Sometimes we mistake murder with terrorism. Murder is to take a person’s life – plain and simple. Terrorism is something much more pernicious. It shields itself behind murder and blood, only to accomplish its ultimate goal: to instill an incredible sense of fear and prompt a frantic departure from strongly held principles.
As we removed a vicious criminal from power in Iraq and wiped out another in Pakistan, the U.S. and the global community alike were ready to claim victory in the fight against terrorism. But while they may have gotten their revenge against murder, the effects of terrorism still remain. Unfortunately, some of the worlds most powerful leaders are beginning to sound more and more like the ruthless dictators they used to condemn. And it’s all in the name of terrorism.
In the wake of September 11, 2001, President Bush and private industries teamed up to spy on innocent Americans without any warrants. This was, of course, illegal, but in the name of terrorism, the public kept quiet.
Recently, similar efforts to undermine the rule of law have seeped into American culture. The New York City Police Department, for example, is under investigation by the Justice Department for their unwarranted surveillance of innocent Muslims. In Britain, lawmakers passed sweeping legislation allowing the government to obtain information on innocent civilians’ phone calls, emails, and Internet activity. The reason? Terrorism.
The Supreme Court, which is meant to be the ultimate protector of justice, ruled on Monday that law enforcement may strip-search people arrested for any offense, even if there is no reason to suspect the presence of contraband. Most disturbingly, Senator Kelly Ayotte recently rose before the U.S. Senate and declared, “No member of Al Qaeda, no terrorist, should ever hear the words ‘You have the right to remain silent.’”
Now, you may think supporting these efforts makes you seem “tough on terrorism.” But I am aware of no time in history that the U.S. was so willing to abandon essential values with virtually no opposition. That is exactly what Al Qaeda wanted.
Make no mistake, what Americans and other global citizens have gone through in the past decade has been utterly excruciating. We have seen too many die and have spent far too much money. But when did it become acceptable or rational for government to use grief as an excuse to trample on our rights?
For some reason, our rights have become nothing more than technicalities – nuisances that simply get in the way of the ultimate fight against crime. But our rights are essential, and are perhaps the best tool we have to eradicate terrorism once-and-for-all. If our most basic rights rights – privacy, access to counsel, etc. – were meaningless, why did our founders devote an entire Bill of Rights to that cause?
Just as we have three branches of government to ensure one does not gain too much power, the same holds true for criminal justice. Rights serve as a check on law enforcement, pushing them to obtain as much evidence as they can and carry out legitimate investigations. That leads to more efficient and effective policing, with less attention paid on innocent individuals and more on the real perpetrators.
Rest assured: Any terrorist who is watching right now, as the so-called “greatest nation on earth” questions and relinquishes its values, is proclaiming sweet victory. If we really want to get tough, let’s see one of our leaders stand up and say, “You can kill us, and you can even level our cities. But you can never – ever – make us forget who we are and what we stand for.”
Now that sounds tough.