As reports circulate that David Cameron wishes to prohibit the use of Snapchat, WatsApp and other similar encrypted devices, David O'Donoghue argues that leaders have consistently used terrorism as an excuse to destroy our social and political freedom.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” so said Chicago mayor and potential Democratic nominee for US President Rahm Emanuel in the wake of the financial crash. But it’s a political sentiment of seizing crisis to ram through your personal agenda that is far from a new idea. Winston Churchill himself famously declared, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” as well.
 
And the situation in Europe right now certainly has the look of a crisis. 17 people in total were killed as a result of the actions of Islamist extremists last week. The events of what are being called “9/1” by some, have sent reverberations around the world. The tensions between French society and its Muslim majority, already historically fraught because of racism and deprivation, are at a fever pitch.
 
After a few years spent thinking the War on Terror was something fought far away by robots and mercenaries, that ordinary citizens need not think about or evaluate or discuss the consequences of conflict in the Muslim world that have come home to roost once more, crowing in mournful tones as they nest themselves in the heart of the developed Western world.
 
And, according to David Cameron, it’s a crisis we can’t let go to waste.
 
Cameron has used the events in France as a space to draw the electoral battle lines for the Conservatives in the upcoming British elections in May. The Labour party are just about ahead and Cameron hopes to emphasise his party’s tough terror policies to a voter base still reeling in shock from the events in Paris. In Cameron’s opinion the crisis must wake us up to the necessity of dealing with the evils in our society that enable terror and political violence. Great! 
 
So dealing with poverty? Maybe social exclusion in immigrant populations? Oh, how about scaling back decades of Western terror and atrocities in the Middle East?
 
What’s that? No? You’re going after WhatsApp and Snapchat instead? Fair enough Dave, each to his own.
 
Yes the preferred instruments of drunken college students that want to beam images of their genitals all around the world instantly are to be targeted in new anti-terror legislation aimed at  encrypted communications. Reportedly, Cameron wishes to make it illegal to encrypt any information beyond the reach of the grubby hands of the United Kingdom’s security services, which would affect encrypted messaging services such as SnapChat and WhatsApp.
 
Now far be it from me to suggest that there’s anything wrong with GCHQ employees sending my nude selfies around the office in email forwards (even if showing someone a nude image of me is likely a war crime of some kind) but it’s a bit of a wacky way to defend against terror eh?
 
Sadly this sort of regressive taking advantage of a crisis has been one of the most distinct domestic effects of the War on Terror. From legislation allowing security agencies to snoop on all our Facebook chats to laws allowing for US citizens to be imprisoned without trial on US soil, leaders have consistently used terrorism as an excuse to destroy our social and political freedoms. It’s a genius strategy really. ‘The Terrorists’ can’t take our freedom from us if we don’t have any. Smart thinking. Next time you’re going out for a few pints in the city and you’re worried about getting mugged, remember to just give away all your possessions and pop out in the nip. They can’t steal anything from you then!
 
All in all, this proposed anti-terror legislation is yet another cynical demonstration of how politicians will use people’s fear of violent terrorist attacks to strip us of our most important rights and freedoms. We have encountered forces who wish to destroy our democracy and we have responded by doing the job for them. We have divorced Islamic terror from its realities, and in the process created an unreal monster that politicians can puff their chest up against and feel powerful.
 
But what the news will not tell you about are the 14 Muslim majority countries that Western forces have bombed or invaded since 1980. Or the numerous democratic and peaceful nationalist or Islamist movements defeated by Western violence in the region. Or that our great allies the Saudi Arabians are bankrolling most of the hateful ideology that leads to barbaric events like those in Paris.
 
But that would obscure the nightmare and rob it of its power. That would muddy up the clean cut “Good Guys vs Bad Guys” narrative that serves our political elite so well. And without a crisis, without a boogeyman out there, we’ll end up seeing the real boogeyman: those who rob our freedoms while claiming to value them the most.
 
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” 
 
Photo: Maurizio Pesce/ Flickr