Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A Free Country?

The House of Lords did the sensible thing and voted down the bill for 42 days detention without trial the other day. It's a pity though that it got as far as it did, since it represents a fundamental erosion of freedoms that ought to be taken as read. The House of Commons ought to be ashamed of itself for passing their stage of the bill. Unfortunately, we're still in a position where up to a month of detention without trial is possible, on the grounds of 'security'. Well, funnily enough, I actually feel less secure knowing that the Government could snatch anyone they wanted off the street for a month than I do thinking that a small improvement has been made in the ability to stop terrorist suspects.

Terrorism is, of course, a very emotive word. The trouble is, it's a word that's being used to destroy freedoms that our ancestors have fought over since 1215 and before. I know that people will say 'and how many freedoms would you have if the terrorists had their way?', but that is a non-argument. Two wrongs, as I'm sure everybody's mother pointed out, don't make a right. To the other common argument, that 'it doesn't matter what we do to them because they're terrorists.' I would make two points.

Firstly, how do we know that they are? That is rather the point of a trial. How many times have police genuinely believed that they've had evidence that someone has committed a crime, only for a judge or jury to dismiss it as insufficient? More to the point, do we think that these powers are being used solely on people trying to blow other people up? A couple of years ago, a man was arrested under the terrorism act for heckling at the Labour Party Conference. He wasn't a terrorist, but there was no immediate obligation to prove that he was.

Secondly, concepts of basic rights and freedoms are only truly effective when applied to people we don't like. People who are just like us, who we get on with, who we do like, are protected by that fact, not by a list of rights. It is the person whose religion/lifestyle/possible tendency to try to kill you you don't agree with who needs that protection. And, as a society, we should be extending those rights for the simple reason that next time it might be us society doesn't like.


Lisa Damian said...

Don't even get me started on the erosion of individual rights and freedoms in the U.S.! It became a frightening Orwellian-like place to live for a few years after 9/11. I think it's getting better with the shift in House majority, and I hope that this next presidential election will improve matters even further (or at least take us back to where we were eight years ago).

trickylittleimp said...

Dead right, Stu - Lisa, too. The former head of MI5 was in the weekend's papers here, saying that the reaction to 9/11 was drastically disproportionate & has done great damage.