Opinion: The politics of safety
Two explosions in Belgium rocked a Brussels airport and metro station on March 22, killing more than 30 people and injuring hundreds. The attackers names are unimportant, they don't deserve our recitation. As in the Paris attacks, and the long string of terror strikes that have grown into a semi-monthly fixture in the post 9/11 world the well known response has come. Presidents and leaders of various nations, news pundits and media commentators all lend their voices to a chorus calling out for unity and strength in the face of adversity and terror, a rallying cry to stand up against those who would take away our freedom and seek to sow seeds of fear in the minds of the West. They decry such acts of violence and insist they have no place in religion or society. They call for measures to be taken immediately to makes us safer. Politicians in both major parties insist that we must take measures to create more security and to punish those responsible for such atrocities.
The narrative is always the same. Whether some troubled outsider shoots up a group of innocents, or blows himself up in twisted hopes of paradise or some other cause. Be it Anders Brevik, James Holmes, the Tsarnaevs or Daesh (the so called Islamic State), after any school shooting, theater shooting, mass murder, terror attack or mass tragedy the cry inevitably comes. Let us legislate! Whether advocating a new bombing campaign in one of a dozen countries from North Africa to the western edge of India, or increased surveillance of our neighbors, or an outright ban on guns, or as Ted Cruz has called for “patrolling and securing Muslim neighborhoods,” the reaction comes.
As reported by BBC News Secretary of State John Kerry stated on March 25, “We will not be intimidated, we will not be deterred… we will not rest until we have eliminated (Daesh's) nihilistic beliefs and cowardice from the face of this earth.”
This is great rhetoric and it sounds powerful but it won't stop the next attack; No matter the amount of 'Je Suis' sentiment or declarations of intent. The 'War on Terror' has been waged for 15 years and we are seeing more terrorism in the West than at any other point in the contemporary era. Our problem is that we are in a post war age and we refuse to recognize it. The world no longer engages in proper warfare, we are engaged only in operations and ideology. Warfare proper has a defined enemy, a definite objective and goals. Technology and ideological fanaticism have erased this as a factor of the contemporary world. A terrorist blowing himself up in a crowded urban center is not a battle and neither is a drone striking a target or causing collateral damages.
The tendency toward violence simply cannot be curbed through legislation. Advanced precaution and security may prevent some attacks and certainly intelligence ought not to be dispensed with entirely. However, again and again someone will try and succeed; Some insane couple in San Bernardino, some suicide bomber in Brussels, some gunmen at a concert in Paris. We cannot legislate this away. The reality is, due to the unstoppable crash course train of socio-economic, political, cultural and religious currents of history and globalization this planet and civilization has hooked itself to, this is our world. It is not a safe world, and it never was. Freedom is a two-edged sword. The safest place in the world is arguably a solitary confinement cell in Pelican Bay. Life itself isn't safe. In a world where objective war is dead we are all on the battlefield. None of us are safe so let's stop trying to legislate away the last bits of our freedom and walk boldly and bravely into the night of uncertainty.
No amount of legislation, or call for bans on Muslims, gun laws, security measures or bombing campaigns will ever guarantee our safety. Let us declare, come what may that we will no longer judge our safety by terror alerts, by travel warnings, and color codes. Let us refuse to participate in reactionary politics and hatred. Grieve yes, give sympathy to the nations and peoples as they suffer. But grieve for the world and the future that we've found ourselves in, not for a lost sense of safety and innocence because the fact is when you took your first breath as an infant you accepted the raw danger of fate. Let us not ask what are we fighting for, but rather let us ask ourselves, if we legislate ourselves into ultimate safety, what now are we living for?