Thursday, October 26, 2006


The striking down of certain portions of Canada's anti-terrorism legislation has again put questions of how best to approach the war on terror at the forefront of public debate.

Over at Mader Blog, Mader is promising to read the judicial decision in its entirety (and links to it) and, as usual, I think
one of the most civil and well reasoned discussion of the issue is going to go on there in the comments - so keep your eye on it and don't shy away from contributing.

Meanwhile, in his column yesterday, Thomas Walkom argued that one of the broader implications of the recent ruling was to undermine the political and ideological legitimacy of the war on terror. He writes:

If the definition of terrorism itself is struck down, there is not much point to having special laws above and beyond those aspects of the criminal code that already ban murder, bombing and mayhem.But if terrorism loses its privileged place, the political rationale of the war on terror begins to slip away. Terrorism is no longer a unique world-defining struggle. It becomes instead just another mundane horrible crime [...] Which wouldn't be a bad thing. Part of the problem of the war against terror is that it has got us all spooked. We forget that we are far more likely to be murdered by a close relative than an Al Qaeda devotee.
I have a few preliminary thoughts related to this argument. First, just because the legal definition of terrorism is struck down does not necessarily relegate the importance of the war on terror. The war on terror is confronting a group of people who believe in a radically fundamentalist and intollerant interpretation of Islam. The criminal law has great difficulty confronting ideology. This does not mean that governments and citizens should not be confronting this ideology in other ways and on other fronts. We can use the criminal law, were appropriate, to charge and convict people who would kill or attempt to kill us for whatever reason. We can and must use many other strategies to undermine the violent ideology that is at the root of these crimes as well as using other means outside the criminal code to confront, and defend ourselves agains, the people who are motivated by this violent ideology.

Secondly the argument that we face a great many more likely causes of death and harm in our everyday lives than from radical Islam is such a common argument and so irrelevant. As already mentioned, the threat from Islamism is the hateful and violent ideology it expresses. The deaths inflicted are just one of the most devestating consequences of this ideology.

Consider a corollary example:

It is much more likely that people will be killed or injured for any number of reasons than in a racially motivated murder. However, racially motivated murders are so deplorable, in part because of the ideas underpinning them, because they are hateful and because they should be so preventable. Further, while racially motivated killings may be thankfully rare in our country, it does not mean they are rare everywhere, nor does it mean Canada does not face many instances of racism that result in harm less than murder, nor does it mean confronting racism should not be an imperative of every tollerant and thoughtful member of society.

There will likely be many more thoughts to come on this subject - and remember to follow the discussion at Mader Blog.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:46 a.m.

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Good post. I agree completely (and not just because I've never read a Tommy Walkom article that I've liked). I linked you in on my post, on the seemingly unwanted consequences of the ruling from the defendants point of view. Still waiting on Mader, because I have no intention whatsoever of reading the ruling myself.

Posted by Blogger Olaf @ October 26, 2006 9:10 p.m. #
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