The United States seems obsessed with security. We worry about home security systems, computer security, border security and financial security. The government has Social Security, Homeland Security and the National Security Adviser. Even the United Nations has a Security Council.

Leave it, then, to the Japanese and Canadians to develop the first real quantum leap in security thinking for the 21st century— human security.

But what is human security? How does it relate to, say, military security? Or does it?

Shirley Osterhaus has been working on local, national and international peace and justice issues in Whatcom County for over twenty years. Following a hate crime in a migrant worker community in 1994, she and fellow community activists formed the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force.

Following the September 11 attacks, Osterhaus was tapped by Fairhaven College to organize the World Issues Forum.
“At that time, it was because the students had multiple questions about what was going in the world following September 11,” explained Osterhaus.

“They hired me to organize weekly dialogues and forums for people to come and talk, if they wanted, and discuss these different issues. The first year was really involved with questions like, what’s al-Qaeda, who’s bin Laden, where’s Afghanistan...”

Since then, the Forum has ballooned to encompass all manner of topics beyond the war on terrorism. Guests last year included prominent Arab women writers Choman Hardi and Alia Mamdouh and Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist self-stationed in Iraq. The Forum has even become a two credit class available to Fairhaven students.

“Now I try to touch on issues all around the globe,” said Osterhaus.

This year’s first presentation features Susan Gleason and Kimberly Corrigan of YES! magazine, a quarterly publication focusing on sustainability and its interwoven relationship to other social justice issues.

“I find it so critical that we understand who we are in the world today,” said Osterhaus.

“It’s always changing so rapidly and we need to be able to know sources of information; credible sources that don’t have a built in bias or corporate perspective.”

Other guests planned for this year include a human rights worker from Colombia, as well as a couple who worked in Nicaragua during the Contra wars. Osterhaus also hopes to get in local Steve Horn to discuss his experience in pre-and-post war Bosnia.

A major new component to the World Issues Forum this year comes in the form of the Human Security Lecture Series, a series of Forums co-sponsored by various campus academic departments. Every quarter, the Forum will play host to four topical presentations covering various issues related to human security, a developing philosophy for viewing international relations as a symbiotic relationship between ethnic relations, environmental resources, political systems and more.

“Every student wants to have a sense of security,” said Osterhaus.

“What does that mean as human security? For yourself, and for the whole world?”

Human security has become the core of Canada’s foreign policy. Under the Canadian government’s definition, human security is a recognition of the importance of the individual’s needs and the necessity of multilateral negotiations for facilitating global peace and justice.

First of the four Human Security Lecture Series topics is international policymaking, personified this quarter by Andrew Mack, director of the University of British Columbia’s Human Security Centre. In an event co-sponsored by the Canadian American studies department, Mack will be appearing on campus October 5 to discuss human security and war.

The Women Studies department plays co-host to the next event, featuring Kebokile Dengu-Zvobgo from Pitzer College. Dengu-Zvobgo will discuss women and geopolitics during her October 19 event.

On November 2, Debra Martin, a biological anthropologist from Hampshire College, will appear to discuss “Feeding The Family In Trouble Times,” a look at border issues co-presented by Western’s Anthropology department.

Finally, Nigerian journalist Tunde Fatunde returns to campus November 16, following his phenomenal presentation on globalization last year. This year, Fatunde will be discussing Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence in Islamic Africa.

The World Issues Forums are Wednesdays at noon. They take place in the Fairhaven College Auditorium and are free and open to the public. Many of the Human Security Lecture Series may have additional presentations at alternate venues; for more information, call 650-2309.

For more information on the Canadian interpretation of human security, check out their website at