Wednesday, December 9, 2015

False fears used to justify the unjustifiable


The level of threat to New Zealand of a terrorist attack is currently considered 'low', this has changed from the 'very low' level of threat that existed before the ISIS (or Daesh) crisis in Syria and Iraq.

Our involvement with the Five Eyes alliance has been partly justified because of the potential threat of a Daesh connected terrorist attack and the SIS has been consistent in telling us that there are 40 people on their watch list that they consider potentially dangerous. The Prime Minister and the SIS refuse to divulge the criteria used to define what they consider dangerous and given they have had people on their watch list in the past who were no threat at all makes me doubt the real danger they pose. Green MP Keith Lock was spied on from the age of 11 years (and as an MP) only because of his family's and his own political views.

It is clear that the Prime Minister wants to ramp up the feeling of threat from possible terrorism. When SIS Director Rebecca Kitteridge reported to an annual Intelligence and Security Committee meeting she expressed concern at the number of women traveling to the Islamic State controlled areas. She admitted that they had no information regarding their intent and what they would be doing there and that it only involved around a dozen individuals:

"It's difficult to see what they do when they go. We definitely do have intelligence that they went. Whether they are going to fight or whether they are going to support other fighters is not clear."

The information was very vague about these women, some may very well be part of aid programmes or be returning for family reasons. To assume that they wished to be part of the fighting or that they are radicalised is only supposition. However John Key used this information to make the public statement that that Jihadi Brides were becoming more common and implied that this was what these women were. When pushed he admitted only two were 'believed' to have become the wives of militants. Given that few of these women are unlikely to re-enter the country without substantial scrutiny I find it difficult to understand the level risk to our security that these women pose. The use of the term 'believed' means that the evidence of New Zealand Jihadi Brides is not conclusive.

New Zealand has been involved, directly or indirectly, in past Middle East conflicts for many years and yet the last terrorist attack we experienced was the French attack on the Rainbow Warrior. Key's intention in highlighting this issue is clearly to justify our military presence in Iraq, our involvement with Five Eyes and increased levels of surveillance.

The Paris attack and the mass shooting in San Bernadino, California, has ramped up fears in the West well beyond the relative risk. While both events were tragic and shocking the average French or US citizen has probably more to fear from someone in their own community than a Daesh terrorist. Donald Trump's wish to ban all Muslims from entering the US and constant calls for the wider Islamic community to take responsibility for IS extremists is hypocritical. The black community has more to fear in the US from the police shooting them than any terrorist (100 unarmed blacks were killed by police in 2014 alone). There are also more mass shootings in the US then there are days (350 so far for 2015), and less than 1% can be attributed to Islamic terrorists.

If we want a dangerous world to live in then all we need to do is marginalise and persecute communities and supply them with advanced assault weapons. Given the West's approach to the Middle East, and lack of an articulated strategy, it is clear that conciliation and peace have never been seriously pursued. It is always useful for Governments to create an external perceived threat to their own security to distract attention from their internal problems and justify surveillance human rights abuses. Key understands this well.

Postscript: A young Muslim woman found herself questioned on her return from Iraq after visiting family members with her parents, her story makes interesting reading.

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