Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Big Brother's Bad Timing

Until recently, George W. Bush could still bludgeon dissenters with the issue of terrorism. But it would appear that the days when Bush could use the issue of terrorism to strike ...uh...well terror into the very hearts of his critics are over! "Terrorism" now is just one more issue in which Bush is pulling up his rear. Jim Malone wrote recently:
In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, security emerged as perhaps the preeminent political issue in the country. But in recent years, some Americans have grown increasingly concerned that the emphasis on security has weakened civil liberties.

—Jim Malone, Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism

Clearly —many societies may be willing to trade some liberties for safety even in instances in which it may be ill-advised. The issues Malone addresses above are premised upon what had been —until recently —an unquestioned assumption: the authenticity of Bush's so-called war on terrorism.

Bush's timing is lousy. He waited until Iraq was already lost before declaring that he has the authority to monitor international phone conversations involving citizens or legal residents inside the United States. He waited until his failure to capture Bin Laden got headlines. He waited until a growing majority of Americans believe that he lied in order to start the war. It is questionable, indeed, to claim such powers in times of even real war —but Iraq, which had nothing to do with 911? Irag —in which no terrorists resided until Bush attacked and invaded?

Bush waited until his own poll numbers were in the toilet to announce that he would simply enforce those laws he likes and declare "unconstitutional" those he doesn't. 'Scuse me! Isn't that the job of the Supreme Court —however packed it may be these days?

Every totalitarian regime has cited war as justification for rescinding basic liberties and freedoms. That principle was already ancient by the time Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his armies. Cicero lamented, “Our beloved republic is gone forever.”

Much Later, James I of England and Ireland (James VI of Scotland) pioneered a similar principle —a "war on terrorism". Succeeding to the throne following the death of Elizabeth I, James had raised hopes for a cool Britannia in which Catholic and Protestant might "just get along". Elizabeth's promise that she had no desire to create windows into men's souls rang hollow amid the horrible executions of Edmund Campion and the poet Robert Southwell. Elizabeth maintained a perpetual state of fear exploited expertly by spymaster Sir Frances Walsingham.

Many threats against the Queen were real but in the tragic case of Mary, Queen of Scots, the line between terror and state-sponsored terrorism was blurred. Walsingham's network of spies most certainly entrapped Mary, Queen of Scots. Of course Mary coveted Elizabeth's throne —but merely coveting was not a crime. Walsingham would require an agent provocateur to lure Mary into the plot. That is among the real dangers of dictatorship. No one is safe.

James I, like George W. Bush more recently, claimed that God had revealed to him the details of what is now called the "Gunpowder Plot". Sure enough, there was presumably enough gunpowder to blow up Parliament and it was found just where God told James it would be. In a recent BBC series, Michael Woods reported that the gun powder was traced to the government's own stores. "We dinna need the Papists now!", James said. History's first "cool Britannia" came to end as a new era of government repression and surveillance began.

When memories of World War II were still fresh, George Orwell would write 1984 —a story set amid a totalitarian state in which the state spies on its own citizens and, in doing so, wields total control. The spying is justified because the state wages a perpetual war, which may or may not be real. Orwell's work is, of course, a damning indictment of totalitarianism but it could as easily be a blueprint for the designs of an unscrupulous dictator-wannabe!

Perhaps it was.

A valuable resource:
'Toons by Dante Lee; use only with permission

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