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Fear unfounded, but will be used to curtail freedom

While we may have been able to wrap ourselves in the illusion of peace and goodwill over the holidays, the reality is that the world is full of unpleasantness.

That’s especially true on the global stage, where war and terrorism abound. Well, at least as far as the tales and public consciousness are concerned.

Horror stories about war (Aleppo even makes the pages of this week’s issue) and terrorism (the two are not unrelated, as anything involving the Middle East shows) have certainly struck a chord. How else do you reconcile a year-end poll that shows Canadians feel less safe (22 per cent) than more safe (eight per cent) out in public than they did even a year ago.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the sense of safety drops with age. Boomers (27 per cent) are more likely than Gen X’ers (22) or Millennials (17) to feel less safe.

The media attention given to terrorism, in particular, is bound to make people believe there are heightened risks, though the reality is there’s a very, very, very minor chance of you being caught up in a terrorist act.

Misperceptions are one thing, but the fear they generate has some really scary consequences, namely the abuse of privacy and civil liberties by all-too-eager authorities.

Each terrorist act – recently in Berlin and Turkey, for example – brings with it some level of hysteria. When they happen closer to home, the reaction is worse still. (We tend to ignore the terrorism committed by all sides almost daily in parts of the world that aren’t like “us.”)

Because we’re talking about Islamic terrorism here, each new incident makes life that much trickier for Muslims here and pretty much everywhere in the West. Already under a general blanket of suspicion, they face increased scrutiny.

Beyond the immediate reactions, we do need to understand the root causes of such acts. Some will point to radicalization as an inherent part of Islam. Others will mention the history of Western colonialism and ongoing interventions in Muslim countries. Then there’s the issue of support for Israel, an issue at the heart of all Middle East affairs – hello Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu … and Donald Trump.

Those issues are not going to go away anytime soon, as there’s too much money and ideology tied up in the status quo. What can be addressed, however, is how we react to terrorism and the fear it breeds. There, too, there are vested interests with financial and other incentives to call for beefed up security, military spending and even more restrictions to our civil rights and liberties.

You can bet events of the last couple of weeks – and the ones destined to come – will be used to justify more intrusions into our collective privacy.

Certain types have always had the urge to spy on people; in the post-9/11 world, the paranoid and dictatorial have found new ways to curtail public freedoms. Their attempts to play on current fears have many precedents – think of McCarthyism and the state police of hundreds of oppressive regimes.

Information gathered will do nothing to deter real crime, but would serve as an excellent vehicle for public control. Misuse would be rampant. Throw in a lack of data security and the perils become even greater.

With computers able to crunch vast amounts of disparate data, we would be wise to provide government, agencies and businesses with increasingly less information about ourselves. Preventing more intrusion on our lives is where the real battle lies.


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