Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When Fear Trumps Freedom

The House overwhelmingly passed HR1955, The Violent Radicalization of Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, sending this very controversial bill to the Senate. The loose definitions, unchecked appointments and broad powers provided by this bill make it potentially the most dangerous attack on freedom in the United States since the country’s conception.

HR 1955 has been developed under the basic conception that there is an equal or greater risk of a terrorist attack from a US citizen as there is from a foreign national, and that the government has to protect against this possibility. That makes a great deal of sense to me. This country is a melting pot, where individual loyalties differ greatly, and individuals may and will use terrorism to advance their political agenda.

But while an argument can definitely be made for safeguards against domestic terrorism, care has to be taken that these safeguards do not change the fundamental nature of our freedom. This is certainly not the case here.

HR 1955 utilizes very loose definitions on the threats to American society, so that nearly anything can be investigated. The bill utilizes this definition of violent radicalization: “The process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system to advance political, religious, or social change.”

This definition, upon which the bill is centered, is loose enough to include nearly any activity where people question the standing government. While the name mentions violence, the definition does not. So promoting a political party other than the party in power could fit in this definition. Promoting the morals of a given religion would also be taboo. Basically, anything which disrupts the status quo could merit investigation.

Under this definition, I would be worthy of investigation for a few reasons. As a Jew, I represent a different morality than Christianity, and some fundamentalist Christians (who do have a say in the current power structure) would consider that extreme. As a democrat, I certainly would be seen as maintaining a disparate belief system than the sitting government. Thus, I merit investigation under this definition.

The bill indicates a 10-person panel will be created to investigate these potential threats, as well as a “center for excellence”. However, these appointments will be made by the sitting president and director of homeland security, without peer review. This is fraught with danger, as a president can essentially create a panel that represents any ideology he wants to promote to police the entire society.

Plus, this panel will have extraordinary power, as it will be allowed to order surveillance on any individual, institute wire tapping and monitoring, and even detain individuals indefinitely without a hearing or even charges being pressed. Thus, if you happen to have a different set of views as the sitting government, they can have you investigated and ultimately plucked out of society without you having committed an overt act.

To me, this bill smacks of McCarthyism. It provides the government with a powerful tool to attack any dissenters, and has the potential to be utilized by any government to retain power by eliminating any real opposition. It threatens democracy at its core, and can’t help but remind me of Cold War Russia, where individuals were afraid to speak their own opinions for fear of being detained by the KGB.

I agree wholeheartedly that there is a growing threat of terrorism from US citizens, and that action should be taken to help prevent that. But at what point have we destroyed what makes our society great to protect it from our adversaries? When do we realize that terrorists have won simply by eliminating the freedom we hold dear? This bill threatens what America stands for, and provides a clear and present danger to the vision of our forefathers.

Posted by Scottage at 11:02 AM / | |