Author Archives: studentoflaw1001

Embedding of Fear – State of Exception

An example that fits the definition of a state of exception is September 11th and its aftermath.  On September 11th there were multiple attacks on the United States of America which were believed to be coordinated by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist group.  President George W. Bush employed his presidential powers by announcing a state of emergency two days after the September 11th attacks.  Subsequently the “War on Terror” in America began.  This war would eventually influence national security policies and American civil liberties.

After the attacks of September 11th there was constant media attention that replayed several videos and images of two planes flying into the two towers of the World Trade Center.  In addition, the eventual collapse of the World Trade Centers and the several visuals displaying the firefighters and on-looking survivors created an emotional response by the public.   These images displayed the reality of the attack, and generated the potential threat of another attack.

Moreover, as there was a constant notion of an endless threat created by both the President of the United states and the media, the American population was placed in a vulnerable state of fear.  This threat was reiterated several times by the president as he stated that “The world has changed after September 11th, it’s has changed because we are no longer safe”. (George W. Bush address to the nation) This notion of safety and the consistent threat of further attacks put Americans in a situation where they were concerned with their security.  As a result, it was understood that Americans were put in a situation where they would give up some of their rights, in order to preserve their safety.

The Bush administration pressed for “tools” to fight terrorism, and one of these tools was the Patriot Act.  The Patriot Act was passed by congress and signed by President Bush on October 26 2001.  The USA Patriot Act stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”.  What this Act entails is the right for the government the rights to search homes and offices without notice, us wiretaps to listen in on conversation, monitor computer and email messages and look into medical and financial records.  (George W. Bush, Executive Order Disposition Tables, 2001)  This surveillance on the general population is rationalized on the grounds that individuals in the past, present or future might be involved in terrorist activity.

As the War on Terror progressed, and a military campaign was held in Afghanistan, the United States transferred several hundred individuals who were expected as terrorists to Guantanamo Bay.  Guantanamo Bay is a 45 square mile naval base, located in Cuba.  This base was designed to interrogate suspects by using means of torture, water boarding and long periods of solitary confinement. (Johns, 2005) In addition, these individuals were denied Habeas corpus, as they were not brought before a judge, and this was rationalized as they were in a different country.  This relates to Agamben definition of a camp which “provides a kind of model by which to understand this degraded life form that is excluded from the operation of law, and where a sovereign ban is exercised over such bare life without the protection of law” (Pavlich, 2011, 158).

This exercise of sovereign power was justified through the constant notion of fear.  This constant notion of fear was embedded in the American population through the continuous reminder of an endless threat.  Bush indicated that “Our nation, this generation, will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future” (George W. Bush, Address to the Nation, video below) Furthermore, if considerable measures were not taken, the security of the American people would be endangered.  This appeal was maintained through the continuing and immediate threat and future attacks on the United States.  Bush also stated  that “Freedom and fear are at war… the advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time…now depends on us”.  This indication by the Bush recognised the potential endangerment and the loss of freedom which was a fundamental principle of America.

Bush also spoke about the Guantanamo Bay, directly indicating that it is essential for this state of exception to exist.  “It is been Necessary to move these individuals to an environment where they can be held secretly.  Questioned by experts and when appropriate prosecuted for terrorist attacks.” (George Bush address to the nation)  Bush rationalized the existence of Guantanamo Bay by indicating that the persons captured were not common criminals but were “suspected bomb makers, terrorist trainers, recruiters and facilitators and potential suicide bombers.” (George Bush address to the Nation)  Again, Bush indicated that these individuals were dangerous and were a threat to the national welfare of America.  Moreover, Bush states that these individuals “are in our custody, so they cannot murder our people”. (George Bush Address, Video Below) Bush reiterates that if these individuals were not captured and interrogated, they could cause mass murder.  Therefore, the actions taken by the American government and the Bush administration were justified and rationalized, as there was a known threat to the safety and security of the United States of America.


Johns, F. (2005).  Guantanamo Bay and the annihilation of exception.  The European Journal of International Law, 16, 613-635.


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Historical Treatment of Aboriginals and Genocide


Genocide is defined as the “deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, caste, religious, or national group”.  Genocide is particularly linked with World War II and the mass execution of Jews.  However, the United Nations definition indicates that “causing serious mental or bodily harm towards a group” is an integral component of genocide.  Therefore, when looking at Aboriginals and their history, genocide is represented by colonialism through the exploring, conquering and settling on land.  With the introduction of regulations and policies to “civilize” the Indian, the government caused “serious mental or bodily harm”, therefore the historical treatment of Aboriginals should be legally defined as genocide.

As Europeans arrived in North America, they viewed Aboriginals as being inferior to them in several different ways.  Although Aboriginals had their own governance systems, laws, and ways of living, they were dehumanized and labelled as being savages or beasts by European settlers.  This labelling was a way to rationalize European expansion and exploitation of Aboriginal peoples and their territory.  European westernized ways of thinking assumed that anything non-European represented backward thinking.  Europeans who were directly involved in the fur trade saw and the settling of the land saw that the Aboriginals were a potential threat to any gain of profit or colonization.

Millions of Aboriginals died as they were purposely given blankets that contained small pox (Thorner, 2003).  Aboriginals had never been in contact with these diseases; therefore they did not develop any immunity to them. Diseases that were brought over by Europeans included tuberculosis, measles, venereal disease, influenza and small pox. As a result, these epidemics spread inland through encounters with Europeans and through trade (Thorner, 2003).  Several million Aboriginal people were infected and eventually died.  Therefore one can argue this was a way to reduce the Aboriginal population, so Europeans could expand further into Canada without as much resistance.

Moreover, as the Indian Act was introduced, Aboriginals were pushed to assimilate.  Aboriginals became defined, as Indians were seen as being of status or non-status.  However, several incentives and regulations were introduced that pushed Aboriginals to change their status.  Incentives such as the right to vote were developed through systems of enfranchisement.  Moreover, individuals would lose their status if they became doctors, lawyers and clergy men or even if they acquired a university degree (Monchalin & Marques, 2013).  As Aboriginals were placed on reserves, they were not able to leave the reserve without permission of an Indian Agent.  These men resided over the reserve, and were able to enforce laws that prohibited Potlatches and Sun Dances.  Although these rituals were an integral part of Aboriginal culture, they were banned from reserves.

The introduction of residential schools was an instrumental part of Canadian history, which many have argued was a cultural genocide for Aboriginal children.  These children were forcibly removed from their families and taken to residential schools.  They were required to remove their traditional clothing and to cut their hair.  In addition, they were given English or French names as their more traditional names were not acceptable.  These children were severely and cruelly punished if they spoke their mother tongue.  The education they received was not adequate, and it usually focused on labour training and domestic work (Chansonneuve, 2005).  As a result, individuals who survived these schools were not able to find work that was suitable for further advancement as their abilities were limited.

These children were physically, sexually, emotionally and mentally abused.  They were denied a safe family environment and subjected to severe violence. They were denied the teachings of their parents and of their culture.  As a result, they were not able to understand or acquire the values, attitudes, or beliefs of Aboriginal culture.  Several individuals did not acquire life skills or parenting skills which has impacted their children and their children’s children (Monchalin & Marques, 2013).

Therefore, several individuals turned to substances such as drugs and alcohol to overcome many of these experiences.  This substance abuse has increased crime rates as there is a direct link with alcohol and crime.  Moreover, these individuals are more prone to commit acts of violence, as they have been traumatized by their experiences (Monchalin & Marques, 2013).  As a result, there is a widespread over presentation of Aboriginals in Canadian prisons.  In addition, Aboriginals who rely on substances were more likely to commit suicide (Chansonneuve, 2005).  The rates of suicide amongst Aboriginals are higher than the general population (Howard, 2010). Other factors that are associated with residential schools include disconnected families, families with single parents, and family violence (Monchalin & Marques, 2013).  Family violence and increased rates of poverty have been an instrumental factor in the removal of Aboriginal children from their families.  This then creates more of a disconnect from Aboriginal culture as these children are placed in foster homes.

Thus, through colonization, aggressive assimilation and residential schools, the treatment of Aboriginals should be defined legally as genocide.


Howard, C. (2010). Suicide and Aboriginal Youth. Sudbury: Laurentian University.

Thorner, T. (2003). A Few Acres of Snow. Toronto, Canada: Broadview Press.

Chansonneauve, Deborah. (2005). Reclaiming Connections: Understanding Residential School Trauma among Aborginal People.  Section I I: Residential Schools. P.33-48.  Ottawa, ON: Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Monchalin, L, Marques, O. (2013) Preventing Crime and Poor Health Among Aboriginal People: The Potential for Preventative Programming. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 7(2), 112-29.


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