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Who's looking out for the Baathists?

I'm certainly not, but that's just my point. Baath Party loyalists have been behind many of the guerrilla attacks against US troops in Iraq, and the occupational government has banned the party. In the US, the banning of a political party would be unthinkable. Or, if not unthinkable, it would at least raise a lot of objections with mentions of the McCarthy era. Do it in Iraq, though, and I don't hear many people complaining.

Iraq is different. It is a country in turmoil, unstable and poor, and Baath attacks on the government are far more sustained than terrorism on our native soil. As much as we advocate free speech and democracy, they are values that only function with large educated middle class. In Iraq, if we instituted democracy right away, extremist anti-US groups are the most organized and would thus grab power.

It just makes me think about how fragile our cherished rights really are. If circumstances were a bit different, we would not have our free speech and our democracy. We complain when China advocates "stability" over democracy, but if our own country ceased to be stable, I think we would lose our freedoms as well. Look at Israel, a modern country ruled by fear, where many people want peace and quiet before all else. But I'm not blaming them. If I lived there, I'd probably feel the same way. They cannot afford to care too much about civil liberties.

It makes me think: When the government takes away some of our freedoms to promote "national security", things might be more complicated than they seem. We all know the argument: "What's the point of protecting our freedoms if there won't be any freedoms left to protect?" Certainly, many politicians are merely using national security to enact their dream bills... But the argument works both ways: If the security of a country goes to hell, its freedoms are sure to follow. Another popular quote: "Those that would give up essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither." But what if, by holding on to all your liberties, you'd also end up with neither?

I think democracy and civil liberties are luxuries of an already stable and well-off country. We cannot single-mindedly advocate civil liberties before security any more than we can do the reverse. Again, I think our administration is going about many things the wrong way, but we need to remember that if terrorism were to get even worse in this country, we would inevitably lose even more of our rights.

One concrete case of this conflict: Detained terrorist suspects. Civil liberties are essential if we are to protect the innocent. In this country, we would rather let ten guilty people go than convict a single innocent person. But what if those ten guilty people could kill ten others? A hundred others? What about the rights of those victims? It gets more complicated then, and I don't pretend to know the answer. As with most things in life, we'll just have to strive to find the right balance.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 16, 2003.

The previous post in this blog was The Satellite War begins.

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