When fear and ideology inform policy

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The Conservatives are looking to reintroduce severe anti-terrorism laws, but are they necessary?

Edward Dodd
Op-Ed Editor

Just as you thought we might be getting past fear of Muslims, our Prime Minister decides it’s time to stir the pot a little more.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a recent interview with CBC, said the greatest threat facing Canada today is “Islamicism.” Not our staggering healthcare system, not the crumbling of America or the European financial crisis, not global warming causing questions of Arctic sovereignty, but Islamicism.

It’s a word that Harper certainly made up, since there is no such thing as “Islamicism.” It’s also deliberately vague as to what Islamicism means. Does it mean Islamic extremists? Does it mean all adherents to Islam? Does it mean anyone vaguely Islamic looking?

In light of its vagueness, the word inherently identifies all followers of Islam as the threat, since it does not specify which group of Muslims are the threats, just the umbrella term of Islam. When criticized by the press for using the term “Islamicism,” Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews defended the Prime Minister by saying it did not explicitly target Muslims, but those who seek to overthrow our western democratic values.

Fine. Then why is it necessary to call it “Islamicism” and not “Anti-Westernism?” If the true danger facing Canada is from those bent on destroying our western values, there is no need to single out Islam at all. If we are creating ideologies, we should at least be naming them accurately.

As a response to the “threat of Islamicism,” and, not surprisingly, close to the highly emotional ten-year anniversary of 9/11, the Harper government wants to reintroduce two laws that expired in 2007, which give police a wide range of power over arrest and detention without warrant or charges on the suspicion of terrorism. It’s not difficult to see how these laws could be abused.

Of course, the standard response to any questioning of these laws is the government needs them to protect Canadians from terrorism. But, the laws have been lapsed for four years and somehow we’ve managed to avoid attack. Even the Toronto 18 – the largest home-grown terrorist fear in Canadian history – was caught and ended by police work that did not involve arresting and detaining the plotters without warrant or charges.

Harper himself admits the threat of Islamic terrorism is “diffuse,”  bringing into further question why the laws need to be brought back at all and making the name of “Islamicism” even more irrelevant to the discussion on security. If radical Islam is only one threat in a sea of danger, why even name the greatest threat “Islamicism” unless you aim to single out an entire group?

This is the kind of strategy I expect to see out of the United States, where Republicans have managed to use fear of Muslims and Sharia Law to gain political advantage. I do not expect to see this kind of fear tactic in Canada, especially considering multiculturalism is so highly touted as one of the great things about Canada.

Not to mention these invasive laws, which trample on the right of due process, are considered a necessary evil, while something as benign as the Census is considered far too invasive to subject Canadians to once every five years.

Thus is the style of our Conservative government – create policies not based heavily on fact and implement them. That’s how we end up living in a nation where our government does not have the right to ask us a series of important and informative questions, but has the right to arrest and detain us without charges or warrant for three days.

We don’t live in a world of absolutes, and I would hope that our government doesn’t speak in terms of absolutes.

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