only the insane have strength enough to prosper. only the prosperous truly judge what is sane.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Grudgingly Tolerate Anti-Terror Laws (for now)

As the horror of the bombings in London fades, much of the debate has focused on how to combat the the threat at home. One question has continued to pop up--how do we secure our country without sacrificing our freedoms? If this is a war of ideas, then our democratic ideals of freedom and liberty are our greatest weapons. By curtailing freedom and liberty at home in the name of security, are we not fighting our enemy using the wrong strategy? We may well succeed in reducing the short-term threat of bombings, but what price are we willing to pay?

Tim Worstall explains it this way:
Yes, I realise that we’re in a battle. Yet I don’t see the point in winning the battle in order to lose the war. Beating off a bunch of theocratic fascists by becoming a police state ourselves just doesn’t really do it for me. Giving up our own freedoms and liberties because some bunch of (however dangerous) knobheads want to take them from us, I mean, what’s the fucking point?
We must also consider the danger that these "theocratic fascists" pose to us. Are they just a bunch of wankerish amateurs (note that Nosemonkey was calling the 7/7 bombers amateurs, not just the pathetic wannabombers of 7/21...)? What danger do they really pose to our way of life? Nosemonkey dismisses the assumption that we're up against a vast, organized conspiracy:
Of course, what this could be an indication of (my personal favourite theory) is merely that it's a piece of piss to conduct a terrorist attack. You don't need some vast intergalactic conspiracy of bearded men in caves. All you need is some desperate, stupid and psychotic people, access to the internet, and someone with the balls to track down some explosives. Or has every single suicide bomber on the West Bank or in Iraq since the occupation (yet more today, surprise surprise) been part of some vast, James Bond style organisation?
A fair point, and one that seems eerily prescient given that he wrote this just two days before the wannabomber attacks on 7/21. Yet the fact that the bombers often are, in fact, wankerish amateurs is not necessarily comforting--Nosemonkey has identified one of the nastiest weapons in the enemy's arsenal. It doesn't take a highly organized, well disciplined terror network to pose a threat. Anyone with Google and a grievance can not only find instructions on how to build a better bomb, but he can find both justification and support for his cause.

We would be fools to think this hasn't occurred to groups like Al Qaeda. Why should they rely exclusively on sophisticated training, difficult-to-maintain webs of contacts and agents, and the secrecy and discipline that these networks require? Why not just use the internet against the infidel, nurturing potential bombers through message boards and countless other electronic methods? The risk of e-jihad is minimal, the cost is negligible, and the rewards are potentially enormous. As incompetent and amateurish as 7/21 was, it was enormously disruptive and dominated the headlines for weeks. By their standards, it was a victory. It will be very interesting to see exactly where the wannabombers got their ideas.

So what can we do to fight this enemy, if the war is largely waged using ideas as weapons? In the Second World War, Britain made enormous sacrifices in order to achieve victory. Civilian consumption was severely reduced through rationing, voluntary restraint (like setting 'fuel targets' to reduce coal consumption), and countless other programs. Aliens were treated with great suspicion. In his brilliant social history London at War, Philip Ziegler notes that many were rounded up en masse, as in Hampstead in 1939:
The methods used by the police do not seem to have been particularly sophisticated; a constable simply walked into the public library and called for all Germans and Austrians to step outside. The operation may have eased pressure on the library's newspapers, but does not seem to have contributed notably to national security. It was perceived as a great success, however. Florence Speed from Brixton recorded in her diary that in the round-up secret papers had been found giving instructions for sabotage at key points: 'It does look as if all aliens should be interned just to make sure.'
When we talk about fearmongering tabloids and news broadcasts, we should also consider the atmosphere in London shortly after Italy entered the war. Ziegler provides some graphic illustrations of the fear and mistrust that gripped many Londoners:
The instinct that led louts to throw bricks through the windows of ice-cream shops or spaghetti houses did engender a brief madness in London. Cecil Beaton, trying to photograph some bomb damage a week or so before the blitz proper began, was set on by 'a little man with ferret eyes and a pointed red nose' who claimed the Ministry of Information would disapprove. A newspaper seller joined in and Beaton was taken to a police station where he was cautioned for 'provoking the antagonism of the crowd'...A seventy-year-old man stood watching workmen excavating a gas main. A passer-by asked what the men were doing. '"Looks as if they're digging a hole," I said. Well, it wasn't right, was it, asking a question like that. I knew what it was, of course, but I wasn't going to tell him.'...Nobody was martyred, but Londoners exposed an ugly intolerance which ill became the champions of democracy.
Yet unpleasant episodes like this did not reflect the true Britain, as we see now. Ideals like freedom and liberty were not lost for all time; rather, they were safely stored away for safekeeping, to be brought out, dusted off, and placed back on the mantle with the other prized possessions once Hitler was vanquished. Wartime Britain resembled a "police state" in many ways, but ultimately the British people did not forget the freedoms they had stored away for so long. This is important to keep in mind. While we must vigilantly protect the qualities that make our society great, we should also remember this precedent. We're right to be wary of anti-terror laws. We're right to question their effectiveness, and to consider the price we'll pay in our freedoms if such laws are enacted. Yet Britain has seen this all before on a much grander scale, and emerged with her freedoms intact. My point: do not assume that anti-terror laws are permanent, or that they can never be changed!

I would argue that the nature of the threat should dictate what measures are enacted. The difficulty lies in determining the capabilities of the enemy. We can't count the number of Ju87s, Ju88s, Do17s, and He111s we're up against, as in the Battle of Britain. The enemy is much more nebulous, and his order of battle is impossible to assess accurately. This makes it much harder to decide just how to fight him. It's tempting to say "Oh, they're simply wankerish amateurs, and we can live with anything they can throw at us. They're nothing." Yet they do have the potential to cause much more damage than we saw on 7/7. The attacks of 9/11 wreaked far more destruction, and showed an enemy that was both patient and relatively disciplined. We should not give them too much credit, but we must also be careful not to underestimate their capabilities.

And if they acquire a rusty old Soviet nuke?

No, I'm not trying to play scaremonger. If Bin Laden's fantasies come true and a nuke goes off in London or New York, then our civil liberties are sure to be a casualty as well.

Bah...I meant to end this on a happy note.


Blogger Howard said...

There is no happy note..This struggle has been brewing for many years. Fifty plus. Ever since the UN brokered the homeland for Israel to be exact..Thats when the Arab world began to simmer with hate. Its been taught in the mosques around the middle east forever..That's a lot of folks that have been indoctrinated..and even ten years will not rectify this ideology at the rate we a going. Saudi Arabia is still funding them with the huge financial wealth we pay them for oil..That's ironic isn't it they use our money to promote the killing of our soldiers and still want to be friendly with us..What kind of ally is that??

8/08/2005 10:31:00 PM

Blogger Eric S said...

You're right about the Saudis...and that's really the heart of the problem. If our "allies" in the region are one of the key suppliers of resources for the enemy (money, manpower, and most likely weapons), then that's a serious problem. Unfortunately, our dependence on Saudi oil makes us continue to say (publicly, anyway) that they're a friend and an ally.

The Saudis, meanwhile, just try have it both ways. They help us by hunting down Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, but in many cases these are the same guys that they've been supporting! It's a small comfort to know that Al Qaeda seems to despise the Saudis as much as anyone else.

I don't see how our relationship will change with the Saudis in the short term. No one wants to rock the oil tanker. One day, though, the Saudi oil wells will run dry--and on that day, their influence in Washington will end. I hate to think of how many Americans will die as a result of this 'relationship' in the meantime, though...

8/16/2005 07:49:00 AM


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