international affairs, muslims, politics, war on terror

Surveillance, Fear, and the State

My new op-ed (“Canada’s Islamophobia Problem”), published by Canada’s crowd-funded, independent outlet, Ricochet, takes issue with the Harper administration’s security rhetoric and proposed legislation after the Ottawa Shooting in October. It reads, in part:

‘The bulk of the announced security measures have yet to be introduced, but critics inside and outside of government have stated that Canada’s present laws are more than enough to do the job. Though many Conservatives love to say that Muslim terrorism and radicalization poses the greatest threat to Canadians, the number of people killed in Canada by such attacks has been small since 9/11. In other words, if “Islamicism” is indeed this country’s top concern, then our security apparatus must be pretty darn good; there’s no reason to “bolster” what already works then. Moreover, reports from North Carolina’s Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security show that homegrown terrorism remains minimal. So, if anything, a restriction of invasive security tactics should follow, but that isn’t about to happen any time soon.’

No doubt the administration will exploit the moment in order to boost its poll numbers, first by pushing through security-heavy laws while they still have a Parliamentary majority, secondly by antagonizing minority interests/communities that lack the resources to fight back. This isn’t just exclusive to Muslim Canadians, who are under-organized and misrepresented. Numeorus progressive NGOs have been under intense scrutiny by the CRA (as Gerald Caplan pointed out in an op-ed at the Globe), while politically active, but conservative think tanks have been left alone.

Canada’s surveillance regime is going to receive a boost from the Conservatives at a time when homegrown terrorism has killed less people after 9/11 than drunk driving and other, more prosaic dangers. But the West, led by the United States, is engaged in a pro-surveillance era that’s lasted for over a decade. Much of which remains in the dark despite best efforts from whistleblowers, journalists and activists.

The Wall Street Journal just revealed that US Marshals have a fleet of planes at their disposal that carry “dirtboxes,” devices that mimic cellphone towers, in order to eavesdrop on people’s cellphone conversations. The same devices, according to documents unearthed by the ACLU’s Dave Maass, are used along the US border with Mexico. The LAPD have apparently also gotten in on the act. Of course, this is all just the latest episode in a long-running melodrama that overplays the important of surveillance in the protection of civilians from domestic/foreign terrorists.

There’s no reason to think that Canada, under this government, won’t also go down that path. It’s going to be tough to peel back legislation, passed omnibus-style and with no debate, that gives spies and police more power–another reason why Harper and his boys/girls are profoundly anti-democratic.

 

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