Part 5 of 5 in a series on Risk-Logic and the War on TerrorAditi Gupta, Guest Blogger
Over the last four weekly posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part, 4), this blog series has been exploring the profoundly social impact that risk-based security policy has on our everyday lives. In using Selchow’s framework, I’m not trying to say that we have no agency in this process, and that we are helpless to stop it – quite the contrary. I feel only individual choice will reverse the trajectory of securitization, suspicion and fear that currently dictates how we view the risk of terrorism. By zooming in on the dynamics of depoliticization, responsibilization, and the separation of political decision-making from actuality, I have tried to break down the main pillars of what risk-logic does when it is the main force driving the governance of threats. I believe if we can understand objectively the forces at play within the networks of power that we engage in, we can decide for ourselves whether viewing the problem of terrorism only in terms of the risk of an attack and not the reasons behind one is benefiting our lives. Is this what we want for our future?
This question feeds in to the last dynamic of risk that is engendered by the dispositif of precautionary risk (DPR) mode of governance: expansion. As Selchow explains, the logic of risk implies an imperative to act. It is this dynamic that spurs the expansion of security; the UK government thus cannot not act. As we can see in the U.K., this dynamic inevitably feeds a process of ever-expanding securitization whereby increasing areas are deemed to harbor security threats. In the UK this can be seen in a variety of ways, stemming from the four rationalities driving the DPR. For example, this can be seen in the shift of the debate around tackling terrorism from addressing violence to extremism, from the physical to the imagined. This shift is one that has essentially ensured the securitization of potential thoughts.
It is no longer necessary for someone to physically carry out an act, suspicion of intent is enough to necessitate punishment. This perpetuates a discourse of ‘misunderstanding’ (as outlined last week) that produces normalized ways of engaging with this perceived risk. In other words, due to the perpetuation of the innate ‘bad’ label given to the archetypal religious Muslim, society is more likely to accept further curtailments on ‘their’ rights. As these risk-based decisions are not ‘tamed’ by an accompanying actuality or any hard evidence beyond the perception of ‘riskiness’, this form of thinking will always produce a sense that there are further uncertainties to be tamed. This can be seen in the steady expansion of who is deemed ‘risky’ since 9/11. From 2001-2005, external, foreign elements were seen to be the primary threat, resulting in the rapid securitization of the immigration system to target asylum seekers and immigrants (Amnesty, 2010). After 7/7, however, threats were expanded to include the panoptic surveillance of British citizens to target ‘home-grown’ enemies. Since then, the yearning for ever greater knowledge has spurred the extension of surveillance to health clinics, schools and universities where doctors and teachers are expected to inform on those under their care. (Liberty, 2007).
The pre-emptive nature of policies deployed by the DPR means that information is always, and always will be, incomplete. However, the desire to project the appearance of control has led to policies based on the expansion of ever-more vague offenses such as the offenses of ‘glorification of terrorism’ and ‘indirect encouragement’, and non-prosecution constraining measures, such as the Terrorism Prevention Investigation Measures (TPIMs [Annex 3]), in order to trap those who are suspected, but do not meet the evidentiary threshold required to be charged. Indeed, the acute suspicion of foreign nationals suspected of ‘extremist’ thoughts but not guilty of carrying out any criminal act, has very recently led to an expansion of executive power to enable the stripping of any naturalized citizen’s British citizenship. In recent years, this citizenship stripping has enabled governments to stick to the dogma of zero-risk and assassinate terror suspects through targeted drone strikes: if the suspect no longer exists, there’s no need to deal with the problematic prosecution of a crime that hasn’t been committed yet.
How this dynamic effects resistance: power dynamics
Consistent with the other dynamics, this process also precipitates at both the micro and macro levels. At the macro-level, Liberty articulates, ‘politicians feel like they need to be seen to be doing something in response to the terrorist threat, regardless of whether it wise…counter-productive…whether it’s entirely unnecessary’. Amnesty International United Kingdom (AIUK) has commented on the difficulty of fighting expansion of policy due to the combination of future temporality, secret evidence and use of vague offenses. In a 2012 Amnesty International report, resistance to this is seen as ‘shadow-boxing’ where ‘you have no idea if your strategy and points are on the money or wide of the mark’. AIUK has documented how the ‘seepage’ of the use of secret evidence in the U.K. has managed to dampen the successes gained in chipping away the system of pre-charge detention down to TPIMs, becoming an ever-more permanent feature of the civil sanctioning system with the institutionalization of the Justice and Security Act.
Reprieve and CagePrisoners demonstrate the importance of micro-resistance in direct ways with the public. CagePrisoners urge those affected by the expansion of risk-based policy to come directly to them to seek justice together, as well as share individual every-day experiences of these policies on a specially created website ‘www.schedule7stories.com’. They explain that this was done so that Muslims themselves could understand that these policies were not just based on racism, but part of a much bigger problem of governance, thus recognizing the importance of engaging with the macro-level debate.
Reprieve has aimed to expose the sheer expansion of War on Terror policy such as the rendition network through the invasion of public space. For example, through teaming up with cosmetics company, LUSH, and lingerie designer, Agent Provocateur, images of Binyam Mohammad and Sami al Haj appeared in LUSH High Street windows, bath bombs and even on the runway through underwear that stated ‘fair trial, my arse’ (Reprieve, 2008). The use of humor in conjunction with this micro-level contact had a powerful impact that made the name ‘Binyam Mohammad’ shorthand for U.K. complicity in rendition and torture.
The importance of humanizing the nature of risk-based policies at the micro-level and not just applying political pressure at the state and transnational level is caught up in the significance CagePrisoners gives to the role of ‘misunderstanding’. If individual assumptions are not targeted – whether they be about misunderstanding the driver of policy or misunderstanding the indefinability of terrorism – people will carry on being normalized into thinking that to gain security, you have to keep on giving up freedoms.
Conclusion: How the case of HRO resistance in the UK pulls together the threads of risk and power
By analyzing the role of human rights organization (HRO) resistance to the technologies deployed by the DPR mode of governance in what Foucault calls ‘the battle for truth’, it is thus possible to see how risk dynamics are ultimately intertwined with power. Focusing on this site of resistance can see how Selchow’s four dynamics are central to the constant negotiation of the dynamics of power that circulate the ‘regime of truth’ regarding the governance of the UK through the DPR.
Secondly, the example of the work of CagePrisoners and their encouragement of the micro-resistance of the Muslim ‘suspect community’ to supplement the macro-resistance carried out at state-level by HROs crucially reveals that it is not enough to simply focus on macro-, policy-level resistance whether globally, or against the state. This is due to what CagePrisoners deems ‘misunderstanding’ at both the micro- and macro-levels. The creation of the Muslim ‘terrorist’ is a central technology deployed by the DPR through the four rationalities that drive it. In essence, the case of the UK suggests that the perpetuation of a discourse of ‘misunderstanding’ produces normalized ways of engaging with discourses that present the Muslim identity as ‘risky’. In other words, due to the perpetuation of the innate ‘bad’ label given to the perceived ‘archetypal religious Muslim’, it is likely that society will submit to the dynamic of expansion that indicates further curtailments on ‘their’ rights. If it doesn’t affect me - it’s not my problem, right?
By looking at the combined social and political effects of risk dynamics and their ripple effect on relations of power, it can be seen that simply focusing on resistance to top-down frameworks that govern political power such as parliamentary mechanisms and lobbying, is no longer enough. The Foucauldian ‘battle for truth’ is not about absolute truths that are accepted, but about rules by which these truths are constructed and engaged with by society. The importance of going beyond legal frameworks and working at the level of everyday interaction is highlighted by the examples of CagePrisoners and Reprieve in their parallel activities that aim to affect micro-relations. Interestingly, both of these organizations emerged fully-fledged post-9/11, born out of the need to resist the rationalities and technologies deployed by the DPR.
In saying this, this blog series is not saying that state-level resistance is not important. As shown, different HROs take different roles regarding resistance within the DPR system of governance. Organizations like Liberty and Amnesty cannot fulfill the same role as an organization like CagePrisoners as they are not part of the ‘suspect community’. By the same token, Reprieve equally cannot function the same way as CagePrisoners. However, when viewing successful negotiation of power within the DPR such as the joint HRO campaigns on pre-charge detention and UK complicity in torture, it is clear that there needs to be this division of labor. This enables HROs to target the multiple dimensions of the dynamics engendered by the DPR: global, legal, political, social; micro- and macro-.
This series has attempted to highlight the shifting and fluid nature of the circulations of power underlying risk-governance. Risk-logic can’t be reduced to a technical tool used to govern terrorism. The dynamics that this sets in motion have fundamentally altered society-state relations in a profoundly social way. Risk-based security policy has resulted in a wholesale cultural shift that rests on fear and suspicion and doesn’t ask why the problem of terrorism exists. Instead, it simply tries to pre-empt it from occurring through an expansionary process that is slowly destroying freedom of speech, movement and privacy. Ultimately, the question we should be asking ourselves when we ignore this practice is: ‘is this worth it?’
Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013. She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homeless organizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the last post in her five-part series on Crimcast which began in early January, 2014.