Securitization – How political rhetoric affects what we fear

I recently watched a BBC documentary on the Black Liberation Movement. One activist, La’Shadion Anthony, discussed why he doesn’t trust the police saying: “the police have more murders in the U.S. than ISIS and than all the other terrorist groups alone this year.” With the number of Americans killed by the police recorded at 1,000 for 2015, and 24 Americans killed by terrorist attacks in 2014, La’Shadion clearly had a point. This reminded me of a theory I learned about in an introductory politics course – securitization.

Securitization is the idea that certain issues can be constructed as an overriding threat to our security, even though they are not objectively crucial to the survival of our state. There may even be issues that are objectively far more detrimental, which are pushed into the background as a result. By constructing a particular threat as paramount, it legitimises extraordinary measures to combat it.

The example that is most commonly used is terrorism. Terrorism is seen as a particularly high threat in the western world, despite relatively low fatalities. In 2012, it was found that bee stings posed an equivalent threat to British lives. Across the Atlantic, Obama highlighted that more Americans are killed by gun violence than terrorism (by a huge margin).

That’s not to dismiss the threat posed by terror. It certainly feels closer to home with recent events in France and Belgium, and there was an 80% increase in the number of terror attacks in 2014. But over 50% of these attacks occurred within five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria (bit awkward that Britain colonised 4/5 of them eh…). From the way it is reported by some news outlets in the UK, the USA and Europe, it would seem it is our biggest threat; but we are not the people who suffer most.

When we look at Cameron’s rhetoric surrounding the Syrian airstrikes last November, he would almost have you believe we were. In a speech to Parliament he described ISIS as “one of the greatest threats we face to our security” today. He cited seven terror plots that were foiled that year, and I don’t deny the value of preventative measures. The problem I have with this rhetoric, is by constructing the issue as an exceptional threat, he legitimises exceptional measures. By branding it “morally unacceptable” to leave our allies to deal with the problem and those who disagree as “terrorist sympathisers”, he made the decision irrational, fearful and intimidating.

When we put Cameron’s politics into perspective, there are so many more concealed, day-to-day issues that seem to fall by the wayside. The Office for National Statistics, for example, reported that domestic abuse affected a staggering 1.4 million women and 700,000 men in 2014. Domestic violence kills on average two women a week in the UK, and this chart shows this has exceeded the number of British people killed in terror attacks for at least the past 10 years.

Yet, earlier this year the Government tried to cut legal aid for domestic abuse victims. Although these attempts were rejected as unlawful, it begs the question, where do their priorities lie? Why could they find “low tens of millions” for a dubiously effective airstrike campaign, when they couldn’t find money to protect domestic abuse victims at home? Does Mr Cameron sympathise with domestic abusers?

I think not, and clearly this level of hyperbole is unhelpful, especially when trying to make rational political decisions. There are a plethora of causes out there that deserve funding and terrorism is perhaps the most extreme and publicly broadcasted. Nonetheless, it should not yet be our biggest fear; even if our Prime Minister may make it seem this way.


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