Mentioning security policies, young generations and globalization in the same breath might appear as an attempt to tar issues that are fundamentally different with the same brush. The reason these three issues have often been ‘lumped together’ is the underlying concern that young people might become the main actors in activities which could potentially pose a threat to security (defined as a peaceful community life), above all in urban areas such as cities.
In other words, in order to nip any ‘trouble’ in the bud, the authorities have had to ‘keep an eye’ on gatherings of young people, either because of their natural unruliness or because they could turn out to be confrontational.
In our era, with its now sinister connotations of globalization, the linking of security policies with the role of young generations takes on a new meaning.
Upcoming generations are indeed those more deeply steeped in the globalized world and have a greater capacity to travel the (geographic or virtual) spaces with a natural aplomb, often unknown to previous generations.
It is true that the modern growth in means of transport and communications and their appropriation by the masses have shortened geographic distances and now allow a larger majority of people access to experiences and knowledge that until several decades ago were the privilege of a few special categories of people. However, it is also true that young people do not perceive this new dimension as revolutionary, but as a natural space surrounding their existence and their relations.
This transition has made contact and comparison between radically different cultural realities a matter of routine. It is in this context that it is necessary to seek the basic framework of the discussion and the possible connection between security strategies and the role of young generations.
The shortening, as it were, of spatial distances is accompanied by a parallel shortening of the cultural distances. However, not in the sense that the latter are eliminated but rather that their reference frameworks are ‘relativized’. In other words, in a shrinking world, everyone discovers that their own universe of reference is not the only one, nor is it the absolute.
This process, as fascinating as it is, has elicited (or may elicit in the future) two opposite reactions.
In some cases, for fear of losing one’s ‘secular’ identity, the reaction has been to accentuate the latter and to oppose it to all the rest. This is the well-known phenomenon of the radicalization of identities and the consequent attempt to assert them in a fundamentalist fashion, using all available means, including violence. The well-known theory of the ‘clash of civilizations’ used to describe the prospects of the immediate future of the world is merely an extrapolated description of this reaction.
The other hypothesis, on the other hand, resides precisely in the opportunity that may arise from a confrontation between absorbing but not totalizing realities. The fact of continuously interacting with people that differ from us in various ways brings analogies and differences to the forefront. It shows that each identity (even my own) is complex and capable of expressing itself in different ways depending on the various relationships in which it is involved.
Taking this as our starting point, we discover that globalization, by creating opportunities for learning and comparison, does not necessarily involve the substitution of peculiar identities with a single ‘mongrel’ identity, but rather the possibility of understanding the different identities. I discover how strong my identity is in the precise moment in which I interact with the bearer of another identity. The inevitable consequence of all this is that all these identities (along with my own), including all that is indispensable for each of us, will be able to survive only on the basis of a ‘pact of mutual respect’.
The younger generations, we have said, are those that are more inclined to immerse themselves in this process, almost without realizing it. The developments that have taken place in educational and communications models have actually placed these new generations under the focus of an immense system characterized by the ordinary and extraordinary circulation of people and experiences whose genetic origin is rooted in cultures distant from one’s own. Let us take an example. The increase in the number of school and university syllabi that now allow students to spend part of their training period in a foreign country has transformed the centres where they study into melting pots. These become places where individual identities, different learning methods, life styles and cultural critical points can be compared to each other as well as with a ‘dominant’ culture (that of the place in which they happen to be at that moment). The latter aspect is particularly interesting. By relating from several different standpoints to cultural realities that are ‘dominant’ only on that occasion and not in an absolute fashion (that is, simply because we happen to be in Paris, or Rome, or New York or Rabat, etc.) we learn that belonging to a given culture does not in itself mean one is destined always to be a cultural majority or minority, but rather that the very concept of majority or minority is a relative one.
In such a new and complex situation, young people, precisely because they play a leading role in the global world, are also the principal stakeholders in policies tending to support the interaction between and integration of identities, and opposing their radicalization. This they can work “horizontally”, among themselves, or “vertically” with their predecessors, who feel more strongly attached to their own identities.
This throws up a few challenges at the practical level.
First, it is necessary to take action to promote the integration of the new generations into the contexts in which they live.
This brings to mind those who, to use an absurd oxymoron, we call the second generation of immigrants. In some countries, like Italy, the procedure for acquiring citizenship is still based on the criterion of ius sanguinis and has produced one generation (and perhaps even two) of “substantial, but not formal, citizens”. These are persons who were born, have gone to school, grown up and work in a country – have absorbed its culture – but who have retained the citizenship of their family’s country of origin. This produces a dangerous rift in identity, which could conceivably be patched up by seeking refuge in radicalized identities. This could all be avoided not only through reform of citizenship policies, but also by means of social policies to avoid ghettoization and to facilitate access to the instruments and opportunities for growth and community sharing.
Furthermore, it is extremely important to create as many opportunities as possible for the new generations to interact freely, cross-pollinating each other, comparing respective life styles and ambitions, as well as their expectations of society and of the world at large. This must be done both at the educational and training level, as well as at that of the participation of ‘young adults’ in the processes of programming and planning their (economic, political, social, etc.) future.
Bearing this in mind it is important also to allow access to and interaction between young people and the (national and international) institutions. This is because young people could provide the key to interpreting and resolving the problems, and show themselves capable of supporting and strengthening the role of governance of the institutions. This would also revive a pact of mutual knowledge and respect among new citizens and the institutions that would definitely prove to be virtuous.
In view of these reflections, let me conclude by describing the experience I had as Italian Minister of the Interior, when, jointly with the Minister for Youth, Giovanna Melandri, we formed the Youth Council for Religious and Cultural Pluralism. A group of 16, all under 30 (8 men and 8 women), were selected from 11 of the more important religious denominations in Italy by size and by historical tradition. Two interesting aspects emerged from their working together.
In the first instance, these young people found themselves for the first time having to discharge the responsibility of striking a balance between the culture of origin they represented and the need to come up with opinions, proposals and evaluations regarding measures and choices ultimately affecting the whole of Italian society regardless of the cultural background of the individual citizens. This exercise in co-responsibility taught them the need for a broader outlook.
The second point of interest was the fact that for the first time this was a public space, not a private space. It was the State, in other words, that accepted to listen to what the different identities might say to each other in order to seek a mode of respectful civil coexistence for all in which no single identity prevailed over the others.
This initiative demonstrated that security policy is more than ever a matter of heading off conflict rather than of repressing it. This prevention signifies listening and sharing responsibility in dealing with the problems and deciding what can or cannot be done to try and solve them. Security and prevention, as ever, entail the constant exercise of democracy. A democracy that must have the aim of reaching out to the entire global village and, for this very reason, can no longer afford to exclude the new methods and above all the new inhabitants of this village.