2 votes
Jan 5, 2016

The main problem is the false choice posed by the question itself: the choice between "civil liberties" and "fighting terrorism". The debate on whether the fight against terrorism is actually aided by the abrogation of civil rights has yet to happen. But this I do not mean the moral argument often made by critics of security measures, who argue that the suspension of freedom is essentially tantamount to letting the terrorists "win". I agree with that argument and consider it extremely significant, but I also think it is also worth exploring the practical utility of the security measures themselves. Officials within security agencies, for instance, have often argued that blanket surveillance, random inspections and racial profiling are simply not effective ways to catch terrorists. The data generated from blanket surveillance is simply too large to be processed efficiently, while random inspections and racial profiling are for the most part inaccurate and unsuccessful, serving only to marginalise certain identities as potentially criminal. Targeted contextual intelligence is far more useful in that regard, though there are problems with that too. The question then arises, why do governments continue to suspend civil rights in the name of "fighting terrorism". Is terrorism really the only enemy we're facing? It seems to me that the suspension of rights serves another political project, namely, to suppress legitimate dissent against governments, and "terrorism" becomes a convenient catch-all phrase by which to justify measures that no critical public would otherwise tolerate. Often, that dissent includes voices of resistance against the very foreign policies of governments that create profound disaffection abroad, such as economic sanctions and military intervention, which in incite acts of terrorism. A proper debate on terrorism must therefore begin with a reflexive examination of the terms of the debate itself: what does fighting terrorism mean, what are civil rights, and why must we be forced to choose between the two?

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