Friday, July 8, 2005

On Open Society

On June 7, terrorists attacked London's mass transit system. Three bombs were detonated in the subway, and another destroyed a double-decker commuter bus. The attacks are deplorable. While they are on a smaller scale, and, thankfully, fewer people were killed, the attacks are no different than the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. A faceless enemy struck a vulnerable city center, killing indiscriminately and grinding the city to a halt.

Hopefully, however, this is where the similarities end and the stories of September 11 and June 7 diverge. Hopefully our friends in Great Britain will learn from the disastrous mistakes that the Bush administration, aided and abetted by the Republican-controlled Congress, has been shoving down the throats of the American people over the last four years. The Patriot Act, habeas corpus violations, and military tribunals have been hallmarks of this administration that is driven to "protect" us from anything, including ourselves and our neighbors.

This is not how a free society operates, and this is how terrorists win. When we change the very foundations of our society, when we give up those very rights and freedoms that they were trying to attack, when we give in to the fear, to the terror, that they tried to implant in us, then we are letting the terrorists win. Spying on the American people, be it through library records, phone taps, or any other totalitarian method, takes away from what we stand for. America should stand for freedom of speech and of thought, as well as freedom from fear and from tyranny. America should not be about authority and power, except for the power to persuade that comes from being honest, open, and respected.

Britain, and specifically Tony Blair, is now in the unenviable position of having to make decisions about the security of the citizens of his country. He has to decide if he will follow a model of freedom, or the model of the United States. I wish that these were the same, or at least similar, but this administration has denied all of us that. Britain now needs to lead the way in showing how a democracy responds to terrorists. Increase security in the subway, but do not go digging into personal records.

There are risks that have to be run in order to have an open society. One of these risks is that people from all over can come into the society and change it. Sometimes, as in the case of Congressman Tom Lantos of California, who came from Europe and today chairs the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, these changes are for the better. Sometimes, as in the case of terrorist attacks, they are for the worse. But an open society has to take the bad with the good. The only other option is to change the very nature of the society, and to become something that we have always fought against. The Bush administration made the wrong choice for the United States. Hopefully Tony Blair will make the right one for Great Britain.