The rapid spread of protests demanding special treatment for a detainee charged with trying to kill a former prime minister, and the ever-greater self-confidence with which violent groups act on the streets and in universities, suggest that our society is facing its own Rubicon.
The tolerance for symbolic, so-called “low intensity” violence is turning into a tolerance for real violence which does not appear to have limits.
The violent groups are nourished by such tolerance but also by reactions against them: Impunity enables them to recruit more members, to broaden their actions and targets; any effort to curb them, on the other hand, “justifies” the group in the eyes of its members, suggesting that their actions are important enough to provoke a reaction, and strengthens its cohesion and morale.
Years of the state’s uneasiness in dealing with the issue, governments’ fears lest they be accused of authoritarianism and a long-standing myth that indifference to the law and to the lives of class enemies is proof of ideological purity have contributed to the spread of violence.
When the state does not impose laws fairly, it strengthens extremist groups and it encourages more citizens either to join such groups or to sink into indifference and fatalism. The state’s dysfunction provokes further dysfunction and more conflict. Violence begets violence.
When “normality” is perceived as society providing rights to convicts and detainees (which, of course, it ought to), but does not extend to protecting citizens and their property, this undermines normality and justice for all. If the state protects all citizens, including prisoners, police and judicial officials, if it uses the law to the benefit of the whole society, it does not contribute to spreading anarchy and tolerating violence.
Now, any effort to impose the law will provoke new violence – groups that now enjoy the right to violence will not give it up without a fight. This government will not take effective action, nor will a future one be able to impose the law without bloodshed.
It is now up to society – to individuals, to officials, groups and news media – not only to support the parties that aim for a society ruled by law but also to defeat the ideology of violence and lawlessness.
Maybe this will end the senseless admiration of foolish misfits who consider themselves the hard core of an endless revolution against their own nation.