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What is Social Banditry? If you were in charge of a state facing social banditry would you try and police it? And what problem would you face?

One of the most important issues regarding social disorder is that of social banditry. Whether it is in historical context or in relation to contemporary society it has existed throughout the ongoing development of our societies and cultures. What shall be discussed in the following debate is whether or not social banditry should be policed and what problems would be faced if deciding to do so. To help us understand the issue in detail we shall look in to definitions of what social banditry actually is and what it implications these groups of people and their character traits actually have on policing policies if any at all. By looking at the origins of social banditry in comparison to today's definitions we will see the full extent and nature of social banditry and the problems of policing it. To ensure our discussion is a balanced argument we shall look at global perspectives on the subject along with key theorists. This will enable us to see if there are any discrepancies on the debate depending on geographical location or other important factors that we should consider and also give us a wider sociological perspective. In order to judge whether it would be worth policing or not there will be a look at the methods and the resources that can be employed for tackling social banditry and judge whether that alone is enough to combat it. A look at past and modern day methods of tackling this social banditry will let us know what has tried and failed previously. To display our findings and come to some understanding of what we have found out about social banditry we shall tie up all the major points that we have discussed and conclude what we see as a solution if indeed it is a solvable problem and what would be the best ideas to implement to combat it.

Social banditry has been around for many generations, from the time of the Ottoman Empire through to feudal Japan and to present day. We all have our own ideas of what we consider bandits to be mainly due to media and film portrayals but the origins of the word has much deeper roots than Hollywood representations. Indeed the word bandit itself comes from the Italian word 'bandito' meaning the man who is on the outside of society. In terms of social banditry we can see the sociological background of people deemed to be against the norms and goals of society, according to some social banditry is an instinctive or pre-meditated reaction to some kind of social injustice. McLaughlin (2005.p314) defines social banditry as ''social-crime based on primitive rebellion''. This maybe true but the means of carrying out such crimes can sometimes be far from primitive. The quote does however help us understand that these social bandits are people who decide to break the law in order to put their point across, a method that they prefer over other more humane and reasonable methods such as campaigning and political activism. Indeed there have been some cases throughout history where social bandits have worked alone or in groups to further their individual positions for purposes motivated purely by money, violence and other less moral reasons. One of the leading sociologists in the area of social banditry Eric Hobsbawn (2000) suggests that social bandits are only defined because of the laws and society in which they exist. This point of view assumes that social banditry is a social construct, not because they are a direct result of the state but because the state reinforces its norms through pointing out a group of people that don't abide by the ways of the masses. Hobsbawm (2000) also states that social bandits look at themselves differently to most members of society because they are against some kind of class structure or hierarchy and they usually make it their mission to challenge a particular order or system in which they live. Most of which gain fame and adulation amongst the people they live by challenging authority. Although the term is more useful in terms of capitalist societies there have been cases in past where social banditry has existed within communist states. We have to realise that what might be considered to be social banditry by a sociologist may be just considered to be a crime by the state, by this I mean that societies and governments may look at certain aspects or consequences of social banditry and try and police the individual crimes that have occurred. It may in fact be a more successful way to deal with the issue for some countries.

In opposition to dealing with every crime as it comes it may be better for a particular society to tackle the root cause of social banditry instead of outright policing. Traditionally speaking policing policies have mainly consisted of specific strategies to control criminals. Lawson (2000) talks about the more common actions that we as the public are familiar with are rapid response and 'bobbies on the beat'. However with social bandits and members of like groups they have identifiable characteristics and by using these bits of information it could be possible to control this specific criminal population from the bottom up. Prevention as a form of policing though has consequences of its own. One of the major problems in trying to handle the problem of social banditry was highlighted in the work of Olivier (2004), who talks about how social banditry is difficult to police because of its widespread roots. He looks at the way Islamic fundamentalism works in contemporary society and suggests that this type of social banditry is not limited to one specific society or culture making it a very difficult issue to police. Olivier (2004) shows us how social banditry like this spans vast interrelated networks and works in unison with other terrorist cells and organisations around the world. So with social banditry like this is it possible to suggest that it is more of a political issue than an individual policing issue? Either way this multi faceted problem has to be tackled from many angles and policing alone will not rid the various societies involved of its presence. You could say that there have already been attempts to police this issue on a global scale by certain nations such as the U.K and the United States going to war with Taliban led governments in areas such as Afghanistan. However only time will tell whether or not this kind of military policing has had a positive effect on this kind of social banditry because some areas of society are suggesting that this kind of heavy handed approach is only adding fuel to the fire and possibly contributing to further social banditry.

In the novel Memed, My Hawk by Kemal (2005) we see a portrayal of a so-called bandit who is seen as keeping their principles in a cruel and malicious world. The character does this by rallying against the corrupt oppressors. This shows how although people can be seen as bandits by the society in which they exist they're not necessarily trouble causers or people who commit crimes. It is similar to what Hobsbawm said about social banditry being a construct of society because without the definitions of others to place upon an individual then they would not be labelled as a social bandit. However this is not to say that no action should be taken against those who commit crimes against the welfare of others and the state because that would be naïve to the workings of certain criminal activity. Instead of using the definition of social banditry maybe it would be better to police according to the breaking of specific laws. 

In order to tackle the issue of social banditry then the way in which it is policed is vital. The ideas set out by Newburn (2003) go some way to suggesting what may be done to help battle the implications and causes of social banditry. First of all he talks about looking at policing in a comparative and historical context and secondly the context in which policing takes place. The latter includes considering other institutions and how they can work together in unison as well as analysing how certain domestic and international policies have failed and succeeded. Also because of the deep rooted and embedded nature of social banditry he explains how we should try and boost policing with other forms of security such as community safety schemes giving members of the public incentives to help weed out those who may be a danger to their society. Other areas that should be used in conjunction with policing social banditry are drug action teams and street teams to try and stop social bandits from making money from the sale of such substances as many terrorist organisations profit from the opium trade. With this in mind it is also essential to control the borders to try and ensure that drugs aren't imported in to the country. Although there may be many problems that arise during these policing methods perhaps the main one that should be recognised is that the most of the time fighting social banditry is fighting a state of mind. Especially in the case of Islamic fundamentalism and other politically and religiously driven groups. To eradicate the detrimental impacts of these groups who are on the outside of society is to try and change peoples' philosophies of how they see the state. Doing this is a somewhat difficult if not impossible task. Perhaps one way to do this is to embrace the ideas of Newburn (2003) and get to grips with new technologies and in order to infiltrate these groups, a way to do this might be by accessing certain internet based communities and forums where anti state and anti social sentiments are being expressed and try and prevent crimes from happening as soon as members start to display signs of criminal activity.

Throughout our discussion of defining social banditry and how we should police it we have come across numerous problems and interesting points that are significant when trying to understand the subject. First of all perhaps the biggest problem of policing social banditry is that it could be considered to be too much of a grand-meta narrative. The very definition is rather wide ranging and used as a bit of generalisation for a whole group of people who act in certain ways, groups that do not always correlate with each other and can differ greatly depending upon race, religion, region, sex and historical context. This criticism tells us that we should look at each so-called group of social bandits as individual cases to be studied and policed according to the information collated on that particular group. A reason for policing social banditry in this way is because what character traits one group of social bandits have may differ from another. These differences show that it would be a sensible approach not to make blanket policies but rather judge cases on an individual merit. A good example that closely relates to this is the recent government reaction to an increase in what they deemed to be religiously motivated crimes by introducing the law that forbids any kind of inciting of religious hatred, under which certain pieces of art may be considered to cause offence and possibly help incite such attitudes. By looking at the policing of social banditry it is important to consider that every law made and every policy made will affect future cases that may be slightly different in nature but the same punishment or reaction may be experienced. Another criticism of the subject of policing social banditry is that it is a somewhat outdated term that may be best suited to a different age as the theory and thinking around it is more akin to the mythical times of Robin Hood and that kind of folk hero who fights against the upper classes for the good of the people. Over all we have to accept that in a large amount of cases the thing that we can do in terms of policing is react to a specific incident because the nature of bandits is one that is very elusive and is sometimes impossible to stop these people from committing certain activities. If some people are willing to give their lives to fight for their cause then we have to admit that it can be virtually impossible to police. All we can do is educate people from an early age and hope that no groups develop with such grudges that it leads to damaging criminal activity.   

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