Saturday, 14 June 2008

42 days detention

The proposal to increase the maximum period of detention without charge from 28 to 42 days has passed through parliament, and the latest nail has been hammered into the coffin of liberty.
The sad fact is that a majority of the public support this authoritarian legislation, and that the bill passed only as a cynical symbol of giving Gordon Brown's struggling cabinet a much-needed victory. As a result, as well as removing from terrorist suspects - the word "suspects" there giving this legislation yet more ominous ambiguity - the rights of due process, a fair trial, and the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, the move has farther reaching implications for the British populace as a whole.

The case of the so-called "lyrical terrorist" - convicted for writing poems because of their content - has already proved that freedom of speech has no meaning any more and that the government views words as weapons to be dealt with rather than an alternative to violence. Thus, we essentially have ThoughtCrime, a rather clichéd phrase that still proves accurate in this situation, enshrined in law. The justification for this is that we have to give up some liberty to preserve security, and that this only affects those suspected of terrorism.

But whatever happened to fighting, risking life and limb, and dying for liberty? "Give me liberty or give me death," as Patrick Henry put it during the American Revolution. If we truly are defending our very way of life against the threat of terrorism, then aren't the terrorists claiming a small victory every time one of the freedoms in which our way of life is defined is rolled back?

As to the maxim of "if you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to worry about," the very passage of history, and how people in power react to percieved threats, refutes that statement. The government's definition of terrorism is so widely cast that - especially with their obsessive desire to have everybody's DNA, biometric data, and personal history on record and our every move in public watched and recorded - it won't be too long before anybody who holds any form of dissident views is held without charge. From there, it is but a short step into totalitarianism.

Of course, this can be dismissed as alarmist, and it will be pointed out that the intent isn't there. This may be correct now, but once the mechanisms are in place who knows who will wind up with them at their disposal in the future? Human nature where power is concerned gives me great cause to worry about the consequences of this and other legislation that has passed since 2001. We seem to be on a very slippery slope here.

I think it is worth quoting, at length, the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller on the actions the Nazis took against opponents in the late 1930s and early 1940s is quite an apt way to place a final emphasis on this point.
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.
The minute we begin to limit freedom is the minute we begin to lose it.