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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

A State of Fear: When Citizens Become Terrorists

The Global War on Terror has been used as an excuse by dictators to clamp down hard on dissidents since it was declared by George Bush thirteen years ago.  Over the same time period, our general understanding of what a terrorist is has changed.
Technically speaking, a terrorist is someone who uses terror - fear - as a tool to achieve political aims.  This fear can be induced through violence, threats, intimidation or coercion.
The blowing up of the Twin Towers was undeniably an example of terrorism - al Qaeda wanted to ignite fear among Americans, cause panic and disrupt their and the rest of the West's ability to function internally and engage externally.
Of course, technically speaking, much of how politics is conducted in Western countries like the US and Canada these days counts as terrorism, too - attack ads, bullying, voter suppression, so on and so forth.  These tactics are absolutely intended to achieve political aims.
Despite the common-place nature of the Political War Room, however, political parties don't declare war on each other; States declare war on States.  Terrorism isn't a state.  It's the collective actions of an individual or individuals that seek to terrorize citizens of a state.
Or is it?  We've seen a shift in political rhetoric that seems to redefine terrorists as people who seek to disrupt the best interests of the State, not the people.  Of course, those best interests are determined by the State itself - or at least, the elected representatives of the people who form government.
What happens when the interests of the state as defined by government differ with those of groups of citizens?  What happens when the state stops listening to concerns, starts stifling information and starts identifying those groups as enemies of the state's best interests?
This is the nature of escalation.  The state makes decisions without consultation; parts of the public resist.  Those who resist get marginalized - and in response, they protest.  Frustrated with protests and displeased with the potential of bad press, the state may want to provoke legitimate protesters into becoming violent protesters.  It's easier to declare them terrorists that way.
If anyone else interjects, the state can accuse them of trying to undermine the legitimate state and support a coup.  Instead of it being a matter of policy for the people, it becomes about power and control of the state.
Both sides will have friends who will probably support their horse in the race, meaning the tools and tactics grow beyond the power of the state alone.
At what point does a line get crossed - when does the state become the terrorist?
It's a slippery slope, this - one to be conscious of.

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