Time for zero tolerance

Published: September 19, 2010
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Start by saying no to petty crime.

Whether you agree or disagree with writers such as George Fulton and Fasi Zaka is a personal judgement. However, to one degree or the other, we all agree that something has to change; hopefully for the better.

With consistent spates of violence, it’s only by bringing about behavioural changes in the individual that we can hope to change our nation’s reality. We can no longer blame a corrupt and incompetent administration for its failure to protect its citizens. We have recognize its failure and deem it incompetent, otherwise, our individual continued silence and inaction draws us into the incompetency which is the status-quo.

The individual is rendered impotent by our nation’s elite. They control resources, treat the people that they are meant to serve as second class citizens and behave as if they are immune to the will of their constituents. Importantly they control the national narrative.

Turn on your television, radio or open a newspaper. While the nation floods, prices spike and law and order decays, the state is seen immersed in legal proceedings regarding the 18th Amendment, appointment of NAB prosecutors, etc. We are told that these intricacies of legislative and judicial process are in the interest of the common man.

Quite so! The very structure of our constitution is at stake. However, our masters seem more interested in the battle of ego’s rather than serving Pakistan’s citizens.

While our elite set the national narrative, we have gradually come to believe that as an individual, we have little control over what happens around us. Worse still, we believe that any contribution we make is of no consequence. We must reclaim the power of individual action. Forget the grand and the complex, small behavioural changes can usher in vast improvements.

Many comments and articles have demanded solutions rather than continued debate. In that spirit, I humbly suggest the following.

Start by saying no to petty crime

We are a very patient and tolerant people! We don’t consider the illegality and lack of social etiquette involved in breaking traffic signals, throwing our trash on the road while keeping our homes sparkling clean, turning a blind eye to minor offences, graffiti, noise pollution at unholy hours, mistreating servants etc. According to the broken window theory of criminology, tolerance of petty crime creates an enabling environment for serious offences to flourish.

For example:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if its unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a side-walk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

A recent example of the application of this theory was under Rudy Giuliani’s mayoralty in New York where serious crime was reduced, due to a zero tolerance policy on petty crime. Similar case studies of the Netherlands and Singapore are frequently cited. In Middlesbrough, UK, the local Mayor made cleanliness a top priority where crime was reduced by keeping footpaths along houses clear.

Take for an example the spiral of illegality that flows from a single, seemingly mundane activity. An underage driver is stopped by the police. The minor makes some phone calls; his parents throw their status around to have the policemen punished for his audacity to stop their child. The consequences of the initial crime are lost to all. The minor and his parents take pride in acting above the law, while the demotivated policeman rather than upholding the law becomes a bystander.

However, the onus as citizens is not on the administration or police to enforce laws and regulations regarding petty crimes. It is on the individual to change their attitude and behaviour towards such crimes. A child in Pakistan grows up socialized to believe that breaking traffic signals or driving without a license is not only acceptable, but a badge of honour. These behavioural changes are shaped by the actions of people in our surroundings. We must change our individual behaviour to determine the action of others.

Big projects, grand policies, which invoke, “revolutionary zeal” make for good posturing and good politics. However, it’s only in the efforts of the individual that true change can be achieved, where it matters most; within your household, amongst your neighbours and in your wider community.

This is not to suggest that by changing our behaviour, the Taliban will be vanquished or drone attacks will come to an end. However, in a country facing so many other challenges, given our resource constrains, the least we could do is to do our individual best to reduce the incidence of crime. If nothing else the environment within which we live in, our community may feel more secure. Rather than acting as a path towards violence and serious crimes, petty crime must no longer be tolerated.

At Least we would have acted. What excuses do we have left to do nothing?

nadir.eledroos

Syed Nadir El Edroos

Nadir teaches Economics at Bellerbys College, London and is interested in Pakistani politics and current affairs. He tweets @needroos (twitter.com/needroos)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.