Because security fears dominate most aspects of international affairs, relations between individuals are now led by mistrust, a characteristic that is even worse among states. Psychiatrists and most mental health specialists advise us that mistrust is akin to a ‘Borderline Personality Disorder', a pattern that ‘stems from early childhood abandonment and betrayal' common in those who suffer from a variety of abuses. What does the future of mankind promise when suspicion pervades every aspect of our lives?
Although few give the matter much thought, we must begin to think about these concerns, lest we become mere robots performing docile roles. We rejoice at good news and are rightfully repulsed by humiliation. Yet, most of us accept the degradation of the ‘other' as if such occurrences did not concern us.
Thus, how we react to news that more than 70,000 phones are tapped in Turkey, or when we hear that a 20-year-old is tagged with a global positioning system tracking device, or even when we watch millions enduring hardships in France to protect earned social privileges — are all telling. What are we to make of many similar examples that significantly erode our social compact?
The news out of Turkey, according to the respected daily Radikal, was not uncommon. Officials in most countries justify electronic surveillance for a variety of reasons and often rely on court orders to enforce regulations. Still, the Turkish Telecommunications Directorate was not shy to identify an exact figure, 71,538 telephones tapped through court orders, with the overwhelming majority allegedly gathering intelligence on terrorism acts or listening to organised crime. Such preventive measures are not unusual, as government authorities seek to anticipate potential unlawful activities and, presumably, thwart them from being committed.
Wiretapping of telephones, text messages, faxes, emails and just about every imaginable device are so common that the only people who actually avoid them, you guessed it, are criminals. No one seriously engaged in industrial espionage, for example, relies on electronic devices.
Undeterred, well meaning but utterly unsophisticated government officials continue to concoct fresh methods, to satisfy bureaucratic enigmas. As the case of Yasser Afifi, a 20-year-old community college student in Santa Clara, California (a suburb of San Francisco) revealed, bizarre does not even begin to describe his putative stakeout.
Afifi innocently took his car for an oil change, only to notice a wire hanging from the undercarriage. According to the Associated Press, when neither Afifi nor his mechanic could figure out what the strange magnetic device was, they "posted images of it online, asking for help in identifying it".
Within two days, "FBI agents arrived at Afifi's Santa Clara apartment and demanded the return of their property — a global positioning system tracking device".
Naturally, the Afifi matter was entrusted to the courts, which will now debate whether privacy extends to GPS tracking and, more important, whether search warrants may be required to perform such surveillance in ‘terrorism' cases.
In the event, Afifi apparently "was targeted because of his extensive ties to the Middle East, which include supporting two brothers who live in Egypt and making frequent overseas trips". This was a classic profiling example even if the novelty was refreshingly entertaining, both emulating fantastic Hollywood nonsense with servile penchants that most of us accept, ostensibly because such reliance protect us from evil. In fact, beyond the illusion of convenience, and above legitimate security measures that may avert mayhem, most of these technological stratagems seldom advance human interests.
Interestingly, the French Government is becoming painfully aware of this phenomenon, as ordinary workers reject President Nicolas Sarkozy's retirement reforms. They are doing so not because they are lazy but because they realise that unlike wealthy tax dodgers who skirt fiduciary responsibilities, they must endure hardships throughout their short lives. It may not dawn on Sarkozy and parvenue of his ilk to fathom that average employees made France the great country it is not those who swirled their fancy tongues at pretentious gatherings.
Indeed, because Paris unleashed riot police officers against students, truckers, and many other protesters, it literally lost the cause. Even worse, it also opted to ‘scare' citizens that potential terrorism occurrences were imminent, which further de-legitimised its actions.
Like the Ten Commandments, an equally powerful Decalogue may be devised to explain our current social ills, which strengthen the dehumanising ideology of mistrust.
It seems that modern societies require that (1) the poor work, as (2) the rich exploit, while (3) the soldier defends both, (4) with the taxpayer paying for all three. Naturally, (5) the vagrant will think nothing of resting for all four, whereas (6) the intoxicated drinks for all five. Sadly, (7) the banker swindles all six, under the watchful eye of (8) the lawyer who cheats all seven. Regrettably, (9) the physician kills all eight, as (10) the undertaker buries all nine. Only the politician lives on everyone's expense, contributing little to mankind, and even less to civilisation.
Forget wiretapping, GPS tracking, or any number of similar technological gizmos. Let us cherish and encourage a culture of life for everyone — not just the few. It's time to learn how to trust each other again.
Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a commentator and author of several books on Gulf affairs.