Whether we like it or not, and there are many in the “dislike” camp, business and economic issues are going to be particularly significant in 2015, and of course politics will play a part in this too. A major election in the UK in May, where the outcome is far from certain unless of course the Labour Party manage to bring back David Milliband. There are issues over whether Greece will stay or leave the Euro, and whether it matters more politically or economically. How are both the US and the German economies really doing, and let’s not forget China – again, politically and economically?
But for me, the questions that I have uppermost in my mind that have the potential to disrupt our day to day lives in 2015 relate to the rise of both terrorism and nationalism.
Now, living in Hong Kong you might be forgiven for thinking that not much of this affects us here, but it would also be wrong to be complacent – especially if you travel to just about anywhere else.
You don’t hear quite so much these days about ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, or Da’esh, the various names still in use for the aggressors in the war in Iraq, although the latter name is becoming more commonly used. Should this lack of news indicate that the war against these people is being won? Certainly there have been positive gains by the opposing forces, but this is likely to end up eventually as yet another guerrilla war with pockets of resistance popping up now and again, and probably spilling across borders. And let’s be honest, the Taliban are not in favour of Da’esh either so expect a battle between both organisations.
Also, although it is hard to separate them at times – we need to keep in mind that there is a far broader, saner, more rational face of Islam than that portrayed in the media. However, issues like the sentencing of a human being to 1,000 lashes by the Saudi authorities do absolutely nothing to promote impressions of sanity.
Recent events, particularly in Europe (Paris, Belgium, for example) – are not likely to soothe fears. In addition the rise of nationalism in many countries, for example, in the UK where the UKIP party is gaining ground, just prior to the elections: in France where the National Front is making significant gains, in Germany where Pegida – an anti-Islamic Group has been attracting much attention but also, thankfully where rival demonstrations have also been held. But “nationalism” is not confined to Europe. A daily scan of the media – whilst it's not always accurate or objective – does report of such tendencies elsewhere.
The bigger immediate threat surely, although once again I have heard it said by a couple of commentators that it is not really a threat at all even after the Paris “massacre”, is the growth of in-country isolated cells attacking institutions or people they don’t like, “inspired” by the Da’esh. And what happens when some of these terrorists return to their home countries - will our home security forces be alert to their return? I have to believe that in the majority of cases they will, but some will inevitably slip through the net and disappear for a while. And these “fighters” – now murderers in many cases – may well continue their fight on home soil.Don't forget that Da’esh has attracted people from the West and the East. From Britain and America, from Europe but also from Muslim populations in South East Asia, and from North West China.
We should be, must be, alert to the potential for serious mischief in 2015.
What however seems to be a common theme though is generally – not always – the people who are attracted to these terrorist organisations are often disaffected, under or un-employed, lacking education and with few alternatives in life.
Our world today is no longer confined by nice neat ethnic, religious or linguistic boundaries. We live in a melting pot of cultures, and many countries try to embrace new arrivals to their shores. But by the same token, those new arrivals must also aim to integrate into their surroundings and not believe that their new country should adapt everything to suit them. It’s a two way street – not one-way.
When I started my international banking career it was always impressed on us, not as I recall that we actually needed impressing, that in every new country we were sent to it was up to us to remember we were a guest in that country, and we were expected to learn and understand the culture in which we were working. It was a mark of respect. Today, I fear that respect has gone. Integration has gone. And, as a final point, education is playing a part in that disintegration.
I feel sorry for many teachers in many schools. They are often underpaid, underappreciated, have become "parents" in absentia by default, have class sizes that are too big and are almost dragged into a situation where they move at the pace of the underachievers in the classroom. As a result in many inner cities and some of the poorer developing countries, despite the best efforts of the teachers, we have undereducated children with minimal job prospects living in un-integrated communities. They are an easy target for recruiters to violence.
If this is allowed to continue, we will see more wanton acts of destruction and senseless killings in 2015, and I wonder where the leaders are going to come from that have the ability and the determination to put this right.
If we keep our wits about us, take our surroundings seriously, elect politicians who will serve their communities better, improve education, encourage integration, hold businesses accountable to pay fair wages and salaries and create job opportunities, maybe we will have a chance of success.
The rise of nationalism is not the solution, but I can understand why it is attractive to many. Neither are terrorist acts acceptable in any shape or form, but for heaven’s sake let’s try and re-discover respect and dignity towards our fellow human beings – whatever they believe in. Murder is not an option.