On September 20, 2001, before a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush declared, "Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there.... Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."No one, of course, could have predicted it would work out that way, could they?
As it turned out, those fateful words ushered in not a concerted worldwide campaign against militant fundamentalism but a wave of repression felt around the globe. Instead of being a standard-bearer for human rights and civil liberties, the United States lowered the bar, creating secret prisons or "black sites," erecting Guantánamo, rationalizing torture and curtailing civil liberties at home.
The US-fashioned "global war on terror" (GWOT) was then replicated in country after country, adapting to local circumstances to provide rhetorical refuge for tyrants and forsaking democratic principles. As the articles that follow show, the "war on terror" has been invoked to arrest and torture pro-democracy activists in Egypt, round up street vendors and protesters in El Salvador, rationalize politically motivated assassinations in the Philippines, jail bloggers and censor websites in Thailand and condone military dictatorship in Pakistan.
The criminalization of dissent is not new to these places, and it does not always reflect US intervention or security interests. But the "war on terror" is a new paradigm, and it has proven remarkably versatile and severely damaging. While purporting to protect democracy against its enemies, the "war on terror" has become one of them.