Terrorism: one man’s insecurity is another man’s freedom fighter

An analysis of a Dutch counterterrorism law through the lens of the theoretical perspective that Giddens calls the ‘risk society’.

To do so, I adopt the multi-scalar approach that was invented by Katja Franko and Nancy Wonders to conclude that the implementation of this law goes hand in hand with Giddens’ train of thought. In short, one could not only claim that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter (Ganor, 2010), but that one man’s insecurity is another man’s freedom fighter.

The law in question was enforced on 10 February 2017 and will be withdrawn on 1 March 2022. Loosely translated, the law is called ‘contemporary law administrative measures on counterterrorism’. It is aimed at reducing the freedom of people who have a connection with terrorist activities or supporters of such activities. In short, this law enables the Minister of Justice and Security to decide that individuals suspected of terrorist acts must report to the local police or another organization, receive a restraining order, or are prohibited from close contact with one or more people. If it is deemed necessary for the sake of national security, the minister can decide to restrict the person in question from travelling outside the Schengen area.

According to Anthony Giddens (1999), we now live in a risk society. He argues that before modernization, we used to live in a time with only external risk; nowadays we suffer from manufactured risk too. Although just as dangerous, there is a difference. In the case of external risk, you can be sure of a risk of a disaster happening every now and then, whereas manufactured risk, which is caused by human and technological development, leaves one completely unsure of what could happen. Katja Franko (2017) argues that states want to calculate this risk. That is why border control has become more important over the last decades. The modern state cannot survive in the position of the old Westphalian states; it has to surrender some of its sovereignty to the international or supranational level. Nancy Wonders (2016) establishes four points of how states adapt to the modern notion of risk society: (1) creating ‘states of exception’; (2) privatizing the social control functions; (3) establishing transnational spaces for governance; and (4) monitoring and gathering data.

There are some clear links between the four points of state flexibilization and the aforementioned law. First, this law has created a state of exception by creating a contemporary state in which the minister is able to impose a freedom restriction on an individual. For the sake of national security, the law justifies the actions that can be taken. Second, a transnational space has been created, by taking into consideration the borders of the Schengen agreement. Third, this law is used for surveillance and data gathering by tracking a person’s location by means of the reporting requirement. It has become apparent that this law is mostly used in the area of surveillance, and that not many severe sanctions have been imposed.

The law has been implemented because of, and having an effect on, circumstances at different levels. One part of the state sovereignty has been given to local actors to make sure that they are able to control the reporting requirement. Although it seems like terrorist attacks are only relevant on a national scale, it is quite the opposite. The reason why people are so scared of a terrorist attack, is mainly because of globalization and urbanization. As shown in graph 1, a global shift has occurred in terms of demography. Increasing numbers of people live in urban areas, making cities more crowded than ever. Many people get together for events and activities nowadays, and local authorities have to implement maximum security measures. Otherwise, these local areas would be easy targets for terrorist attacks.

However, once a terrorist attack has taken place, the outcome will have an effect at the national level. As pointed out above, the actions of this law are justified for the sake of national security. That is the reason why the greatest part of sovereignty still belongs to the national state. After all, the minister is the one making the decisions within this law. Aside from shifts at a local and national level, the aim of this law is explained as protecting people on an international scale by preventing terrorist suspects from forming an alliance with terrorist groups outside the Schengen area. The borders of the state have become less relevant because there is free travel of people and goods in the Schengen area, and that is why a global shift is occurring - from the protection of national borders to the protection of the Schengen borders. The Schengen agreement, or even just globalization and technological improvement, has made travelling easier and thereby made it easier for an international crime organization to establish a solid network. Geopolitics nowadays focuses more on the border security of the Schengen area, because that is where one is able to monitor and collect data. There is reason to believe that this is a good idea, since the numbers and figures in graph 2 show that terrorist attacks have increased sharply over the past years.

Because of the global shifts in or towards urbanization, terrorism, and freedom in travelling internationally, nation states have taken several steps in order to flexibilize the law. The law needs this flexibilization since manufactured risk is increasing in society at a local, national and international level. The manner and speed of these changes have become rather unpredictable. This law is a perfect example of a state flexibilizing its law due to increased manufactured risk. Not terrorism itself, but rather its unpredictability is spreading manufactured risk in society. Hence, one man’s insecurity is another man’s freedom fighter.


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