While facilitating a youth workshop recently, I realized that this generation is completely shaped by the events and politics of 9/11. Though few of the youth were able to define terrorism (beyond "blowing things up"), most of them were quick to normalize surveillance, military occupation, online tracking, CCTV cameras, extraordinary rendition, torture, deportations and incarceration.
Over the past 13 years, the War on Terror has been one of linguistic and legal contortions that allow the state to fortify itself with increasing policing and surveillance powers. The War on Terror is a geopolitical War of Terror, invoking simplistic "us versus them" jargon to crusade in the service of so-called Western civilization (such as the barely debated re-entry of Canadian special operation forces and NATO into Northern Iraq this week). Within Canada, Muslim, Arab, racialized and Indigenous communities have been recast as outsiders and threats, while tactics of fear have been deployed to criminalize legitimate resistance movements from Turtle Island to Palestine.
A key domestic tool in the War of Terror has been draconian anti-terror legislation. Similar to the USA Patriot Act, Canada's omnibus anti-terrorism legislation was introduced by the Liberals shortly after the events of 2001. After key controversial provisions expired in 2007 due to a sunset clause, the Conservatives fast-tracked Bill S-7, granting extraordinary powers for secret investigative hearings and preventative detention without charge.
As summarized by civil liberties groups, "Individuals could be forced to testify in a court of law, arrested, detained or made subject to bail conditions -- all without charges being laid. Individuals have no right to know, and no opportunity to challenge, the basis on which they are being subjected to preventive arrest or required to attend investigate hearings." People subjected to these provisions do not even have to be suspected of committing a crime; they can be charged by association, or be suspected of potential future involvement with an offence.
These laws not only fly in the face of the minimal standards of presumption of innocence and the right to due process, they are also selectively applied against racialized communities. This racist casting out within the colonial nation-state is not new or unique; it is evident in the experiences of segregation, War on Drugs, reserve system, and internment of Japanese-Canadians.
In the current context, Islamophobia is predicated on the ability to designate and vilify the "dual" citizen (the Arab-Canadian or Muslim-Canadian) as a potential terrorist threat, rendering every Muslim, Arab, and/or South Asian as an eternal Other and Outsider to the nation-state. Media rants about Islam being innately fundamentalist, conservative, barbaric and heteropatriarchal have become commonplace. By comparison, the massacre in Norway and Oak Creek gurudwara massacre were considered to be the acts of "lone" white men. As commentator Juan Cole blogs, "White terrorists are random events, like tornadoes. Other terrorists are long-running conspiracies. White terrorists are never called 'white.' But other terrorists are given ethnic affiliations."
High-profile cases targeting Muslim men like the Toronto 18 or Secret Trial 5 or Momin Khawaja's trial are taking place alongside daily -- almost ritualistic -- racial profiling of Arab, South Asian and/or Muslim communities: searched at airports, refused visas, inclusion on no-fly lists, denied employment, stopped and frisked by police, and vandalism targeting places of faith. According to Statistics Canada, police-reported hate crimes continue to be on the rise, with hate crimes due to race or ethnicity constituting half of all reported hate crimes.
This interpersonal and institutional racism is enabled by the systemic racism of the Canadian state that disciplines marginalized communities into fear, submission and complacency. Provincial proposals to ban the niqab have subjected Muslim women to public scrutiny. Unannounced visits by CSIS to homes, workplaces and mosques are intended to coerce people to turn over information and become spies. Arab-Canadians and Muslim-Canadians across the country have been interrogated and illegally threatened with loss of status and citizenship. Now the new Stealing Citizenship Act (Bill C-24) legally gives immigration officials the power to strip Canadian citizenship of dual nationals, whether naturalized or Canadian-born like Omar Khadr.
Meanwhile, hundreds of refugees are facing legal limbo or deportation. In a bizarre Orwellian twist, refugees are granted political asylum for being part of popular democratic movements, yet their legal status is threatened precisely for their involvement in these movements. One of these cases is that of El Salvadoran Jose Figueroa, who has been in Canada since 1997 and was approved in principle for permanent residency. Years later, he was declared inadmissible for his prior membership in Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which Canada claims is an organization that engages in acts of "espionage," and "terrorism." The FMLN fought against U.S.-sponsored dictatorships in the 1980s and is the current elected government of El Salvador. Forced into sanctuary to avoid a deportation order, Jose is one of hundreds of Tamils, Iranians, Kurds, Iraqis, Libyans, Palestinians, Colombians, and Sikhs who are accepted under Canada's onerous refugee system, but are now going through years of security inadmissibility hearings to face possible torture if deported.
Resistance as terrorism
Canada's terrorist list is an arbitrary one. Ironically, fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- Harper's current heroes against ISIS -- are on this list. The list includes a number of anti-imperialist organizations, including every major Palestinian resistance movement such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. As Israel's best friend, the Canadian government is doing its part to criminalize any domestic support, even charitable, for Palestine.
Given that Canada has consistently attempted to delegitimize any Indigenous resistance that threatens its settler-colonial foundations, it is not surprising that one of the first applications of Canada's anti-terror legislation was against Indigenous warriors.
RCMP's Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSET), responsible for anti-terror investigations after 9/11, conducted a raid on a West Coast Warrior Society home in Port Alberni, B.C. on September 21, 2002. No unauthorized weapons were found and no charges were laid. In 2005, a deployment of Vancouver police and INSET arrested two other members of the West Coast Warrior Society in Vancouver. A year later, a leaked copy of the Canadian Armed Forces counter-insurgency manual included a description of the Mohawk Warrior societies as an example of domestic insurgents.
More recently, documents obtained under Access to Information laws reveal that the Canadian Armed Forces intelligence unit spent all of last year spying on Idle No More protests around the country, out of fear that they could "pose a threat to military personnel or intercept weapons shipments." This is in addition to the ongoing surveillance of Indigenous land reclamations -- which Harper ordered shortly after coming to power in 2006 -- by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
Solidarity not fear
Thirteen years into the War of Terror, the construction of a simultaneously constant and imminent threat provides a critical justification for ever-expanding law enforcement and security measures. This is perhaps the single greatest impact of the War of Terror: passive acceptance of these alarming measures because the vague threat of terrorism has created a sense of its own inevitability. Political commentator Jack Todd reminds us, "Every time there is a terror attack or the threat of an attack, the only beneficiaries of the general hysteria are the party in power and the state security apparatus."
Thirteen years into the War of Terror, let us revive movements that connect the racist and colonial wars at home to the imperialist wars abroad. Let us reject discourses of respectability (good vs. bad Muslims/migrants/Indigenous people/protesters/survivors, etc.) that are essentially victim-blaming and intended to divide and isolate us. Let us enact a politics of solidarity when bombarded with the politics of fear. And let us commit to dismantling policies and institutions of surveillance and incarceration and stand with all those in our communities who are targeted by the security state.
Harsha Walia is a South Asian activist and writer based in Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish Territories. She has been involved in community-based grassroots migrant justice, feminist, anti-racist, Indigenous solidarity, anti-capitalist, Palestinian liberation, and anti-imperialist movements for over a decade. The column, "Exception to the Rule," is about challenging norms, carving space and centring the dispossessed.
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