Journal of Human Security | 2015 | Volume 11 | Issue 1 | Pages 1–4
DOI: 10.12924/johs2015.11010001
ISSN: 1835-3800
Editorial for Journal of Human Security Volume 11
Sabina W. Lautensach
1, 2, 3
of the Journal of Human Security, Librello, Basel, Switzerland
Human Security Institute, Canada
University of Northern British Columbia, Terrace, BC, V8G 4A2, Canada; E-Mail: [email protected]
Submitted: 2 February 2015 | Published: 24 February 2015
Dear Reader,
This editorial marks the beginning of the journal's
eleventh year since its inception as the
Journal of Human Security
. As a sample from an ex-
tremely tumultuous era in human history, this time
span has consistently provided an abundance of human
security issues for me to comment on. Yet, for the first
time since that fateful day in September of 2001, I feel
that the world has arrived at another historical turning
point. I am referring to the attack on the Paris office of
the satirical journal
Charlie Hebdo
on January 7 and
the events immediately following it.
As with the attack on the World Trade Center, the
immediate retrospective reaction of "well of course, it
was inevitable" bounces around the internet commen-
taries. Truly, European immigration policies and migra-
tion trends have long moved along a collision course
with the widespread xenophobia and cultural intol-
erance that seem firmly entrenched even in 'progres-
sive' European countries, fuelling the growth of var-
ious protest movements on the political far right. Even
to the casual tourist, the masses of African street
dealers in public squares and railway stations seemed
to increase with every year. In 2010 German chan-
cellor Angela Merkel pronounced the failure of Ger-
man multiculturalism as a public ideal [1].
Besides the unabated mass influx of migrants and
domestic xenophobia, several additional factors con-
tributed to this sense of inevitability. To summarise
them very briefly:
The office of the United Nations High Commis-
sioner on Refugees (UNHCR) has since its inception
insisted on a definition of refugees that excludes
people displaced for environmental reasons. This
has resulted in consistent underestimates of the
problems arising from population displacement in
West Africa and other regions most afflicted with
environmental deterioration. Those migrants con-
tribute the bulk of the influx into Europe through
Italy, Spain and France, and most of them are Mus-
lims. Recognised or not, the numbers of environ-
mental refugees are bound to increase further.
Around the world, governments are increasingly
falling short of recognising and addressing the most
pressing challenges to the human security of their
citizens [2]. This includes ignoring anthropogenic
climate change and overpopulation, collusion with
and support of sinister corporate agenda, failing to
demilitarise politics, and supporting a global eco-
nomic system that, in the inimitable words of eco-
logical economist Bill Rees, "wrecks its planetary
home, exacerbates inequity, undermines social cohe-
sion, generates greater net costs than benefits and
ultimately threatens to lead to systemic collapse" [3].
While the expansion of social media and global
communications has led to unprecedented amounts
of freely expressed opinion, not all of those voices
extolled the virtues of tolerance and human rights.
Ideologies of hate, violence and discrimination have
gained exposure and adherents as result of the
above developments. Backlash reactions, as in the
© 2015 by the authors; licensee Librello, Switzerland. This open access article was published
under a Creative Commons Attribution License (
case of the 2014 film
The Interview
, involved
multinational corporations and national governments
and threats to cybersecurity.
Despite all our 21st century interconnectedness,
religious fundamentalism has also gained followers.
This is by no means confined to Islam; radical Chris-
tians committed their share of torture, persecution
and mass killings for many centuries, and the suc-
cession of radical Zionist regimes in Israel is made
possible only by fundamentalist support. On the ide-
ologically opposite side, radical secular modernists
preach the utter commodification of nature and un-
ending economic growth with equal disregard for
human security and with similarly disastrous con-
In spite of the equitable historical culpability of
organised religions worldwide, Islam now has a
severe image problem. The problem arises out of
mistaken or self-serving interpretations of its scrip-
tures by influential clerics, corruption in the ranks of
some of its national leaders [4], stark contrasts be-
tween widely advertised Western and Muslim gender
stereotypes and penal codes, and the stream of
media accounts reporting publicly condoned violence
against women and girls in some Muslim countries,
regions or communities. I refer to this as an image
problem because I feel unqualified to assess the
extent of actual wrongdoing versus its represen-
tation in the media. Nevertheless, image is im-
portant—not least because it can elicit further wrong-
doing on all sides.
The latter point requires some elaboration. Islam is
by no means the only religion that features a some-
what spotty history of responsible leadership. There is
something particularly unholy about using spiritual
teachings to transform a congregation of kind-natured
and generally well-intentioned people into a raging
mob. This has been accomplished many times in his-
tory by a particular kind of religious leader in various
creeds, the kind that in Noah Gordon's words [5] is
"capable of praying and hating at the same time".
Violence in the name of a religion is surely among that
religion's most abominable sins, and yet it happens
with astounding historical regularity. With every new
incident, I lose a little more of what respect I have left
for organised religions and their hierarchies of power.
Much religiously inspired violence arises from the
perception of one's deeply held values and beliefs
having been offended. In an age where mobility and
displacement has caused an unprecedented extent of
contact between people of diverse cultures, the
chances of inadvertently offending one's neighbour
are greatly increased. In fact, the occurrence of such
offences is a statistical certainty. We have suggested
elsewhere that the only effective measure to prevent
violent reactions is for individuals and groups to
"prepare to be offended", primarily through educa-
tional means [6].
So why do I feel that the recent attacks and their
ramifications mark a historical turning point? One
reason is the unprecedented amount of public debate
about causes, contributing factors, mitigative policies
and the framing of responses to such attacks. Most
commentaries imply that recurrences are certain. For
the sake of their human security, the countries of
Schengen Europe need to facilitate and stimulate such
a debate in order to come to grips with the problems
arising from immigration. I shall come back to that
issue later. Another reason is the rallying of public
support, equally unprecedented, for the right to free
self-expression—a fundamental human right enshrined
in the Universal Declaration [7]. An essential founda-
tion for guaranteeing the freedom of the press, this
right lies at the heart of the perceived offences in the
Charlie Hebdo instance. Many feel very strongly that
the right to express free satirical commentary on any-
thing and anybody is a hallmark of a democratic so-
ciety. It is not by accident that among the first people to
be arrested by newly formed autocratic regimes, 1933
Germany or post-WWII Warsaw Pact countries, for ex-
ample, have always been writers of political satire.
To uphold the right to free self-expression in
principle is as important as to delimit it appropriately.
The re-invigorated debate should focus on where
those limits should be placed and how they could be
democratically determined and enforced. Holocaust
deniers and neo-fascist hate propagandists have
found out where European societies place the limits to
public deception and tolerating intolerance, respec-
tively. Those particular interpretations of free expres-
sion obviously crossed the line.
Of course, a widespread consensus on limits does
not guarantee that the consensus is morally defen-
sible. Many European societies show strong traditions
of anti-Semitism and prejudice against other ethno-
cultural minorities such as the Roma. Oral traditions
include the memories of Turkish invaders, domestic
crusaders against Islam, and numerous wars against
one's neighbours. Yet surprisingly seldom has it hap-
pened that someone actually took serious offence over
a public statement such as a satirical cartoon. The
arrival of Europe's Muslim populations changed that.
One might wonder why religion and humour seem
so at odds. The more ardent and fundamental a
person's religious beliefs, the less he or she seems to
tolerate humorous innuendos about it. The only reli-
gious leader I see laughing a lot in public is His Holi-
ness the Dalai Lama. What is wrong with the rest of
them? This historical turning point might well be taken
as an opportunity to examine one's own feelings and
reactions and to make a serious effort to prepare to
see one's religious values offended. The more difficult
that seems to a person, the more urgently he or she
probably needs to try.
Of course, the anticipatory effort to prepare to be
offended also comes with some obvious limitations. It
is unlikely to work in situations where confrontation
between two well-defined cultural groups has per-
sisted in the form of protracted violent conflict for
generations. A striking example is the Israel-Palestine
conflict with its complex historical background; in this
case preparing for offence seems pointless as both
sides already live in a state of persistent and multi-
faceted injury, aggravated by a cultural legitimation of
revenge. Confrontations marked by longstanding his-
torical grievances, habitual abuse of entrenched power
differentials, widely advocated contrary ideologies and
racism, and the poisonous influence of fundamentalist
religion on both sides might well be immune to any
individual effort to prepare for offence. Against such a
background the individual experience of offence pales
to insignificance, to a matter-of-fact confirmation of the
perceived status quo. In a way the opposing parties are
already prepared to be offended, and it offers little
help. While Europe is fortunate not to be encumbered
by such tragic circumstances, it will require serious ef-
forts not to let the situation deteriorate to that extent.
As in 1947 Palestine, the opportunities are still there.
Another obvious limit manifests in situations where
the offence is too overwhelming, as in the case of
over 2,000 annual cases of female genital mutilation
in the UK [8] and in other Western societies. The fact
that the practice violates local law seems less offen-
sive to the host culture than does the gross violation
of universally recognised human rights, committed on
cultural grounds that appear immaterial to the host
but all-important to the newcomer. This kind of moral
transgression is clearly in a different category than a
kosher restaurant serving pork, on account of the
human suffering and injustice involved and the
violation of moral norms that are globally subscribed to.
Asking the host culture to 'just get used to it' would
merely aggravate the offence and damage the status of
universal human rights. A mutually acceptable compro-
mise seems impossible in such situations.
This latter example shows how the situation of
displaced ethnocultural minorities changes the moral
ground on which the anticipatory effort to prepare for
offence takes place. Displaced people, whether they
arrived in their host country voluntarily or by force of
circumstance, are insecure guests. What I mean by
that is that they lack human security and particularly
cultural safety, relative to their hosts; they deserve to
be treated as one treats a guest in one's home (ex-
pected or not); and they are obliged to behave as
polite guests. Now where did we all go wrong in
relation to those norms?
What went wrong is, firstly, that neither side had
much of an idea of the other's vulnerable spots and
value priorities (and still hasn't, I reckon). Both sides
have very different cultural senses of humour, honour,
rights and obligations—not to speak of the language
barrier. But most importantly,
the house is now full
For about half a century, European countries have
operated under conditions of particularly strong eco-
logical overshoot, meaning that the impacts and de-
mands they made on their environmental support
structures (ecosystems) vastly exceeded the capacity
of those structures to sustainably support them. In
other words, Europe's carrying capacity has long since
been exceeded. The only reason this has worked so far
is because Europeans could afford to trade, steal or
otherwise appropriate resources and capacities from
other parts of the world. European colonial empires
were not just the passing fancies of monarchs! Even
with monarchs having receded into the background,
the neo-colonial means of perpetuating regional eco-
logical overshoot have survived and flourished—until
The most significant aspect of this historical turning
point is that we are approaching the end of the Age of
Waste. Resources are dwindling, populations and their
consumption are still growing, pollution and its resul-
tant effects on climate and health are changing the
planet and the rules that dictate a species' survival.
Many species are falling off the boat, never to be seen
again. Ecosystems are collapsing into simpler states,
less hospitable to humans and non-humans alike.
Every 'developed' national economy will have to ad-
just to the new contingencies, either by force or by
design; people will have to lead less luxurious, less
wasteful lives. Such a transition is possible, especially
in European societies that already have a low fertility
and at least a vague collective memory of historic
shortages and economic constraints. But the last thing
they need for that effort is more people at this time.
In the short term, Europeans and their guests will
do well to prepare to be offended by each other.
Where those offences are grave, compromises will
need to be negotiated. Furthermore, as an essential
requirement for lasting human security, Europeans will
need to embark on serious efforts towards their Great
Transition [9] towards a sustainable future of accept-
able quality. That will require economic degrowth,
knuckling down to some hard work, and creating ef-
ficient, resilient communities that depend only mini-
mally on external resources. Japan is leading this
process by example. But in the less developed, poorer
countries the collapse of agro-ecosystems will keep
generating refugees by the millions, and they will
keep trying to reach for the rich countries, primarily
Europe and the US, as their only perceived chance of
survival. In the longer term, and under the new
conditions of a changed planet, if Europe is to have a
reliable chance at attaining a sustainable future with
acceptable human security for all its citizens it cannot
accept additional millions of new citizens within its
borders. Once the Transition is achieved, this policy
should be reviewed.
I don't imply that siding with the neo-fascist fringe
on their uncompromising 'Fortress Europe' fantasy
would carry much promise of achieving that goal.
Rather more promising alternatives require a differ-
ential approach directed at reducing the 'pull factors'.
Immigrant quota should be limited to the demo-
graphic replacement level [10], directing newcomers
after appropriate training towards small and midsize
communities without contributing to their ghetto-
ization. About a third of all immigrants, amounting to
about 575,000 individuals in 2012, could be accom-
modated by such an internal settlement regime. The
remaining two thirds would need to be re-directed
towards alternative settlement solutions, preferably in
their home countries [10]. This reduction of the 'push
factors' is where Europe requires the support of the UN
and the international community. Without that support,
the increasing dangers of uncontrolled immigration
would render all sustainable goals elusive, jeopardising
Europe's human security for generations to come.
Best wishes,
Sabina W. Lautensach
[1] Connolly K. Angela Merkel declares death of
German multiculturalism. London, UK: The Guardian;
17 October 2010.
[2] Lautensach A, Lautensach S. Education for
Sustainability: How Can Educators Address the Failure
of Government? The 4th World Sustainability Forum,
1‒30 November 2014. Available from: http://sciforum.
[3] Rees WR. Avoiding Collapse: An Agenda for
Sustainable Degrowth and Relocalizing the Economy.
Vancouver, Canada: Canadian Centre for Policy Alter-
natives; 2014. p. 15.
[4] Weisman A. Countdown: Our last, best hope
for a future on earth? New York, NY, USA: Back Bay
Books; 2013.
[5] Gordon N. The Physician. New York, NY, USA:
Simon & Schuster; 1986.
[6] Lautensach A, Lautensach S. Prepare to be
Offended Everywhere: Cultural Safety In Public Places.
Second International Conference on Human Security:
Twenty Years of Human Security. Human Security Re-
search Center—Faculty of Security Studies, University
of Belgrade, 7‒8 November 2014. Proceedings forth-
[7] United Nations. The universal declaration of
human rights. New York, NY, USA: United Nations;
1948. Available from:
[8] McVeigh T. British girls undergo horror of gen-
ital mutilation despite tough laws. London, UK: The
Guardian; 25 July 2010. Available from: http://www.
[9] Raskin P, Banuri T, Gallopín G, Gutman P,
Hammond A, Kates R, Swart R. Great Transition: The
Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead. Stockholm En-
vironment Institute Polestar Report no. 10. Boston,
MA, USA: SEI; 2002. Available from: http://www.sei- The point
that no lasting human security can be achieved without
environmental sustainability has been convincingly
presented many times; I am taking it for granted here.
[10] At a total (2014) fertility rate of 1.60 children
per woman, Europe's population would shrink in the
absence of immigration. Of an estimated 1.7 million
immigrants in 2012, 575,000 (or almost 34%) could
be absorbed without resulting in a population
increase. Sources: Eurostat
migrant_population_statistics, CIA Factbook https://