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Local view: Peace and security: A civilian perspective

Runa Das

The globalizing world of post-9/11 international politics unfortunately continues to be rocked by terrorist attacks, affecting states and their civilians at a global level.

Beginning with the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., these unfortunate chains of events have rocked, among others, Europe (Madrid, London and Paris), Asia (Mumbai, Bali and Jakarta), Africa (Tunisia), the U.S. (Boston and San Bernardino), and Brussels via the recent March 2016 bombings.

From a civilian perspective, how does one make sense of and deal with these unfortunate occurrences that incur direct devastating consequences on states and citizens who remain victims? Also, at a more complex level, how does one make sense of the interconnected issues of religion, culture and identity of certain individuals and communities who may unfortunately become subject to implicit or explicit forms of profiling or stereotyping as a result of these repeated occurrences of terrorism?

It is common sense that for every globally concerned citizen, these terrorism crises are real-threat issues with concrete physical and psychological impacts on their direct victims, on these victims’ friends and families, and to any responsible and concerned member of the global community — irrespective of their gender, class, race, religion or geographical location. They create a highly disconcerting state of human insecurity.

Furthermore, in their global scale of occurrences, these terrorist incidents not only have rocked the countries of the West, they also have affected non-Western countries such as India and Indonesia, showing that these occurrences target not only Western/Christian countries but also Hindu-Buddhist countries.

In addition, in these globally scattered terrorist incidents, victims have included both Westerners and non-Westerners who unfortunately happened to be present.

This global state of terrorism justifiably has necessitated responses from state leaders all over the world to not only fight through political-military strategies but also through interstate dialogue and diplomacy. These collective efforts are evidenced in the passing of the U.S. Patriot Act by the U.S. after 9/11; the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; the passing of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act in the United Kingdom; the European Union Framework Decision on Terrorism; and such.

In addition, there followed speeches by political leaders assuring security to their citizens at home and abroad, the shoring up of transportation networks and special law-enforcement security systems and, finally, an escalation of states’ military-nuclear defensive measures (also resulting in their rising military-defense budgetary allocations and expenses).

In the wake of the Brussels crisis, as the European Union stresses the need to mobilize European resilience to combat future attacks and as terrorism-prone Asian countries (like India) remain on high vigilance to counter potential Brussels-like attacks, at home, the 2016 U.S. presidential candidates debate various ways (either through waterboarding tactics, patrolling and securing certain neighborhoods or coalition-building with certain states) to fight ongoing acts of terrorism.

Although views (especially from human-rights groups such as the Global Campaign for Free Expression and Amnesty International) across the United States, U.K., European Union and South Asia have deemed these post-9/11 national-security measures in their national contexts as being too militaristic, diverting economic resources for military-defense purposes and bearing human-rights implications on certain groups and individuals (namely stereotyping or profiling groups based on their religious-cultural stripes), at a general level, a consensus exists that these immediate state-led national security strategies may be pragmatic and result in short-term efforts to move toward less militaristic, less restrictive, long-term strategies to curb ongoing trends of terrorism.

In this space of transition, while states and their political leaders across the globe continue to work (through state-led national security measures) to provide security for all, one must not in this context ignore the existence of a simultaneous power, i.e., people’s power or civilian power that also tries to make sense of, understand and proffer a civilian-led and trust-based vision of peace and security in the post-9/11 world. While these civilian voices are not disconnected from or discounting of the state-led national security measures, they mark a space for themselves by representing more concerted efforts to balance their perceived excesses of state-led, post-9/11 national security measures with less militaristic, less restrictive and more human rights-attuned notions of national security for all civilians, irrespective of religion, culture, nationality and gender.

Although delinking religion, culture and global acts of terrorism is also strongly emphasized by most political leaders at the global scale, these state-led narratives and approaches to attain post-9/11 security must be seen in tandem with the numerous transnational civilian groups and organizations (such as the Human Rights Watch in the United States, Europe and Asia; the American Civil Liberties Union; Liberty in the U.K.; and the 2015 unity march in Paris attended by 3.7 million civilians to defy terrorism) that seek to build a more inclusive state of security, civilian rights and racial justice for all in the post-9/11 world.

Runa Das is an associate professor in the political science department at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Her research focuses on international relations and security; nuclear security relations between India, Pakistan and the U.S.; and peace movements.

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