Acquiescing to terrorism

3 Feb 2015

Terrorism is essentially a political and psychological strategy that relies for its enduring impact on catalysing a militaristic and utilitarian counter-terrorism response to misperceptions of a grave and imminent threat. Decisive and expedient counter-terrorism strategies post 9/11 have required significant compromises to a range of long-established democratic principles and institutions, including altering the delicate balance between civil liberties and national security in favour of strengthening and extending the state's security and intelligence capabilities.

While the expansion of the state's surveillance powers and capabilities has obvious implications for individual privacy and civil liberties, burgeoning securitization and the expansion of the secret state has significant potential to permanently undermine essential democratic accountability. Democratic legitimacy is predicated on the capacity of citizens to periodically hold elected representatives to account for the public actions and performance of government. The capacity for democratic accountability is seriously impeded when a growing number of the government's key functions are undertaken in secret.

The powerful emotional and fearful dimensions of the spectre of terrorism poses diabolical dilemmas for Australia's elected political representatives. In the face of perceptions of a grave and imminent threat to national security there is great electoral advantage in appearing strong and decisive, particularly when the first duty of government is to protect its citizens. Any suggestion of scepticism, caution or nuance on national security by elected representatives is immediately interpreted as weakness by sections of the media and poses enormous political risks. This treacherous political environment demands unquestioning bipartisan support for Team Australia's utilitarian approach towards counter-terrorism and acceptance of a simplistic us/them conflict paradigm. In such an environment there are few opportunities for informed and objective public debate on complex or sensitive issues or matters of principle, let alone critical consideration of the justification, cost, effectiveness and implications of existing counter-terrorism measures.

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