By Arun Kundnani
The promise of the “global war on terror” was that “it was better to fight them there than here”. That promise brought mass violence to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Yemen and Somalia – in the name of peace in the West.
That formula has clearly failed. Tuesday’s bombings in Brussels come on the heels of similar incidents in Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast; Maiduguri, Nigeria; Istanbul; Beirut; Paris; and Bamako, Mali, all in the last six months. Rather than containing violence, the war on terror turned the whole world into a battlefield.
We should not be surprised. Violence inflicted abroad always comes home in some form. Last year, the US military dropped 22,110 bombs on Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon says these bombs “likely” killed only six civilians, along with “at least” 25,000 Isis (Islamic State) fighters. The true number of civilian deaths, though, is likely to be in the thousands as well.
Indeed, we know that the war on terror kills more civilians than terrorism does. But we tolerate this because it is “their” civilians being killed in places we imagine to be too far away to matter. There is no social media hashtag to commemorate these deaths; no news channel tells their stories.
Because we pay little attention to the effects of our violence in the places we bomb, it appears that terrorism comes out of the blue. When it does happen, then, the only way we can make sense of it is by laying the blame on Islamic culture.
When opinion polls find that most Muslims think Westerners are selfish, immoral and violent, we have no idea of the real causes. And so we assume such opinions must be an expression of their culture rather than our politics.
US Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have exploited these reactions with their appeals to Islamophobia. But most liberals also assume that religious extremism is the root cause of terrorism. US President Barack Obama, for example, has spoken of “a violent, radical, fanatical, nihilistic interpretation of Islam by a faction – a tiny faction – within the Muslim community that is our enemy, and that has to be defeated”.
Based on this assumption, think-tanks, intelligence agencies and academic departments linked to the national security apparatus have spent millions of dollars since 9/11 conducting research on radicalisation. They hoped to find a correlation between having extremist religious ideas, however defined, and involvement in terrorism.
In fact, no such correlation exists, as empirical evidence demonstrates – witness the European Isis volunteers who arrive in Syria with copies of Islam for Dummies or the alleged leader of the November 2015 Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was reported to have drunk whisky and smoked cannabis. But this has not stopped national security agencies, such as the FBI, from using radicalisation models that assume devout religious beliefs are an indicator of potential terrorism.
The process of radicalisation is easily understood if we imagine how we would respond to a foreign government dropping 22,000 bombs on us. Large numbers of patriots would be volunteering to fight the perpetrators. And nationalist and religious ideologies would compete with each other to lead that movement and give its adherents a sense of purpose.
Similarly, Isis does not primarily recruit through theological arguments but through a militarised identity politics. It says there is a global war between the West and Islam, a heroic struggle, with truth and justice on one side and lies, depravity and corruption on the other. It shows images of innocents victimised and battles gloriously waged. In other words, it recruits in the same way that any other armed group recruits, including the US military.
That means that when we also deploy our own militarised identity politics to narrate our response to terrorism, we inadvertently reinforce Isis’ message to its potential recruits. When British Prime Minister David Cameron talks about a “generational struggle” between Western values and Islamic extremism, he is assisting the militants’ own propaganda. When French President François Hollande talks of “a war which will be pitiless,” he is doing the same.
What is distinctive about Isis’ message is that it also offers a utopian and apocalyptic vision of an alternative society in the making. The reality of that alternative is, of course, oppression of women, enslavement of minorities and hatred of freedom.
But the message works, to some extent, because it claims to be an answer to real problems of poverty, authoritarian regimes and Western aggression. Significantly, it thrives in environments where other radical alternatives to a discredited status quo have been suppressed by government repression. What’s corrupting Isis’ volunteers is not ideology but by the end of ideology: They have grown up in an era with no alternatives to capitalist globalisation. The organisation has gained support, in part, because the Arab revolutions of 2011 were defeated, in many cases by regimes allied with and funded by the US.
The lesson of Isis is that war creates terrorism
After 14 years of the “war on terror,” we are no closer to achieving peace. The fault does not lie with any one administration but with the assumption that war can defeat terrorism. The lesson of Isis is that war creates terrorism.
After all, the organisation was born in the chaos and carnage that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Russia and Iran have also played their role, propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime – responsible for far more civilian deaths than Isis – and prolonging the war in Syria that enables the militant group to thrive.
Meanwhile, the alliances that we consider crucial to the war on terror have worked in Isis’ favour. The group’s sectarianism and funding have come from the Saudi and Gulf ruling elites, the West’s closest regional allies after Israel. And the groups that have been most effective in fighting Isis – the Kurdish militia – are designated as terrorists by Western governments because they are considered threats to our ally Turkey.
The incoherence of our response to Isis stems from our Islamophobia. Because we believe religious extremism is the underlying problem, we prop up Arab dictatorships that we think can help us contain this danger. Paradoxically, we support the very regimes that have enabled Isis’ rise, such as the Saudis, the most reactionary influence in the region.
With our airstrikes, we continue the cycle of violence and reinforce the militants’ narrative of a war by the West against Islam. Then, to top it all off, we turn away the refugees, whom we should be empowering to help transform the region. If we want to avoid another 14 years of failure, we need to try something else – and first, we need to radically rethink what we’ve been doing.
Kundnani is the author of The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror.
18 March 2016
The Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill limits the right to freedom from discrimination affirmed in section 19 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in one respect, and that limitation cannot be justified under section 5 of NZBORA, Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson has reported.
In the section 7 Attorney-General report on the bill, Mr Finlayson says the provisions of the bill relating to advantageous treatment of the totally blind compared to people with other disabilities are not justifiable.
The bill rewrites the Social Security Act 1964, with the objective of improving the accessibility of the much-amended legislation. It also shifts the residential care provisions into a stand-alone act.
Mr Finlayson’s report says eligibility for benefits, and obligations on beneficiaries, are inherently discriminatory as they are based on drawing distinctions on a number of prohibited grounds of discrimination, including marital status, ethnic or national origins, disability, age, employment status, and family status.
“In my view, all but one of the distinctions made in the Bill are justifiable. Paid employment is considered the best opportunity for people to achieve social and economic well-being. Where it is appropriate, people should be supported into work, and those unable to work should be provided with suitable support,” Mr Finlayson says.
“I agree that achieving the best possible outcome for people at risk of long-term welfare dependency means appropriate assistance, support, and services under this Bill should be provided.”
The report says clause 33 of the bill provides that a person is entitled to the Supported Living Payment (SLP) if the person has restricted work capacity or is totally blind. People with disabilities other than total blindness must prove both their disability and the impact it has on their capacity to work; people who are totally blind must prove only that they are totally blind in order to be entitled to the SLP.
Mr Finlayson says the rights of people with disabilities other than total blindness are impaired as they are not entitled to the same additional support, or automatic entitlement to the SLP, as those with total blindness.
Tim McBride is a former HRF Chairperson. This is the longer version of Tim’s op ed in today’s NZ Herald.
Welcome to the surveillance society
Surveillance is back in the news again, now that the government has received the Independent Review of Intelligence and Security Services by Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy. Before the end of this year there may be a new law in place, with enhanced surveillance capacity for our intelligence agencies.
The UK government has done just that in the latest version of its draft Investigatory Powers Bill, unveiled at the beginning of March this year. Its proposed powers include tracking anyone’s web browsing history – known as internet connection records. No wonder the bill has been dubbed the “Snoopers’ Charter” by some of its critics.
So, what is ‘surveillance’? Why should we be concerned about it?
Our Law Commission considered that surveillance largely involves ‘the use of devices to monitor, observe, or record people’s actions or communications’.
Surveillance is not new. It’s been an aspect of organised societies (eg, the ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians), since their inception.
Surveillance is an important aspect of modern bureaucratic systems. It is intended to encourage compliance with the current social order. Those who challenge that social order, for example, by advocating or engaging in acts of possible civil disobedience, to highlight their opposition to the Trans-Pacific-Partnership-Agreement (TPPA); are undoubtedly under official surveillance.
So should we be concerned about ever-increasing surveillance; or should we simply accept it as a fact of life these days? “Privacy is dead, get used to it”, as Steve Zuckerberg of ‘Facebook’ fame, was reputed to have said.
Let me make my position clear. I am not opposed to all forms of surveillance. I recognise that surveillance can be good or bad, depending on whose doing it.
I have real concerns about mass surveillance. My concerns predate the disturbing revelations of US whistle-blower, Edward Snowden.
However, his revelations have shaken badly any confidence I might have had that intelligence agencies will always keep within the law when it comes to mass surveillance. The pressures on them from their political masters are just too great, when it comes to monitoring potential terrorists, and others considered to have the potential to cause serious harm to our way of life.
I am not opposed to targeted surveillance where, for example, a person is suspected of involvement in serious criminal offences, or involvement in terrorism-related offences. That is, provided there is a credible judicial process for the granting and review of a warrant to undertake surveillance in relation to that person (or persons).
Mass surveillance is everywhere these days. How many surveillance devices recorded your movements today? If you need any convincing, just go your local supermarket – (or look no further than the ‘smart phone’ in your pocket).
New surveillance technologies are being invented and refined all the time. If such technologies can keep us safe, surely we should use them, say some. Others argue that there have to be meaningful limitations on ever-more intrusive surveillance.
In a 2009 report, our Law Commission highlighted the negative aspects of surveillance. These included the impact on the exercise of traditional civil liberties (e.g., freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly), in particular, the chilling effect of being under surveillance; loss of anonymity; stress and emotional harm; excessive collection of personal information; insecurity and loss of trust; use of this information for questionable purposes; discrimination, profiling and misidentification; desensitisation.
That’s quite a list. Leading experts in comparable countries have said broadly-similar things in recent years.
In the words of leading Australian privacy expert, Dr Roger Clarke: ‘psychologically, people need private space; sociologically, people need to be free to behave, and to associate with others, without the continual threat of being observed; economically, people need to be free to innovate; politically, people need to be free to think and argue, and act. Surveillance chills behaviour and speech and threatens democracy’.
The UK Information Commissioner’s panel of experts found that today’s ‘surveillance processes and practices bespeak a world where we know we’re not really trusted. Surveillance fosters suspicion. Surveillance practices have implications for privacy and a host of other important values: justice, dignity, self-determination, social inclusion, security and others’.
Social scientists have discovered that many of us tend to change aspects of our behaviour when we think we may be under surveillance. In fact, we may not be. This is often referred to as the ‘panopticon effect’, given its conceptual similarities with the ingenious prison design of the legendary Victorian thinker, Jeremy Bentham.
Former Australian Privacy Commissioner, Malcolm Crompton’s words struck a chord with me. “The threat of terrorism may decline … but its monument may be a surveillance society. Individuals want both secure and private lives.”
A former Privacy and Access Commissioner for the State of Victoria put it more bluntly – “a people surveilled become a people paranoid”.
Some people, seemingly untroubled by any form of mass surveillance, appear to believe that we should be prepared to give away all of our privacy, in both public and private places – as long as we are ‘safe’ from those who might cause us harm. That worries me greatly.
Even if we were prepared to do so, would we be much safer as a result? Until, heaven forbid, technology exists that enables those undertaking surveillance to know what any individual may be thinking (ie, their innermost thoughts) together with the capacity to stop that individual from putting their thoughts into effect: the possibility of random acts causing loss of life, be it politically motivated or otherwise, will continue.
Wherever we may stand on the political spectrum, would any of us really want to live in such a society? I think not.
It makes George Orwell’s “Big Brother” seem downright ‘clunky’, (in the words of a recent English commentator).
The very remote possibility that we may be caught up in a situation involving some form of terrorism-related criminality, is one of the prices we pay for living in a ‘free society’. Long may that cherished freedom continue.
Human rights author and commentator
Former Chairperson, Human Rights Foundation of Aotearoa New Zealand
9 March 2016