s “Another Place” installation on Crosby Beach

* Marisha Ray is a Liberal Democrat London Assembly Candidate for the Barnet and Camden constituency; she was a London Assembly London wide list candidate in 2012 and 2016, a parliamentary candidate in a 2012 by-election, and the 2015 and 2017 General Elections.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jul '14 - 3:11pm

    Thanks for the article. I give it half marks. I was enjoying the parts about us all being human, but you lost me by going down the anti surveillance route.

    Promoting the idea of humanity is important, this spreads understanding and empathy, but we need a more balanced message on surveillance. Part of being human is also wanting to defend ourselves, whether this be from individuals, the state or whoever.


  • David Cameron was a member of an Oxford drinking club whose worst crime appears to have been trashing private dining rooms in restaurants – and then leaving the owner a large pile of cash to repair the damage.

    Nick Clegg has confessed to once “singeing the beards” of several prize cacti with a cigarette lighter.

    The British Jihadis in the news recently have reportedly been chopping people’s heads off.


    We can certainly put the first two down to youthful over-exuberance, but is chopping people’s heads off really in the same category?

  • So why do we think that young adults who are recruited into violence in a few parts of the world will buck that trend and will in significant numbers present a threat to our nation with which we cannot cope in the way other countries do, such significant numbers that we need to continue to implement universal surveillance which has been declared unlawful across Europe?

    Perhaps it’s because the ‘young adults’ recruited into violence can do quite a lot of damage before they grow out of their aggressive phase (if, indeed, they manage to avoid ever growing out of it by blowing themselves up)?

    For instance, the ‘young adults’ who were ‘recruited into violence’ by the IRA, UVF et al managed to kill several thousand people.

    Perhaps we might want to use all tools at our disposal to try to make sure that, while these ‘young adults’ are in their aggressive phase, they kill as few people as possible, and that for every one they do manage to kill those responsible are hunted down and punished?

  • Richard Dean 14th Jul '14 - 3:30pm

    This article seems to fly in the face of the reality of what the British jihadis who have gone to fight with IS say. Only a couple of days ago there was someone on Sky saying the Brits should fear him.

    Young adult aggression disappears as young adults become parents and recognize the valuable support that society gives to them in their lives. That’s not going to happen to those jihadi’s. Instead, unless we fight and defeat them, they will see that brutality brings what they would regard as “success” – equivalent to a gang being successful and continuing to be a gang as a result.

    Few in the electorate would disagree that some form of surveillance has its place in the arsenal of tools that a responsible government must use to counter this threat. Relative to this over-arching concept, the present arguments are about some of the important details.

  • Agree with the posters so far. This is a well-meaning but fairly naive article. It’s one thing to say “It’s just a phase he’ll grow out of” when we’re talking about someone who throws stones at windows, but quite another when it’s someone who blows up bridges and shoots people in the head for believing in the wrong god.

  • Jonathan Brown 14th Jul '14 - 9:56pm

    Interesting article Marisha, thanks.

    I’m less interested in the point you make about surveillance and security, and the balance that needs to be struck, and more so by your point about treating people as human. I think this is an excellent point and one that frequently gets ignored. Your last paragraph is, I think, the one that we should really be taking something from.

    We need to understand that however vile the organisation(s) these kids are linking up with, and however awful the actions they are at risk of being caught up in, they are still kids. To limit our response to them entirely to security is to miss a great opportunity to intervene and stop them even getting to the point where they go out and join up with terrorist groups.

  • @Jonathan Brown
    “We need to understand that however vile the organisation(s) these kids are linking up with, and however awful the actions they are at risk of being caught up in, they are still kids.”

    Most of the ones in the news recently have been well in to their twenties. At what age do people stop being “kids” these days?

  • Jayne Mansfield 14th Jul '14 - 10:22pm

    ‘ Just remember we re all human’.

    I think that you are directing your plea at the wrong people Marisha. The men that you are referring to are not following human patterns, they have , by their own words, allowed themselves to descend into barbaric nihilism.

    They neither know or care who they slaughter, whether the victims look the same or different to them , dress like them or have the same family background as them.

    The issue of surveillance is a separate one for me. I want surveillance that is in accordance with Human rights law.

  • I do not believe people who intend to fight in conflicts abroad are a threat to us. They would be ideal citizens if we could make them stay. Atrocities inflicted onto fellow humans are real. However, there is a lot to be done at home that requires same selflessness. Dictators of Syria and Egypt could not have committed their crimes in broad daylight if rest of the world had not turned a blind eye. Many young people went to fight in Bosnia and Chechnya too. Assad is nothing less than Milošević. I wish wars did not happen, dictators and occupiers did not exist. Oppressors use every act of resistance as an excuse to crash people brutally and foreign fighters complicate it further for the locals. We could explain the risk of being exploited in a conflict that is usually more complex than it seems. We could explain to them from experience of colonialism that direct interference in conflicts abroad has never helped the situation. Getting involved in a war is a traumatic experience. Because wars are the worst humanity can get. Upon returning every individual, a professional soldier or volunteer fighter, should receive psychological support to overcome the trauma. I hope that nobody has to go through such a trauma. I long for a world where people and countries exchange their goods at the right price in a free market instead of ruining it for the rest to satisfy the greed of the few.

  • Jonathan Brown 15th Jul '14 - 2:44am

    @ Stuart – a (mostly) fair point. The broader point I think Marisha is making though – and which I would support – is that these kids / young men – are not that different to young men all over the world. Every society and every age has had problems directing – and giving direction to – these people.

    The ability of jihadist organisations to channel this is a particular worry for us now, but it’s a modern variation on something that has happened over and over again. And something that can be addressed in various ways besides (just?) surveillance and violence.

  • Richard Dean 15th Jul '14 - 4:27am

    @Jonathan Brown.
    I agree. A place like IS can look like a wonderful adventure to some naïve young boys and girls, a solution to problems, maybe even a badge of adulthood. Some may go just to find out what’s happening, or even to argue against the barbarism. Some may go specifically to do evil not knowing it as such, and some will go knowingly.

    Many will come back traumatized rather than radicalized, and as UK citizens they have a right to support for healing. But some will come back with evil intentions. Surveillance should not be the security services’ only response, but it does have a useful role to play.

    There must be other ways of allowing people to engage meaningfully with the issues without radicalizing them. Hemingway covered the Spanish Civil War as a reporter. Neither Orwell nor Lee actually did much fighting in that war. Medical and humanitarian aid organizations provide ways that people can help without destruction.

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