A wind of panic has swept over Canada and most of the world since the September 11, 2001 attacks. The fiasco of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has not changed in any way the arrogant attitude of public authorities: instead of admitting how and why these serious errors ravaged the first years of the new century, political elites today think they can do whatever they like as a result of the fears that they create, and perpetuate, with the complicity of the media and part of the population. The militarization of public security, the abuses in our democracies and debates in civil society all illustrate a spiral of panic whose dangers should be obvious.
Our leaders’ symmetrical response to the terror that they themselves have irresponsibly spawned is to focus on security as the tailor-made solution. Our governments unhesitatingly embrace a logic that can be observed around the world. Not to be outdone, Québec’s political elite goes from the fear of terrorism to fear of “the Other”, and sees the assertion of its own identity as the response to the fears that it itself constantly stokes.
This security posture, steadily growing in intensity, has two general consequences that converge and produce a series of other pernicious effects.
The first is an obsession with control. Our governments justify the expansion of arbitrary powers on the pretext of protecting us. The end result, though, is that we are neither free nor better protected. Is this an exaggeration?
No, not if we really take seriously what the current obsession with control means in practice.
In the name of control, every individual in the North and the South, the West and the East, is subjected to heightened police and state surveillance. In the name of control, more freedom-destroying legislative measures are added to the ones that already exist.
We are told that the obsession with control is not in contradiction with freedom, because freedom depends on security. So it is then hardly surprising to see anti-terrorist measures that infringe freedom of expression adopted precisely in the name of freedom. Politicians take dangerous advantage of the public’s fears and resentment to propose new limits on thought, critical analysis and information.
Can we really imagine that we are better protected in such conditions? Or rather, who and what is being protected? Mistrust of foreigners and these security-enhancing policies strengthen the capacity for control of the powerful at the expense of the weaker. They mask and even justify exploitation, more precarious jobs, a denial of social justice and sharply widening gaps between the rich and the poor.
And what for? Certainly not for our security. The capacity of security services to act in the shadows, the setting aside of our fundamental rights, the criminalization of public speech on the pretext of fighting propaganda: all this can only frighten us, not reassure us. Controlling fear is a defining trademark of power that is incapable of democracy and, indeed, that is undemocratic.
The second consequence is a withdrawal, a turning in on oneself. Migrant populations forced to move to find work, or simply to survive, are subjected to the arbitrary decisions of public authorities that refuse to recognize their rights and that encourage xenophobia.
In the name of security, we close our borders. International development aid is put into question. The North likes what the South for the benefits it provides. It wants to keep the South running smoothly for its vacations and trouble-free trade.
Locally, we claim to fight for the neutrality of institutions while in fact we are witnessing a stigmatization of Muslims. We hear extremely dubious comparisons on all sides, as if the hordes of Allah were about to invade the world. The dismantling of public services, like health care and education, and the selling-off of the common good are concealed behind sensationalist theatrics evoking dangerous powers in the hands of minorities, when the reality is that these minorities are stripped of their rights, maligned and blamed for all the ills of society. The democratic tool of secularism becomes the antonym of tolerance instead of a means to attain it.
And, in all of this, indigenous peoples – always forgotten, except when time comes to exercise domination – continue to be governed by an absurd law. They pay the price of austerity policies, in total disregard for their right to self-determination. Yet, as centuries of history prove, any threat to peace has come from us, not from them.
Needless to say, the resurgence of the security mantra emphasizes the crucial role of organizations defending rights and freedoms. Whether a social group shows desire for control or turns inward, in each case, this spurs a wave of discrimination that must be condemned. We can’t allow people to be treated differently. We can’t accept the existence of different categories of citizens or of a hierarchy amongst us on the basis of the preferences of social and political elites. We can’t accept austerity policies that add to the injustices already suffered by immigrants. We cannot endorse a pernicious polarization stoked by an artificial choice between the so-called authenticity of “Us” and the “Other”, whose face is not that of his culture but rather the distorted reflection of our prejudices.
Democracy requires that we not yield an inch on these issues. We have to continue to fight relentlessly. Although we can overcome ignorance, prejudices, segregation and racism, there is a lot of work ahead. And our task becomes more demanding each day, given the new forms of populism and demagogy. This is why we have to fight falsehoods and ignorance by mobilizing knowledge. This is why we have to fight discrimination with solidarity.