It’s been a decade since religious fanatics murdered 3,000 Americans by attacking the world trade center towers and the pentagon with hijacked airplanes. Since that time, we’ve witnessed a rapid erosion of our freedoms, ostensibly in the name of fighting “terror”. While it’s obvious to most that you can neither declare war on — nor fight — a tactic, our government does not see it that way. And why should they? The government has infringed on our rights with new “anti-terror” policies at every opportunity by playing on public fears of another terrorist attack. They’ve presented the public with a false dichotomy of choosing between the tyrannical policy de jure or facing death at the hands of terrorists. In short: the government has used the public’s fear to further control our lives. I hear you asking “but isn’t that, like, Terrorism?” To quote SouthPark, that’s “not like terrorism — it is terrorism!”
So what freedoms have we given up in the name of fighting these enemies that want to destroy our… freedoms? The most visible loss of freedoms is apparent at the airport, where travelers are herded like cattle through security checkpoints and are then subjected to a humiliating, sexually suggestive search process. Travelers are treated like criminals merely because they wish to travel for business or see their families. At the airport, they must choose between being seen naked or sexually assaulted before boarding a plane. And, of course, the screening process is ineffective anyway. Stories of people getting on board with fake boarding passes, bags full of sharp knives, and even firearms appear on an almost monthly basis. Of the prohibited items, many of these were accidentally left in luggage by everyday travelers — imagine what a determined group of criminals could accomplish. Compounding the stupidity of this process, the security checkpoint creates a bottleneck in human traffic, forcing hundreds of people to congregate in one small area waiting to enter the security checkpoint. A terrorist doesn’t even have to go through the trouble of trying to bypass security to kill hundreds of people. He could just walk in the middle of this crowd with a couple of bombs in his luggage and kill at least as many as he could on a plane.
In addition to the absurdities we deal with at an airport, we’ve also lost far more important freedoms in far more sinister ways. Certainly, the PATRIOT Act is the most well known of these abuses. The PATRIOT Act gives the government permission to violate the 4th amendment rights of American citizens in a number of ways: sneak-and-peak warrants, roving wiretaps, and access to business and banking records without a warrant. Even more alarming then the PATRIOT act was the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and accompanying legislation, court battles, and executive orders. The premise behind this power grab is that the government can designate someone an enemy combatant and then hold him indefinitely without a trial, without access to a lawyer, or without even informing him of the charges he faces. While this suspect is held at Guantanamo Bay or some secret overseas prison, he will likely be deprived of the most basic human rights, let alone his ability to petition for a writ of habeas corpus or have any recourse against a potentially illegal detainment. Given the US government’s track record of heavy-handed ineptitude , it’s hard to believe that terrorists present a greater threat to your life or liberty than governments and law enforcement agents.
All these manifestations of eroded freedoms, of course, stem from sacrificing the very principles that define the United States. Key components of a free society are protection of private property rights and personal liberties, rule of law, and due process, among others. If our country is defined by a set of principles, and we abandon those principles in the name of defending our country, have we not abandoned our country? The United States is not the “greatest, freest country in the world” just because we say it is; it is great and free only so long as we value and live by the principles of a free society. The extent that we depart from those principles is the extent to which we have surrendered our country. What is the point of fighting to save a country if our methods of fighting destroy its philosophical foundation? By abandoning our ideals, we are doing far more damage to our country than violent criminals ever could.
To really make things worse, does anyone really believe we are safer now than we were prior to the attacks? We’ve not only continued, but furthered, many of the same policies given as reasons for the violence. We’ve put tens of thousands of our troops in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, losing 6,000 in the process — more than double the number of civilian lives lost in the attacks themselves. No doubt our enhanced presence in Arab states and the high civilian death toll as a result of our operations is raising a new generation of people that will seek to avenge what they perceive as injustice. Law enforcement abuses of powers granted in the name of fighting terrorism are commonplace, as are complaints against the TSA. By all accounts, you’re more likely to suffer abuse at the hands of terror-fighting law enforcement than you are to be a victim of terrorism. If the choice was between getting groped by the TSA or getting attacked by terrorists — and I assure you that it isn’t — I’ll take my chances with the terrorists.