Monday, September 04, 2006

The End of the Free World?

What used to make America so special was that it was a model mixing economic freedom with personal freedom. In many ways, the US and Britain were leading the world in their implementation of civil-liberty and freedom of speech even compared to continental Europe and France which put in place Jacobinist systems of centralized governments and more limited freedom of speech.

Now, however, things are different - both Britain and the US have ceased to be models of civil liberty.According to no less than British Home Secretary, John Reid:

“Civil-liberty arguments are not so much wrong as just made for another age.”
(The Economist)

Since 9/11, both Britain and the US have passed more repressive laws than any other Western country. This is not the view of a radical liberal, this is the view shared by a rather conservative magazine like The Economist:

America has been lambasted for its record on human rights since September 11th. So has Britain. It has introduced a slew of draconian anti-terrorist measures over the past five years, and is planning more. The mere “glorification” or “indirect incitement” of terrorism is now a crime. Suspected terrorists can be held for up to 28 days without charge—longer than in any other democratic country—a period the government now wants to double. (In America suspected terrorists whom Mr Bush deems to be “enemy combatants” may be held “for the duration of hostilities”.) Those unable to be tried in court (usually for want of evidence) may now be subjected to “control orders”, ranging from electronic tagging to little short of house arrest, imposed on the simple say-so of the home secretary for indefinitely renewable periods of 12 months.

In other words, if the government decides that you may be a terrorist, you lose the basic rights of habeas corpus and the government does not even need to prove “reasonable suspicion”. The same goes for tapping your private telephone calls, reading your e-mails, getting library records, etc… This is even embraced by many people on the right.

“What if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?” asks John Podhoretz, a columnist for the New York Post. (The Economist)

More than the 3,000 people who died on 9/11, this is what has caused the most damage to our society. As we were saying in a post last month, fear cause us to step on our some of our most cherished values, including freedom and democracy, and it damages America’s image and credibility as well as our relationship with the Muslim world thus creating potential enemies.

This is really going out of hand and even though the terrorist threat is real, it is not in reality so bad that we need to sell our soul in the name of security. Unfortunately, reality does not matter, only perception does:

For the moment those who would restrict freedom appear to have the public on their side. Recent polls in Britain and America suggest that most people still feel their governments are not doing enough to counter terrorism. (The Economist)

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