[Politics] Governance through Fear

by Sean Cribbs

Some days when I’m driving to and from work, it becomes laborious to listen to the news. I love NPR and their somewhat-liberal-but-mostly-critical slant on news, but lately it has just been depressing. This war between Israel and Hezbollah has been very tiring, and some days I just tune the radio to one of a few popular-music stations to lighten my mental load.

This morning, however, the war returned to the home turf. The UK reported that some 20 people were arrested for attempting to blow up Trans-Atlantic flights bound for the USA, and that they were using improvised liquid explosives, such as TATP or nitroglycerin, disguised in ordinary shampoo or water bottles. Thus, the UK has raised its terror threat level to Red, as has the US. In addition to these, all carry-on luggage bound for USA from UK has been prohibited, and all liquid containers (save for baby formula) are either banned or have to pass inspection at the station.

“So what?” you say, “Why is this any different from the other news?” It wouldn’t have really bothered me until a commentator mentioned that it was a typical response to terror attacks to “give up freedoms for security”. That got me thinking, “What have we sacrificed for security?” Benjamin Franklin was purported to say that a man who sacrifices liberty for security deserves neither. Where do we draw the line? The film “V for Vendetta” depicts Britain in a not-so-distant future ruled by a Orwellian totalitarian regime that is toppled by a single man with a thirst for vengeance. One review on Netflix mentioned that “governments should be afraid of their people, not the other way around”. Truer words.

I thought back to when I saw “Fahrenheit 9/11” and how angry I became. In 2001, politics didn’t interest me much — I was just trying to finish up my undergraduate degrees — and even the tragedy of the Twin Towers didn’t move me past the initial shock value. However, the changes in our government that followed pushed me on a different course. While his tone is often inflammatory, Michael Moore has a way of exposing the ugly underbelly of the truth. What angered me most (mostly because I knew it to be true) was that we were so easily manipulated, through fear, to hand over our most sacred Rights under the Constitution. While we were constantly on edge about when the next terror attack was going to happen through repeated (intentional and fabricated) fluctuations of the Terrrorism Threat Level, the PATRIOT act and numerous other actions of Congress quietly spirited away our rights to due process and protection against unlawful search and seizure, among others. A whole new bureaucracy — Homeland Security — was created, that while well-meaning, is essentially ineffective (witness last year’s hurricanes). Not long ago, my friend Scott had to switch from SBC DSL to Cox Cable for his broadband service. He could no longer run certain services on standard ports because they were blocked by Cox. Apparently, the DoHS had declared that those ports were the targets of computer terrorism and should be blocked by firewalls. Cox complied, of course, ignoring the fact that they’re targets of attack because they’re the most commonly used ports, not because they’re inherently dangerous, a point which was ignored by DoHS as well, apparently.

Thus, soon after 9/11, many Orwellian themes cropped up in our society. Don’t joke about having a bomb or blowing something up, you could be arrested. Don’t look the least bit non-Aryan, you’ll be checked at every airport. Don’t speak your mind, you could threaten national security. Paranoia was the modus operandi.

Now we’re in a major hellhole. “No wonder the world hates us,” my wife Elizabeth says frequently. We’ve started two wars (Iraq, Afghanistan) under the guise of anti-terrorism meanwhile ignoring the UN, we’ve detained foreigners without due process outside the edicts of the Geneva Convention, and we’ve made a bloody mess of the Middle East. To what end? The loss of our rights of due process and privacy from wanton government intrusion? The suffering of many Americans who have lost family members in the wars? The slashing of social welfare programs to fund the wars abroad? The ballooning of national debt while the socio-economic rift widens? The granting of broad outside-the-law powers of immunity and impunity to the Executive? Government agents rifling through our records without warrants?

What is our limit? When will we cease to be ruled by fear?

The old saying goes, “the devil is in the details”. It is how we got in this mess, a string of seemingly inconsequential events that were the beginning of a slippery slope. Which brings us back to today’s news. We’ve been wrapped up in Israel/Lebanon/Hezbollah for the past 3+ weeks. We’re no longer hearing much about Iraq or other “bastions of Terror bent on destroying the United States”. Whether or not the story from the UK is fabricated or true, let us not repeat our past mistakes. America, don’t let something as silly as the Terror Threat Level convince you to give up something else, something even more dear. I’m begging you, stop this cycle of masochism.

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