Are we so afraid of terrorists that we will terrify the innocent among us? Are we building a vast fortress to imprison ourselves?
– Brian Doyle, The Oregonian
On the 15th April, two pressure cooker bombs were detonated near the finish line of the famous Boston Marathon, killing 3 and injuring 264. The two suspects (one dead, one awaiting trial) were evidently motivated by extreme Islamist beliefs. They were identified and captured quickly, in part due to the CCTV footage and in part to an amazing 27 year old named Jeff Bauman who watched a man drop a bag at his feet, look him in the eye and walk away. Two and a half minutes later the bag exploded, tearing his legs apart. When he awoke in hospital, Jeff took a pen and paper and wrote, “Bag, saw the guy, looked right at me.”
I feel compelled to note that on the same day, a string of terrorist attacks across Iraq killed 75 and injured about 350, but it was the Boston bombings – the random spread of terrorist activity – that brought the issue of security V civil liberty back to the fore.
Civil Liberties are freedoms protecting the individual from government interference. They set limitations to safeguard against a government’s abuse of power. Common civil liberties include freedom of association (I can fraternize with any Arthur, Martha or Mustafa I want), freedom of speech (I could say that the PM deserves a Vegemite sandwich missile if I thought so – which I don’t), freedom of assembly (hang it, let’s get the Rastafarian club together), freedom of religion, due process, fair trial and privacy (I have 3 secrets I will never tell a soul and never have to).
Constitutions and bills of rights are designed to uphold civil liberties. Since September 11, the line between national security and civil liberties has become a bit blurry.
September 11 2001 was when 2996 people died as a result of 4 hijacked plane crashes – 2 into the World Trade centre in New York, 1 into the Pentagon and 1 which was bound for the US Capitol Building crashed in Pennsylvania as a result of a counter attack on the hijackers by the planes passengers. I know you know this.
Anti-Terrorism Legislation was adopted by Australia after the 2005 London Bombings (Richard and I were at Waterloo station when those ones happened by the way, it wasn’t dramatic where we were – just eerily quiet). The 54 laws making up the Anti Terrorism Act, 2005 affords unprecedented power to law enforcement – things like detention (with interrogation) for suspects for up to 2 weeks without charge or evidence, imposition of control orders (restrictions) on suspects for up to a year, electronically tracking suspects for up to a year, random stop and search powers, and the ‘shoot to kill’ clause which allows police to treat terrorism suspects the same way they would treat wanted criminals.
THE CIVIL LIBERTARIAN VIEW
- National Security will erode civil liberties and the world is over reacting to threats of terrorism.
- The war on terror must be waged only within the framework of existing civil liberties.
- History tells us that governments and officials routinely exaggerate threats to national security.
- The anti-terror legislation has a negative impact on Australia’s Muslim community, especially given the amendment from ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to a ‘balance of probabilities’ – there is potential for racial profiling and stereotyping.
- Counter-terrorism policy may generate widespread fear and paranoia – both within law enforcement agencies and the public. This could lead to further abuse of civil rights and an unwillingness to engage in political activism, thereby reducing the function of democracy.
- ‘Reactionary’ counter-terrorism laws were formed all too easily and without thorough review. Australia formed new laws without reviewing the existing ones; the US passed a federal surveillance amendment with under an hour’s discussion.
- It is possible that media coverage will be manipulated to suggest that non-violent, citizen-lead activist groups are potential terrorists.
- Newly considered security tools such as wire taps, internet tracking, biometric (DNA) profiling and national ID cards are too easily abused and threaten public privacy.
- Australia’s knee-jerk anti terror laws post 9/11 are widely (internationally) viewed as ‘hyper-legislative’ – Australia was unusual in its restrictive response and increased power to states.
- The decision to go to war in Iraq is coming under fire and criticism – what other mistakes will be made in the interests of security?
- All this extra security is bloody expensive and many of the laws have rarely been used.
THE PUBLIC SAFETY VIEW
- The benefits of greater security outweigh the costs of reduced liberty. Both factors are important, but their relative importance changes according to time and situation.
- Officials have in the past underestimated security dangers and as a result we are living in an increasingly violent world – the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, for instance, was a disastrous malfunction of intelligence and communication.
- We are nations under law, but first we are nations. The law is a human creation that should evolve with our changing needs; it is not divine Gospel nor should it be set in stone.
- It is a gross irony that the very laws we set in place to secure our welfare are inflexible enough to undermine that welfare.
- The events of September 11 have made a decrease in civil liberties inevitable – it marked the beginning of contemporary terrorism in the Western World and what could follow? London, Bali, Mumbai Boston… what next? It is common sense to take more secure measures.
- Civil Libertarians claim that counter-terrorism measures are alarmist but they themselves are being alarmist by frequently crying Big Brother and claiming that the world is becoming a society of surveillance.
- There is increasing evidence that terrorists are living ordinary lives, which means that law enforcement has no choice by to watch closely and treat every potential threat as suspicious.
- It is reasonable to believe that a balance between public safety and liberty can be achieved so long as there is proof that new security laws are effective against terrorism and as long as they carry a sunset clause which enables the laws to be reconsidered in a few years should the crisis pass.
So are counter terrorism measures proving successful?
Well in Australia – at least domestically – it seems that not so many of the new laws have been used. And some have been used in a rather over-zealous fashion…In 2007, Muhamed Haneef, an Indian doctor living in Queensland, was arrested and detained without charge, suspected of terrorist involvement (mainly because he had a one way ticket and because his cousins were involved in the Glasgow Airport attack a few weeks prior to the arrest). In the end it seems he was heading back to India to see his wife and brand new baby daughter. He was substantially compensated for his troubles. Oopsie daisy.
In August last year, Julia Gillard announced that COAG would undertake a review of counter terrorism legislation (it seems that other countries have already done this and chucked out a few OTT unnecessary laws) to ”evaluate the operation, effectiveness and implications of key Commonwealth, state and territory counter-terrorism laws”. The review report was to be completed in 6 months – that was August last year, 9 months ago. The COAG website reports diddly squat. Come on dudes, pull your expert fingers out.
Meantime, the Law Council of Australia has been slogging away at trying to reform some of the more paranoidy bits of the legislation, without a great deal of success.
THE MEGORACLE VIEW
Well we at Megoracle (OK, me, just that being a group or megoracle researchers seems so much more impressive and credible) me at Megoracle will be once again taking the idealist stance – a bit of everything please.
What concerns me most is the fear-mongery of all this surveillance and the impact on innocent Muslim communities just going about their business with no Jihaddy motivations or associations. It’s disturbing that random bags minding their own business while their owner is in the loo have the power to clear a whole concourse; and more disturbing that innocent people could have a dodgy cousin and find themselves locked up and interrogated. We all have dodgy cousins. The lack of rubbish bins in public places is just a pain (but this is a mere trifle – if I had had my legs blown off by a bomb in a rubbish bin I wouldn’t complain that they are all gone. I don’t like trifle much though).
I somehow cannot believe (and maybe I’m young and naive, ok just naive) that our government could lead us into a stasi-like society where our smells are bottled and our houses wired if we are seen chatting to a friend from Bahrain. And all the CCTV cameras everywhere actually make me feel safe – if it hadn’t been for one of them, the lowlife scum who murdered Jill Meagher wouldn’t have been caught.
But to reach beyond the civil liberty debate, I have a nasty uncomfortable feeling that counter terrorism is in itself somehow rewarding acts of terror. By declaring war and fostering the inevitable panic that goes with war, are we not granting terrorists a hero status within their circles? Younger Muslim people (for instance) will want to follow in the footsteps of their ‘brave soldiers’ and forget the do-good and think-good lessons of Islam. They might decide that extreme Islamic beliefs like Jihad are very cool.
Maybe we’ve had enough time to be able to sort out which of these laws is relevant and which can go, and can get on with devaluing and belittling acts of terrorism using the (no doubt complex, ancient and inherent) ideologies that elevated terrorism to pop-combat in the first place.
Can’t someone get a group together to stage a wondrous conspiracy involving the discovery of a long lost chapter of the Koran, one that says Allah will not condone or forgive acts of violence? Happy to help. I’m ok at calligraphy and don’t mind a bit of stirring oration – “It says SILENCE, you silly billies, acts of SILENCE”. Or is that all written in there already and needs to be unearthed and shouted from the rooftops?
Please note that I am not equating terrorism with Islam alone, just that Jihad has a lot to answer for. It should be as daggy as scrunchies. Maybe it should be called Jihasbeen.