Speaking Out

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 27th Dec)

When a terrorist act is committed, such as an active shooter incident, or a bombing, the spotlight immediately turns on those communities from which it is supposed that the terrorist comes, and time and time again the complaint is made that no one from that community is speaking out against terrorism; from which it is then inferred that the members of the community secretly support such acts. At the moment we in the west are living in a world, where all thoughts are focused on Islamic Jihadist terrorism, and the Muslim communities, and Muslims we live next to. I grew up in the UK, which at that time was experiencing bombing campaigns committed by the IRA, and the same complaint was made against Irish communities and individuals i.e. they weren’t doing enough to speak out against terrorism etc. If you identify/identified yourself as an Irish American in the 1970’s and 1980’s I would ask you to consider what you did to speak out against terrorism, and whether not speaking out meant that you supported the killing of men, women and children. Don’t think that I’m trying to advocate for a partitioned Ireland or make a political point. The IRA employed terrorism, and killed people in terrorist acts – that was their goal. Did you speak out against this?

Do not get me wrong there are certainly Muslim communities that do support Jihadist Terrorist, just as there were Irish communities that supported the IRA, however it would be wrong and dangerous to target every Muslim as a threat, just because they don’t speak out, or we possibly don’t hear them speaking out. If you talk to just about any Irish person living on the UK mainland in the 1970’s and 1980’s, they will tell you that they experienced a level of isolation, suspicion, and antagonism because being Irish associated them with the IRA. Whilst this experience may not have lead them to become direct supporters of the IRA, it certainly didn’t help make them anymore sympathetic to those being targeted by the IRA – especially when aggressive policing saw the conviction of innocent fellow countrymen etc. Part of any battle against terrorism is winning “hearts and minds”, so that not only do communities that terrorists draw their support from, turn their backs on them, but so that all communities, including the moderates who make up the majority, actively want to denounce and speak out etc. There is a huge difference between addressing an audience who is aggressive, judgmental and demanding a response, to one that wants to listen and hear what is being said.

Often we don’t hear what is being said. How many Muslim friends do you have/know? How many Muslims do you work with? Are you able to hear what is being said? I lived and worked in London for a number of years, and rubbed shoulders with, worked with many Muslims, many of whom were devout. I heard them denounce the 7/7 Tube and Bus bombings, and say that these killings were un-Islamic i.e. I heard them speak out. If your only channel to hearing a community speak out is the media, then you are going to be limited to what you hear, the news agencies you listen to, and what they have time for and want to report. Do certain agencies want to give time to Islamic community leaders speak out against terrorism, and do people actually want to hear that? Some do and some don’t. News Agencies are cynical organizations, and just because they don’t put people on the air, to talk about things, doesn’t mean that those individuals aren’t out there. Broaden what you read and watch, and you may start to hear the condemnation of terrorism by community leaders and spokespeople. However, for many people it may be easier to hold to a simple view that all Muslims and Irish are terrorists rather than take the time to do this. In a War on Terrorism, it is easier to have an easily identifiable enemy, than exercise discretion as to who actually constitutes the threat.

Oftentimes, community leaders have a reticence to be seen as speaking for others. It is easy to think that there is one, single Islamic community, with one single leader and spokesman. In truth communities are factious, with many different people holding many different views, some may even agree with some of the goals that terrorist groups want to achieve, but completely condemn the methods that they use e.g. there were many in Ireland who wanted to see the North reunified with the South, but did not support terrorist acts to achieve it etc. Because of this breadth and diversity of opinions, some leaders may be reluctant to speak out for fear of isolating part of their community, especially if that part may splinter and leave the mainstream, to side with more extreme groups etc. There is a call by some in the US that all mosques have to be investigated, searched etc. This is to completely misunderstand how an organization such as ISIS operates and recruits – it actively tells those individuals it is targeting, to stay away from the mosques, saying that these moderate institutions have sold out; it doesn’t want those it is trying to recruit to hear a moderate, reasoned message etc. Do not be fooled that footage of a rabid radical Iman in Gaza, urging the youth to go out and stab every Israeli citizen it sees, is representative of what goes on in every mosque. This would be like saying that Westboro Baptist Church services are representative of all church services.

Where terrorism is concerned we have to be effective, not right. We need the communities where terrorists are recruited, to be able to openly denounce the actions of extremist groups, and be supportive of the wider community – something that wasn’t achieved in the UK, with many Irish communities. We need members within these communities to feel a responsibility to inform security agencies, about those who they believe pose a threat/danger, and this means not acting in an antagonistic and aggressive manner towards their communities, as this will only isolate them further. This is not a conventional war where direct hostilities apply, even if you as an individual feels it is appropriate. Terrorist organizations recruit based on making people feel isolated and alone. By creating the right environment and giving mainstream media attention to community leaders, we will both hear more people speak out, and convince more.

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Active Shooters

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 20th Dec)

There is a difference between risk and consequence, however many people ignore this when it comes to personal safety. An “Active Shooter” situation/scenario is a high consequence one (you stand a good chance of being shot) but a low risk one i.e. you are unlikely to be involved in one – whatever your imagination and the media may tell you. A mugging is a relatively high risk, but low consequence crime i.e. you are more likely to be targeted, but the consequence is low: you lose your wallet/purse. Unfortunately, it is the dramatic, high consequence incidents that grab our attention, and get us thinking about violence, rather than the types of assault we are more likely to face. It is worth noting that there are high threat, and high consequence assaults that we forget, such as sexual assaults on women i.e. if you are a woman, worrying or focusing on “Active Shooter” incidents is probably the most inefficient use of your time/energy; as you are more likely to be sexually assaulted, and experience a similar or higher rate of trauma as you would if you were involved in an active shooter situation. In saying all of that, much of my own time recently has been spent dealing with individuals who believe that active shooter scenarios are the health and safety issues of the day. Because of this, I would like to spend some time, demonstrating how general personal safety issues can be used to increase your survival chances in an active shooter situation, and also/more importantly protect you from the higher risk situations that you are more likely to face (regardless of whether they are of low or high consequence).

The standard advice that is being given to people if they find themselves involved in an active shooter situation is to run, hide then fight. This is good strategic advice, however it doesn’t give any directions on the tactics that are required to be successful. It is akin to the police telling individuals to be more situationally aware, and to look out for suspicious activities etc., after a crime or spate of crimes have been committed e.g. how do you become more situationally aware? What are suspicious activities? This is not to knock the police, or question the advice, rather to illustrate that there is a big difference between telling somebody what to do, and teaching/training them in how to do it. Running away from danger is generally a good survival strategy, but you need to know where you are running to. Simply, following everyone else may not be a good idea; it may be that the shooter(s) is funneling people towards a particular and obvious exit, so that an accomplice can have a mass of people to shoot at. It may be that the people you are following, are working to an out dated and inappropriate survival strategy – when the planes hit the Twin Towers on 9/11, many people headed up rather than down, as previously when there had been a fire in one of the towers, people had been air-lifted from the roof. When faced with danger, running/disengaging is a great idea; however you need to know where you are running to i.e. you need to have a direction to go in.

Good situational awareness that is appropriate for general safety will give you this. If you are concerned with your personal safety, you should be thinking about fire safety, as well as active shooter scenarios. If you are staying in a hotel, you are much more likely to be involved in an evacuation due to fire, than because of an active shooter i.e. fire is a much greater risk, and carries a similar consequence to an active shooter. The same plan for exiting due to fire, will generally work for an active shooter situation. That is, you don’t need a radically different plan. Your plan for exiting a building due to fire, will require little to no modification if you have to exit due to an active shooter. Is it good to know the specifics of fire safety, and the specifics of an active shooter situation? Absolutely. However, if you don’t know where the exit and entry points, such as the fire escapes are, the specifics of the danger are irrelevant. It is no good having specific personal safety plans/ideas, if this is not founded upon a good general safety basis. Awareness of your environment is not specific to active shooter scenarios, it is something you should have all the time. Fire safety may not be sexy or trendy, but it should be something that concerns you as much as an active shooter situation.

Hiding is an appropriate survival strategy when involved in an active shooter scenario, but is shouldn’t compromise your ability to fight, if necessary – and this is where a simple piece of advice, such as run, hide, fight, can be interpreted too simplistically. These are not three separate individual choices, but a continuum of ideas, that may flow/run into each other. It is possible to hide in such a way that you are basically putting yourself in a coffin e.g. you can get inside a cabinet, or hide under a desk etc. In these situations, if you are noticed it will be game over for you – you have no ability to defend yourself/attack your assailant. You can also hide in a way that allows you to fight. If you work in an office or school environment there are several cheap ideas that can be implemented to help increase the survival chances of those who have to hide. Fitting the windows with blinds that can block sunlight, so that a room can remain in complete darkness will impair a shooter’s visibility (it may be worth smashing light bulbs if involved in an incident, so that a shooter can’t turn the lights on). Fitting doors with internal locks, that would require training to breach (most gunmen won’t have trained this skill), may cause a shooter to move on to another room etc. Even having something as simple as a door stop that can be wedged under a shut door will slow down a shooter’s entry, and possibly create the space and time for the “fight” component to be effective. The fight component doesn’t have to be sophisticated, and may involve nothing more than rushing the shooter (preferably from the side, as they enter the room), bear hugging them, and possibly the weapon, and taking them to ground etc. Short and long barrel disarming skills are good to have, but in certain situations big, simple, non-technical solutions have their place (especially if you are trying to co-ordinate untrained individuals).

Having a strategy, understanding how to tactically employ it, and what to do as a last resort, are the things that will increase your survival chances. If you don’t already possess good situational awareness, including identifying and knowing different escape routes, that can deal with general threats and dangers (including fire), you should forget about trying to train specifically for one type of threat, such as active shooters. Developing general personal safety skills, that can help you notice anything that is out of the ordinary, will allow you to potentially identify muggers and sexual predators, as well as active shooters. Good fire safety training will not only teach you how to disengage from an advancing fire, but also from an active shooter. This type of training may seem ordinary and boring, however it will develop the foundations, which will keep you safe from all manner of threats (most of which are more likely than active shooter scenarios). Don’t equate high consequence situations as being high risk ones. 


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Cyberbullying Adults And Children

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 14th Dec)

A few months ago I was interviewed by the Boston Globe about the rise of cyberbullying with children and teenagers. As is often the case with such interviews 90% of what is said and communicated is cut – this is not the fault of the journalist, just the way that news is reported on. In this blog article, I want to look at cyberbullying, and the ways in which children and teenagers, become caught up in it, often not really understanding the role they play in it.

 One of the big differences between cyberbullying and regular bullying, is the way that there doesn’t have to be repeated incidents in order for a certain set of actions and behaviors to be regarded as bullying. In our normal definitions of bullying, we look at a “campaign” of events, whereas in cases of cyberbullying we may look at just one because of the longevity and reach that social interactions over the internet have e.g. a derogatory posting to a social media site will last forever, as opposed to a piece of gossip passed between two individuals, also verbal gossip has a limited reach whilst a posting of the same words could reach thousands. Because of this it is often the case that those individuals involved in cyberbullying underestimate both their reach and their effect on their victims.

 Because of the way that technology has evolved so rapidly, and been adopted so quickly by younger generations, many of the conventional types and definitions of what bullying is and isn’t don’t really apply anymore e.g. a child in Baltimore can be ridiculed by a child they have never met before and will never meet who lives in Bangkok, Frankfurt or Dublin etc. Because of the global nature of social media, something – such as an offhand comment and a piece of gossip - that may once have been restricted to a small number of people, can now be made accessible to the rest of the world. A bully, can now potentially amass thousands of supporters to their cause/posting, and unlike verbal gossiping where the shelf-life is restricted to the conscious interaction of participants, an online posting will sit there forever, and may be shared and thus multiplied across the internet, so that a permanent record of the bullying exists in multiple places. One action in and of itself can effectively become a campaign of repeated incidents.

 In conventional bullying terms, much online bullying is akin to something referred to as “mobbing”. This term was coined in Europe to describe incidents of bullying, where a ringleader (the bully) incites supporters, cohorts, sycophants and copycats to target a specific individual. The group may also include individuals, who don’t even know why they are targeting the particular individual, and are merely attracted to being part of the mob or crowd (something many of us have probably witnessed, by the irrelevant comments that certain posters make on particular social media threads).

 Those bullies who incite and engage in mobbing, may not be extroverted types, who lead from the front and make themselves visible, but instead introverts who will gather supporters to engage in adversarial actions and behaviors against the individual they have targeted. They are often selective in who they chose to act on their behalf, selecting “minor” bullies, who they empower – it is often the case that these individuals hope to be elevated in the eyes of the bully, and gain their respect. In this sense the bully gives the lesser bullies the power and authority that they lack in their own lives, and so desperately crave. In doing this the bully, makes these individuals further dependent on them, as they lack the competence on their own to engage and promote the bullying campaign. The great irony of this is that these individuals don’t realize that they are merely puppets being manipulated in roles that have been defined for them by the bully. It is more than probable, given the nature of the ringleaders who instigate mobbing, that they derive an equal satisfaction from the manipulation of the mob, as from the actual bullying of the individual. Both acts help them to deal with their insecurities, by having a group acknowledge them in a leadership role and act on their behalf.

 It is often difficult to determine who the ringleader is, especially when they utilize social media, for their activities. An innocuous post by the ringleader, can soon be turned into something else by one of the lesser bullies/followers commenting on it, in a way that they believe will both target an individual and gain respect and authority for them, from the ringleader. This is how the bully gets other to do their work for them, and remove themselves from any direct connection with the bullying – of course those lesser bullies only gained their motivation and direction from the bully, however this is not obvious to anyone reading the thread. This makes it very difficult for bullying incidents of this nature to be attributed and pinned on the originator, in the same way it can be difficult to source the originator of a rumor or piece of gossip that has become widespread.

 It is because of these reasons that school authorities have a hard time dealing with this type of cyber-bullying; with a largely unidentifiable instigator and ringleader, it is hard to address who is actually responsible for starting such campaigns. In fact in the case of cyber-bullying the ringleader may not make any posts or comments which are overly aggressive towards their target, and rely solely on others to do this for them, possibly liking a post or simply sharing it; in this way they look much more of a lesser player than the ringleader they are.         

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Dog Attacks

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 6th Dec)

I was recently contacted by someone in the UK, asking me to write a piece on dog attacks. Firstly, I will caveat this article by saying this isn’t a specialist area of mine, however I will share some of the things those who are expert in the field have taught and shared with me. I will also try and address some of the issues around dealing with aggressive individuals who use their animals as “weapons” – something that the person requesting the blog article mentioned.

Firstly, as an animal lover I am in utter contempt of those individuals who train dogs to be aggressive and violent towards other animals and/or humans. I see it as a gross manipulation of an animal’s good character traits, that in short leaves them unfulfilled and unhappy, which makes it an act of cruelty. To take a dog’s instincts around loyalty and protection and to twist these in a way that causes them to become aggressive towards other creatures, is an act of pure evil; and the individuals who engage in these acts should be banned for life from owning any animals. In short, whilst there are breeds etc. which have a propensity towards aloofness, protectiveness and defense, it is in almost all cases bad handling and misunderstanding by the owners which causes dogs to be overly aggressive. This does mean that there are some breeds which need experienced rather than novice owners, and may not be suitable for all social situations etc.

A dog may attack when it detects a threat, either to itself, a member of its pack, or to what it regards as its territory. Certain breeds are more territorial than others, and understanding this can help you deal with a dangerous dog e.g. a Rottweiler, which is a very territorial dog, may not pursue you once you move out from what it regards as its space, an Alsatian/German Shepherd on the other hand will chase you to the end of the world. This does not mean that turning and running would be a sensible option, as this can stimulate a dog’s natural chase instinct – dogs have a prey drive, that fast motion can trigger and so moving slowly is a safer/better option. Backing away, slowly and moving away whilst facing an aggressive dog is a much safer way to disengage. If you have OC/Pepper Spray, drawing it in preparation of an attack is a good defensive measure. On a side note to this CS/CN Sprays, which are basically “tear” gases will not be effective against dogs, as they don’t have tear ducts; only pepper spray will work. Obviously for people living in the UK, pepper spray is restricted to law enforcement and security personnel so this isn’t an option.

As you back away blade yourself sideways and put your arm out in front of you (make sure that you make a fist, so that the dog can’t get hold of your fingers). Putting your forearm out in front of you does two things. Firstly, it means that this is going to be the first thing that the dog can attack, and although painful, it is better to get bitten on the forearm than fleshy parts of your body, which can be torn, or sensitive areas such as your throat. Secondly, putting your arm out in this way tells the dog that you are trying to protect your space i.e. you are not interested in their territory, and so are not actually a threat to them. At the same time avoid direct eye contact, as you don’t want to be seen as challenging the dog. Try and get a good solid base, as you back away, as the last thing you want to happen in a dog attack is to get dragged to the floor – at that point you really are at the mercy of the dog, and will probably need somebody to pull them off you (I will talk about how to do this effectively later in the article).

If you do go to the ground, protect your fleshy parts, by curling up, getting on to your knees and protecting your face, chest and throat. This means not extending any limbs so that the dog has nothing easy for it to latch on to.

If the dog does attack your arm, come forward to meet it. Dogs are very powerful when moving forward but aren’t good at moving backwards – if you’ve ever seen a dog try to back up, they’re not the most agile creatures when moving in this direction. Offer your forearm to their jaw, and push it as far back in its mouth as possible – this is where it’s jaw leverage is less, and the bite less powerful. Push your arm back and step in so the dog is forced backwards, on to its hind legs. Resist the temptation to pull your arm away, as this will give the dog the chance to reapply its bite. If it’s wearing a collar, try and grab it with your other hand as this will give you a chance to control its head. Once you have a good grip, push its head down towards the ground, pulling it forward whilst you keep your forearm in its jaw. This is all stuff that is great on paper but truly difficult to apply in a real-life situation with a dog over 40 lbs – there’s a good reason why law enforcement and security agencies use dogs; they’re fast, agile, and they keep going and going, plus their pain tolerance is ridiculous.  

If you are dealing with someone who has an aggressive dog, and is using it to intimidate you, your best bet is to try and deal with the individual rather than the dog. After, being contacted to write this article I did some research on the extent of this problem in the UK, and it seems a significant threat in Scotland, North Wales, Merseyside and Teeside, and one that is unfortunately on the rise. It seems there are a number of predominately young men who are training aggressive behaviors in their dogs, and setting them on other people and other animals whilst filming them – the problem has become so great in certain parts of the country that people refuse to walk their dogs, or use the same spaces that these individuals hang out in. It seems that law enforcement and the authorities have been slow to react or seem powerless to deal with the problem. Avoidance of these areas and these individuals is probably the safest way of dealing with them, and not appearing as either a threat or a victim, when near them. Good de-escalation skills are always going to help you.

If you have to deal with a dog that is attacking a friend etc. your most effective way of dealing with the danger is to come behind the dog, clamp it with your knees, and use its collar to choke them, either by grabbing it and pushing your knuckles into the side of its neck, or if possible tightening it, so the dog has trouble breathing. Don’t immediately pull the dog away, but wait till it releases its grip. If your choke is ineffective you can reach round and push two fingers into the dog’s throat, forcing a gag reflex – once the bite is released pull it upwards and back.

This article is certainly not an exhaustive way on dealing with aggressive and attacking dogs, and it should be recognized that applying the theories contained is not easy, nor without danger, however it is always better to have a plan – along with its possible imperfections – than no plan at all. Even having some idea of what to do, can help you keep calm in a dangerous situation, and when dealing with aggressive dogs, this alone may be your best defense.   

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