Terror and Tyranny

I would like to start this post with a bombastic hyperbole (pardon the pun): I’d rather have a bus bombing a week in this country than another power for the Government to spy on its citizens.

This statement might, to some, seem heartless and ignorant, even dangerous; but for once, I am not talking out of my ass, and I have some knowledge of my topic — I was born in the former Soviet Union and was raised in Israel: my family were dissidents in the USSR, and I grew up under the constant shadow of war and terror. I have spent many hours thinking about those issues; those experiences shaped my political beliefs, and at any rate they have made an indelible mark on my personality and history.

So can there be anything worse than a five year old struggling with a gas mask in a sealed room, or hearing that (God forbid!) a friend or relative was killed in a senseless act of violence? Imagine a child refusing to go to bed until the siren has come and gone, or fearing for your life when a fat guy in a big coat gets on the bus; I repeat, can anything be worse than those things?

The answer is yes: what is worse is smuggling homemade tapes of Rock music and listening to them only in the dead of night, so the neighbors won’t hear; what is worse is only having one night to copy a forbidden book so the Secret Police won’t get you and send you to Siberia; what is worse (to take examples from other times and places) is to be beheaded for complaining about the price of bread, or sent to Bedlam because you said that you think the Government is in the wrong. Those things are worse than any terror attack.

And I’ll tell you why: because wars end, and terrorist campaigns peter out. Because oppression divides and horrible violence unites the people in grief. Because everyone dies sooner or later, but to live your life under the unblinking eye and heavy arm of the tyrant can make life unbearable and inspires more terror than any suicide bomber: deep-seated, heavy, unrelenting terror. Compared to life as a slave, with no freedom or privacy, a terror campaign is like some fire ants disturbing a cookout: scary, sure; but it is better than having to always roast the pig and eat the intestines, better than being whipped if you open your mouth to speak unless spoken to. Being a slave is no picnic, not even one that has been rudely interrupted.

Sounds alarmist? Well, there appears to be something to be alarmed about. Several somethings, in fact, but I would like to make an example in the shape of an ominously named (to me, at least) act of Congress, Resolution HR 1955, or the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. Having failed to find anything about it in the large newspapers (which in itself is very suspicious, considering some of the Act’s language), I have decided to present the relevant Wikipedia entry; Here’s a highlight:

One [criticism of the bill] is the perceived overly broad and vague definitions of “force”, “home grown terrorism” and “violent radicalization” (section 899A). Critics charge that the vagueness in these definitions would permit the government to classify many types of venerated American political activity, such as civil disobedience, as terrorism. Critics frequently cite Section 899A which reads, in part: “The use, planned use, or threatened use, of force …to coerce the ..government, (or) civilian population ..in furtherance of political or social objectives”,[18] as particularly problematic. They argue that major societal reforms which are now accepted but were perceived at the time as threatening to the government, such as civil rights, suffrage, and others, would be classified as terrorism.

Of course, the bill’s sponsor says that the above language “should” read  as ‘intentionally aiding and abetting’ violent radicalization; please allow me to dismiss this hogwash out of hand: FEH! if that idiot, Jane Harman or whatever its name might be, wanted the bill to be read that way, why did she write it that differently? When the executive is given the opportunity to exercise gratuitous surveillance and control over its citizens or subjects, it uses it! Once the door is opened, it’s a whole lot harder to close again, partly because somebody might one day not too far in the future “prevent” criticism of the bill from reaching any sort of proportion. Isn’t it a great idea to make a radicalizing law to stop radicals? It is, if you want to put everyone under your boot with hardly anyone noticing.

And anyway, who are those “homegrown terrorists? Folks like Charlie Chaplin, who had to flee the country because he was accused of Communism, or Alice Paul, who was tortured, assaulted, jailed, and had a tube shoved down her throat in the psychiatric ward for wanting to vote despite happening to be a woman? MLK anyone? Oh yes, I know: old Bill Ayres, an angry hippie who blew up a statue dedicated to riot policemen and chipped some paint off the Pentagon; scary stuff. Probably the best-known and most successful Violent Radical in this country’s history was one George Washington, who left his home in Virginia for the battlefield, as, I must point out, the leader of an armed insurgency.

Freedom is more important than security; that is why back in 1775, colonists rich and poor gave up the protection of the British Empire to fight and die in Freedom’s name. Some, maybe most, did not know exactly what Freedom meant; I’m not at all sure I do. But if you asked them whether having a guy listen in to their dinner table conversation for the sake of their “safety” meant they were in a state of freedom, I give you one guess as to what their answer would have been.

Published in: on Saturday, September 20th, 2008 at 0:43 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Gives all those “freedom isn’t free” stickers a whole new ring.
    While I can not fully agree with the radical sentiment at the begining of your blog I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to our freedoms. We are losing them in radical ways and those that are fighting in wars aren’t fighting for our freedoms. They are fighting for some rich, white, male’s retribution.

  2. Indeed, I have characterized that radical (shudder) statement as a “bombastic hyperbole” because, although I truly believe in it in terms of values as well as a pragmatic judgment, it is not the sort of choice it is truly possible to make in the heart.

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