Chronicles

Prisoners of Our Fears
by: Mike Lushington  

            I had a few free minutes on my way to a regularly scheduled training session with my biathlon athletes one day recently. It was a bright and rather calm afternoon, unlike many of the recent past, so, on a whim, I detoured down through Dalhousie and out onto the West Wharf to see what gulls and other creatures might be lurking around the edges of the ice. I sat for a few minutes, watching the gulls and a small seal that had hauled itself out onto the ice on the far side of the channel. And then I was off to my assignment.

            As I left the wharf, I had to wonder just how often I was going to be able to repeat this seemingly harmless little side trip in the future. The word is that wharf facilities in many of the small ports in Canada will soon be off-limits to everyone except those who receive clearance to be there specifically for their work. And so another small, harmless pleasure suddenly becomes a potential act of terrorism - at least in the eyes of those who are increasingly controlled by fear and who control the actions of the rest of us. I had never thought that birdwatching, mackerel fishing, or simply feeding the gulls while having lunch could be construed as actions potentially dangerous to the security of the nation, but there it is.

            With all of this paranoia over the so-called "War on Terrorism" I really have to wonder who is actually winning that war. We are relinquishing more and more of our freedoms and becoming increasingly suspicious of anyone who is "not like us". As we withdraw into our collective fear we begin to accept actions and decisions on the part of our governors that, in freer and more generous times, we would reject outright. Thus elements in the RCMP feel justified in conducting raids on newspaper reporters that smack of Gestapo actions, actions that, furthermore, leave a newly chosen Prime Minister gasping in ignorance. The proud boast about "The Longest Undefended Border in the World", that between Canada and The United States, is rapidly becoming little more than a lamented memory for older citizens and a mere myth for younger people.

            We are a docile people. We submit to increasing invasions of our privacy on the grounds that if one is innocent, there is nothing to fear. Unfortunately, the very definition of "innocence" seems to change at such times; actions that were little more than carelessness in times past suddenly take on criminal or 'terrorist' overtones and we find ourselves looking over our shoulders to see who might be watching and recording. Crime Stoppers and Neighbourhood Watch, programs of admirable intent at their conception, become vehicles for spying and reporting on one another - and opportunities to settle grudges. No, it hasn't happened - yet, but I have this queasy feeling in my stomach that we are no wiser and more virtuous than those people of 1930's Germany, or the 1960's Soviet Union who used programs disturbingly similar in their original intentions to effect revenge on neighbours for real or imagined slights.

            We are ruled by our fears. That is little more than a natural response to the challenges of survival. When the state steps in, though, and begins to encourage and even foster those fears, it becomes something else, something meaner and more vicious. Democracy, the fundamental right to be individuals who are presumed innocent until we do something that proves otherwise, is the victim of those sanctioned fears. When I am at my most pessimistic, I really do have to wonder: who is winning this "War on Terrorism?"

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