How the War Was ‘One’: Countering violent extremism and the social dimensions of counter-terrorism in Canada.
The current global “war on terror” highlights a fundamental quandary for all liberal democracies seeking to counter the violent extremism of their own citizens while maintaining civic rights and freedoms. This challenge accompanies a transformation in international conflict from inter-state war and superpower rivalry, to homegrown terrorism, radicalization-to-violence, Internet propaganda, and targeting and recruitment of vulnerable persons. These new threats shift the battlefield, as traditionally defined, to the home front, as extremist violence is nurtured by and perpetrated within public spaces, such as schools, places of religious worship, civil society and the home. Today, violence emanates from within liberal democratic society and its extremist motivations bypass the very institutions that would otherwise support civic rights, freedoms and multiculturalism. As such, attempts to counter extremist violence must appeal to the political, social, cultural, religious and familial aspects of human behavior alongside a parallel shift in efforts to keep citizens safe within their own social spaces. In recent years, Canada has been introduced to home grown and lone individual terrorism with the cases of attack against armed forces personnel in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa in 2014. This article identifies the social dimensions of counter-terrorism in the Canadian context, a propitious case by which to evaluate different approaches to countering violent extremism. Canadian initiatives - simultaneously proliferating and in their infancy – raise a host of questions about counter-terrorism in liberal democratic countries. For example, why do individuals radicalize-to-violence in rights-based and multicultural societies? How and when can the liberal democratic state best temper the radicalization process in ways that are effective and procedurally just? What state-society balance works best to counter radicalized viewpoints? Who are the appropriate stakeholders in mounting and monitoring counter radicalization programs? What risks accompany government engagement with communities against terrorist activity? And what are the appropriate measures of success? These questions lay the groundwork for an empirical analysis of prevalent programs in Canada against the background of the “war on terror”, multiculturalism, racial profiling, community policing and other contemporary Canadian values.
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