The Sunday Magazine

The politics of fear

Shrewd politicians are often savvy brokers of fear; hence the extended military mission to Syria, and the controversial measures of Bill C-51. Michael speaks with Dr. Penelope Ironstone of Wilfrid Laurier University.
Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice appear before the National Security and Defence committee on Bill C-51 in Ottawa on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Most of us enjoy relatively comfortable, secure lives today, but fear stalks us in a thousand forms. North Americans are variously fearful of ebola, vaccines, inadequate pensions, unemployment, gluten, climate change, zombies, genetically modified food, Muslims, the niqab, cancer, debt, young black men wearing hoodies, exorbitant house prices, aggressive panhandlers - and especially terrorism.

Terrorism has killed a minuscule number of Canadians compared to car accidents, guns or domestic violence, but it is terrorism that has us terrified. And our politicians are quick to remind us that we have a lot to fear. The Conservative government of Canada says we need to expand the war against Islamic State, and we need the controversial measures of Bill C-51 because the jihadists have declared war on Canada -- even that Canada is even under siege from the Islamic State. 

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invoked the threat of Iran's nuclear program and the prospect of Arab Israelis voting in large numbers during the Israeli election campaign, demonstrating that shrewd politicians are often savvy brokers of fear. 

To explain why the politics of fear has come to dominate so much of our political discourse, Michael speaks with Dr. Penelope Ironstone. She's an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, and she's the President of the Canadian Communication Association.

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