After two decades of “War on Terror,” it’s time to focus on human safety
Written by Anne Dagenais
A shorter version of this op-ed was published on rabble.ca on September 10, 2021. Please share on Facebook + Twitter + Instagram
Since September 11, 2001, civil liberties, human rights and anti-racism groups have been raising alarm bells over the impacts of anti-terrorism and national security laws, so much so that it may feel like old news.
While the threat to civil liberties has only grown over the last 20 years, recent events have led to renewed concern: the push for the adoption of new domestic terrorism laws in the United States, the expansion of the Terrorist Entities List in Canada, the ever-growing definition of “national security,” and endless increases to the powers and resources of national security agencies.
Governments attempt to justify their actions in the name of “security,” but none actually go to the root causes of the violence they purport to address.
What we need is to shift away from national security — the preservation of the sovereignty and thus the power of the state — towards human safety — the condition of individuals being empowered and free from want and harm.
The concept of “law and order” — and later “national security” — have been used on this territory now called Canada since European settlers decided that this land was theirs and needed to be secured from Indigenous Peoples, who were in the way of their colonial project. The RCMP was created — then as the North West Mounted Police — in large part as a paramilitary force to surveil, control, and displace Indigenous people; a role they are still playing to this day, prompting calls to abolish the RCMP.
Concerns around “national security” in Canada have led to:
This is only in Canada.
Furthermore, as the climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic have worsened, calls have grown to label both as “national security” threats. Some of those who have called for urgent action to address these emergencies have noticed the disproportionate amount of attention and resources poured into national security agencies and issues. They hope that the inclusion of the climate crisis and the pandemic as “national security threats” would lead to similarly serious responses. We can certainly understand the logic of seeing the existential threats to humanity that are the climate crisis and the pandemic, as well as the tensions between people resulting from their mismanagement by our governments as security issues. However, not only is the national security apparatus ill-equipped to deal with ecological and human health, but giving more resources to national security agencies will simply lead to more of the same abuses outlined above.
The words “terrorism” and “threats to national security” are powerful. Thanks to years of relentless fearmongering from governments and the media, they elicit automatic condemnation of whomever is stamped with those labels. As a result, these labels have become a very effective tool for the state (and other actors) to discredit and/or repress any group, movement or person — especially people who challenge the status quo, oppose government policies and actions, and fight for collective liberation.
How do we fix this? By getting rid of the word “terrorism,” as well as anti-terror laws and tools, and by replacing “national security” and its apparatus with policies and actions that foster human safety.
Why not just reform our anti-terror laws and national security apparatus to fix its abuses and the erosion of civil liberties? Here are five reasons:
1. “Terrorism” and “national security” are easily malleable
2. The myth of the Muslim ‘terrorist’
3. Diversion from states’ monopoly on violence
4. Targeting Indigenous land defenders and environmental activists
5. National security cannot ensure human safety