Taking Hostages: Research Funding to “Prevent Terrorism”
Earlier this year, on January 25, 2012, Canada’s rather infamous and unpopular Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, announced the first call for proposals for the Kanishka Project, “a multi-year investment in terrorism-focused research by the Government of Canada”. (It’s somehow both chilling and comical: that a Minister who continues to “distinguish” himself for his backing of pseudoscience and Islamophobia, while trampling on the rights of citizenship, should begin to fancy himself a Dean of Research for all of Canada. Note that even leading right wing media commentators are laughing out loud at Toews’ policies.)
On May 30, 2012, both Vic Toews and Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, announced the awarding of the first $1.1 million for Kanishka applicants. Vic Toews had this to say:
“Terrorism and violent extremism are global threats and Canada is not immune. I’m pleased to announce the funding awarded to the first six innovative research projects that will help build Canada’s knowledge and understanding of the complex issue of terrorism. Threats evolve, and we must strive to improve our knowledge and understanding to more effectively address these threats. With initiatives like the Kanishka Project, we are taking action to help build the resilience of our communities against the threats we face today.”
For his part, Jason Kenney had this to offer:
“Research supported by the Kanishka Project will increase our understanding of terrorism. This will help produce more effective policies and tools for people on the front lines, including community leaders, police, lawyers, and judges. Preventing future acts of terrorism is the greatest tribute we can offer to these victims.”
(A second call for research proposals has just ended, and a third call is due on…Halloween, 2012).
The Ministers were explicit that the purpose of the Kanishka Project is to support “Canada’s” larger “Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” with some of its egregious elements outlined below. The Ministers, referring to the “prevent, detect, deny and respond” pillars of the Strategy, indicated clearly that the work of academics was in prevention:
“In support of the Government of Canada’s efforts under the element of the Strategy that seeks to prevent individuals from engaging in terrorism, the Kanishka Project strives to create a vibrant network of scholars that will inform more effective policies for preventing and countering terrorism.”
Instructing Academics on What (Not) to Research
There are four major “research themes” outlined by the Government for the Kanishka Project, each with its own set of flawed assumptions and generous, charitable blindness towards the wrongdoing of the Canadian federal state. The themes are listed as, in Public Safety Canada’s words: 1) Ideological extremism and violence, 2) Perception and emotion, 3) Collective dynamics and resilience, and 4) Organization and effectiveness.
Under the first theme, “ideological extremism and violence,” Kanishka’s academics are prodded to import the “war on terror” and apply it at home, in a clear statement of the domestication of counterinsurgency: “Currently, a prominent threat facing Canada’s national security (and similarly, that of many countries) is radicalization leading to violence, including homegrown violent extremism” (emphasis added). The program is very much interested in angry people–and not so interested in why there are all these angry people, and who/what made them so angry. It’s a standard case of juvenile blame assignment that one would hope not to see in schoolyards, or at least left behind there before puberty: the offender blames the offended for responding to the offense. That way the offender gets to cry innocence, and play the victim.
Under “perception and emotion,” Public Safety Canada has enough honesty to acknowledge that “the word terrorism is itself an emotionally-charged term, and the effects of how it is reported in the media and other forms of public communication can escalate or calm tensions as well as reinforce or correct misperceptions”–but then it seems as if, aware of its emotive power, the architects of the program are fully resolved on exploiting that as a virtue, referring to the “threat environment” in which we supposedly live. Note the deliberate choice in their terminology: terrorism, not Resistance Studies and not what North American anthropologists once studied under the heading of Revitalization Movements. The latter two put the focus of the study within a broader social and historical context. The focus on “terrorism” instead focuses merely on a method, placing the onus on the attacker, and absolving any other actors as they are all victims of terror.
Interestingly, in connection with this second theme, the program’s authors posit as one possible research question: “Should there be more limits on public expressions of anger or grievance?” Interesting choice of words: more limits–meaning there are already limits in place, but they may not be sufficient. Note the quietly conservative, Canadian shriek here: public expressions of anger are negative in “tone,” and we would want not the wrong “tone” resonating too widely.
Under “collective dynamics and resilience”, it is arguable that the idea of “resilience” is framed in the document as a counterinsurgency concept: “resilience is the capacity [of communities, groups] to react to inflammatory actions and events in ways that prevent further harm and, where possible, for society to emerge from such trials better able to manage future similar stressors”. In directing research toward issues of how communities can counter efforts to “recruit, mobilize or otherwise gain support for violent extremist causes,” Kanishka is again playing a counterinsurgency role, at home. In addition, the implication in this section of the program is that researchers will identify the problematic communities that are susceptible to violent extremism. Here academia is performing in the role of a 9-1-1 call to the national security state, and Kanishka is their speed dialing mechanism.
With respect to “organization and effectiveness” one of the program’s stated interests is, “what should we learn from the practices and experiences of other countries regarding counter-terrorism strategies, laws and prosecutions”. This opens the door to imitation of other state’s dirty wars, and their importation into Canada–except that Canada’s ruling elites are especially mimetic sorts, lacking in originality, and what is passed off as “best practices” usually means: “what our powerful friends are doing, is what we should do”. The government is also interested in linking security policy with social policy, in another move reminiscent of Canadian counterinsurgency in Kandahar.
So far, none of the successful applicants to the Kanishka Program are doing anything that does not sound like it was scripted by Public Safety Canada. This is another reflection of how state-controlled inquiry is effectively “dumbed down” into recitation of what the authorities want to hear, phrased in terms that state bureaucrats can understand, and serving the goals of politicians. Applications for such programs tend to be the result of a self-selection process that suits the guiding principles and questions of the program–those academics most inclined to think like the state are those most inclined to apply, and most likely to receive funding. Those who submit applications to such programs are those that agree with its basic premises and therefore reinforce the flawed assumptions and blind spots of the program. The result is the production of orthodoxy, hiding behind “innovative” forms of mining data and presenting results. This may be “research,” but it hardly qualifies as the higher order of thinking that is expected of actual intellectuals. The successful applicants to Kanishka, like those who protested the writing of a student in my classes (see Laura Beach’s work on the Security Defence Forum), will likely say that no one tells them what to think or what to write. No, because they do not require such instruction, having already self-selected for a program whose premises match their own and whose parameters correspond to the boundaries of their own thinking. It would be totally redundant for such “scholars” to be told what to think by the state.
Beach, Laura. (2011). “The Militarization of Canada’s Universities”. The Mark, June 1.
Kay, Jonathan. (2012). “Public Safety Minister ‘Ezra Toews’ relies on fringe Euro-Islamophobe to craft Canada’s Khadr policy”. National Post, July 20.
Public Safety Canada. (2012a). “Minister of Public Safety announces first call for proposals for the Kanishka Project”. Media Relations, Public Safety Canada, January 25.
———- . (2012b). “Harper Government announces projects funded for research into counter-terrorism”. Media Relations, Public Safety Canada, May 30.
———- . (2012c). “Kanishka Project Research Themes”. Public Safety Canada, February 27.
———- . (2012d). “Successful Kanishka Project proposals”. Public Safety Canada, June 6.