A brief opinion on (anti) terrorist propaganda

The biggest immediate threat to the security and freedoms of Canadians is not ISIS’s radicalization or propaganda: it’s Canada’s.

The world is immediate. The mainstream media repeats its chosen stories around the clock. Access to billions of ideas and opinions are available to almost anyone, almost anytime. And if a butterfly flaps its wings in China, there’s a global typhoon of coverage of it on Twitter, as it happens.

What we seem to come to know collectively however, is not fractured into ilions of intricate, well-reasoned opinions. At best, there ends up existing two sets of points that oppose each other to a certain extent. At worst, there emerges a single, seemingly homogenous narrative that somehow and in some way speaks, on some level, to everyone.

What we come to know collectively as a population is selective, impulsive and isolated. Individually we may disagree or challenge or critique, but the context that occurs within is a debate dominated by one or two viewpoints. The rest, if it’s there, drowns in the typhoon.

I was near the end of a two-week hiatus when Prime Minister Stephen Harper tabled Bill C-51: I was off in the middle of a world that didn’t care. Updates on the fate of ISIS hostage Kenji Goto played on CNN in my hotel room, as did the analyses of White House security experts and authors, who offered everything you need to know about the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” In bars and in cafés, CÑÑ shared other stories.

Now back in Canada, and the debate is already formed. Bill C-51 will protect Canadians and Bill C-51 will erode Canadians’ rights to freedom of speech, expression and movement. There are points on all sides of the sorrily two-sided debate that are well-argued. But none of them touch whether Canadians need to be protected in the first place. 

There has got to be a critical debate about terrorism and Canada. And until the media or the Hill can explain first what “violent jihadism” is, and second, how it poses a threat to Canadians on Canadian soil, in concrete terms devoid of empty terminology or private-security jargon, our default should be inaction.

This goes hand-in-hand with defining terrorism, quantifying its direct impact on Canadians, explaining in detail the actual extent of the “radicalization of Canadians,” and clearly delineating how “jihadi terrorism” is in fact a global threat.

While we’re at it, we may want to define what constitutes a “threat” nowadays. It may also be worth revisiting the terms “Islam” and “jihad”, and “Islamic jihad” and “jihadi extremism” and “jihadi terrorism” and “violent jihadism”. These have all been around for a while now, and they are the keys to understanding why Canadians are in imminent danger, if only we knew what they meant. (I know I personally would feel a lot safer: after all, Harper’s speeches do not leave room for much consolation.)

“Terrorist propaganda” works two ways, and anything ISIS espouses only reaches an attentive international audience because it consistently manages to find its way into mainstream media. It also fuels anti-terrorism propaganda, in the form of empty political rhetoric, and now, tabled legislation. Any discussion about the impact of terrorist propaganda, and its weight and its horror, requires a discussion about the role our media plays in it. Any legislation that aims to criminalize terrorist propaganda should certainly not capitalize on it to push through a bill.

Radicalization and extremism are not sweeping global threats, and whatever they constitute is not caused by propaganda alone. To emptily argue that they are global threats is in itself pretty radical and pretty extreme. As is making the case that combating them is a Canadian national security priority, or a moral imperative. (Here’s a link to the World Food Programme’s statistics on world hunger.) 

As we revisit and re-analyze the merits and faults of Bill C-51 over the next few weeks, and follow in detail everything ISIS may do or will do or is doing, I’d like to table the idea that both ignorance and hype may be useful worldwide threats to consider tackling first.

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