Jason and I recently had what I can only call a debate over concepts of security in the face of terrorism. He pointed out that if additional police checks made us safer, then we should be happy to accede to them. I responded with two points. The first is that, in a freer society, people have more ways to express their frustrations with political entities. Thus, fewer of them are likely to do something as radical as an attack. By the same token, no amount of government control will ever stop all attacks, and in fact by catching innocent people in ever more draconian security sweeps, you create more people willing (or feeling forced) to take radical action. If both solutions lead to a reduction in violence, then I would choose the society that has fewer, rather than more, controls and restrictions.

The second point, and one which is demonstrated quite clearly today in the New York Times, is that by giving the government more and more power, you increase the number of actions it will take which, if perpretrated by a non-governmental agent, would be considered terrorism in their own right. Grabbing innocent people off the street and torturing them until they die is what terrorists do. It's also what the US did in Afghanistan, in several well documented cases in today's NYT. At what point does giving more power to the government make us less safe, rather than more?

It has been argued that secrecy is necessary to prevent suspected terrorists from being tipped off that the government is pursuing them. However, secrecy also allows crazy young soldiers to kill with impunity. Consider this question - if three people are arrested and tortured, and one of them dies, have we gained or lost if it prevents a bomb attack that kills one? To my mind that is a net loss. And that is how I think the calculus of the so-called 'war on terror' is playing out. We are killing, maiming, and torturing more people than would have been killed, maimed, and tortured had we done nothing at all.

Jason in Egypt commented:
I'd actually call it something more like a "friendly breakfast chat" on the topic. I don't remember the exact words I used, but I'm pretty sure I didn't say that I was "happy" about anything to do with the way the govt. is doing things with so few checks. As an American living abroad, I definitely feel less safe now than I did at the beginning of 2003 when I arrived in Egypt.
on Fri May 20 19:16:07 2005

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