Monday, December 1, 2008

Rejecting the politics of fear

In our discussions of this topic, both online and in person, the fact that so few individuals are actually subject to the current law was raised several times. When we discussed the denial of legal rights to detainees, the risk of torture for those deported and the risk of indefinite confinement for those that remain in Canada, people were generally pretty appalled. When we mentioned that currently only a handful of people are subject to these provisions, however, attention drifted and our focus on a policy aimed at this small group was questioned.

This leads me back to the topic that we have touched on repeatedly in our previous posts but which is fundamental to this policy focus for us. This law affects us all - some as current targets (the 5 men subject to the certificates), and others as potential targets due to race/ethnicity/country of origin who are constantly forced to prove that they belong in the Canadian "us" and not the dangerous "them". The final group is comprised of the "real Canadians" ostensibly being protected by this law, and in whose name these policies are enacted.

There is an interesting concept that a friend described to me that was outlines in her police training, just before her graduation ceremony. The soon-to-be police officers were told that there are three kinds of people in the world: the wolves ('bad guys'), the sheep (general population), and the sheep dogs (law enforcement). The sheep dogs' job was to protect the sheep (vulnerable passive, easily confused and easily led) from the wolves (cunning predators). While the sheep dogs would engage with wolves when the sheep were under attack, most of the work of sheep dogs was actually herding, corralling, patrolling and monitoring the sheep. Safety was ensured by controlling the behaviour of the sheep and ensuring their learned compliance with the sheep dogs' "directions".

The more we talked about the issue of security certificates, the clearer this parallel was to me. The anti-terrorism legislation, both the provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Act focused on security certificates that have been in place for years, or the more recent anti-terrorism legislation that came into effect after the September 11th attacks, are not only aimed at the few individuals suspected of (past/current or future) terrorist activities but are interested as much in achieving a compliant population, grateful for the state protection offered through these measures.

As a woman, and a feminist, it feels too familiar. Be afraid, we have been told all of our lives. Be afraid of the unknown, the stranger, the dark alley, the world. Protect yourself by staying inside at night, finding a man to protect you, limiting your movements. We are taught to sacrifice freedom for alleged security. These messages make us forget that the risk of violence is greater from those we know, from partners, and family members and friends. The fear instilled by those messages also makes us ignore the economic and social conditions that lead to greater vulnerability to violence and that state action could remedy many of those structural constraints. It isn't that there are no risks from the unknown, stranger, dark alley but that the violence done to us by turning the whole world into a threat is, I would argue, that much more damaging as women. We are also told who to be afraid of and the image of that person is often a racialized, "othered" image.

We are embracing the same fear as a nation that has been fed to us as women and Canadians are trusting that by sacrificing freedom for security, as women have been asked to do for so long, that we will be safe. It's just not true - it doesn't keep us safe, and even if it did, it would not be worth it.

This is not just about five men, although it would be just as outrageous a law if it was. It would still be unjust and ineffective and wrong and a change in policy would be justified. However, it is much more than that. Changing this policy is one tiny step in rejecting a politics of fear that promote a false sense of security in exchange for extreme limits on some, but invisible limits on all of us.

Interestingly, the one role left out of the police training sheep/sheepdogs/wolves analogy was the farmer. It is the farmer who controls and benefits from the work of the dogs and the compliance of the sheep and whose economic interests are built on protecting his livelihood from poaching by wolves. It is impossible to separate security issues and economic issues, particularly in this time of global movement of people and capital. Measures to monitor and control the movement of people (particularly those deemed undesirable or dangerous) is occurring concurrently with an emphasis on loosening measures that monitor and control the movement of capital. Any discussion of national security and human rights is incomplete without an analysis of the intersections with global capitalism, and the current neoliberal climate that shapes policy in most of the western world. For more on this topic, see Colleen Bell's article Subject to Exception : Security Certificates, National Security and Canada’s Role in the “War on Terror” in the Canadian Journal of Law and Society 2006, Volume 21, no. 1.

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