Editorial | Responding to the threat of terror
Ten days ago, at a function to commission the Jamaica Defence Force's two new coastguard vessels, Prime Minister Andrew Holness warned against complacency in the face of global terrorism. Not because there have been no major incidents in the Caribbean should we believe that it can't, or won't, happen here, the PM explained.
Mr Holness, of course, is right. For Jamaica, like most, if not all, of its Caribbean neighbours, has many of the conditions that make it susceptible to the threats of, and a seemingly soft target for, international terrorists. But there are also the dangers from home-grown ones, even without the ideology of Islamic extremism.
As Mr Holness noted in his March 4 remarks, and as this newspaper has stressed many times, Jamaica sits smack in the middle of one of the world's busiest sea lanes, and many of the ships that traverse it stop at our ports, including cruise ships that each year bring more than a million visitors to the island. Further, Jamaica is a location for many businesses owned by companies in countries against which the extremist organisations, like the so-called Islamic State (IS), declare themselves to be at war.
Jamaica, with territorial waters more than 20 times its land mass - its new vessels and helicopter fleet notwithstanding - does not have the hardware, technical infrastructure or manpower to, on its own, neutralise that threat.
Indeed, the weakness of the Jamaican State, and the risks therefrom, was dangerously exposed by Christopher Coke's militia with their 2010 attempt to resist the crime boss' arrest for extradition to the United States. Significantly, that was an entirely domestic affair. Coke's foot soldiers were primarily socially excluded youth who found cover in a community sustained and protected by criminal patronage. They would have come mostly from the estimated 240,000 youth who are not in school, without jobs, and who, the males especially, are, according to the University of the West Indies (UWI) social anthropologist Herbert Gayle, most at risk for recruitment into gangs and to other antisocial behaviour.
In other words, this group is not only the one from which domestic criminals, by and large, flow, but fits the profile from which entities like IS increasingly recruit. It is not sufficient to argue that Jamaica is far removed from that world, or that it entertains a different religious ideology than IS, for nearly 100 Trinidadians have been to Syria to fight for the Islamist group, many of whose fighters are socially excluded Christian coverts who were ripe for radicalisation.
Indeed, as Dr Gayle and others have articulated, and this newspaper has promoted, Jamaica must urgently pursue a sustained, long-term programme to rescue its at-risk young people. It, at the same time, must have a hard-security engagement against terrorism.
The latter project is one that it can't do alone. That is why, in the aftermath of the Coke affair, we suggested that Jamaica join the Regional Security System, a security pact between the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and Barbados, which should be elongated to the northern Caribbean. Further, 15 months ago we proposed that Jamaica assume a more aggressive role in the Caribbean Community's Implementation Agency for Crime (IMPACS), as well as the Regional Fusion Intelligence Centre, through which the Community is to share intelligence. The point is that we believe the 'low-probability' , Tier Three, terror-threat ranking that IMPACS in 2013 assigned to the Caribbean may well have understated the danger.