Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A vague but useful term

Brave New World (The Star)
31 October 2013

National security can be invoked for any number of reasons because it can mean many things to different people.


AH, national security. It is such a wonderful phrase; two words that has such deep implications and evokes such powerful feelings.
For example, feelings of fear, paranoia and of being under siege. Mention it to me and I envision manly men, biceps bulging as they heft mighty machine guns ready to do battle to defend us from evil invading armies.
But that is just me. Obviously it means other things to other people. It is after all a vague concept.
It is precisely that vagueness which makes it such a useful term. It can be invoked for any number of reasons.
If some people demand the protection of human rights, you can always say “Hey, we would love to do it, but we can’t because, you know… national security”.
It sounds so noble doesn’t it? Sacrificing one’s rights for the greater good. But is that the way it should be? Perhaps in some situations, the answer should be a resounding yes.
In the United Kingdom for example there is a system called the D Notice. This is where in extremely rare cases the government would request the newspapers not to publish certain information which could result in danger whether to the nation or to individuals.
Normally such information would be regarding military matters or regarding highly sensitive installations like nuclear reactors.
The system however is voluntary and newspaper editors can choose to ignore it. By and large however, they do not. In such situations, I am sure that it is felt that national security trumps the newspapers right to expression and the public’s right to know.
But it is too easy to get carried away with this idea of national security and use it to the extent that it becomes a tool not only for the suppression of legitimate rights, but worse still the legitimising of truly unlawful behaviour which should be deemed the true threat to national security.
Let’s look at another example; the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Now, it can be safe to say that not everybody in the US during this period was in favour of equal rights for all peoples regardless of colour.
It was common during that time to have segregated public facilities. Universities in the Southern States for example were often segregated.
This was until James Meredith, a black ex Air Force serviceman enrolled in the University of Mississippi which up till that point was for whites only.
The Supreme Court had passed a judgment that no public university could practice segregation and the newly elected President Kennedy had made an inaugural speech espousing the values of freedom and equality.
Meredith was going to put the law and the President’s words to the test.
The enrolment of one single student caused such uproar that there were actual riots.
In some people’s views riots are surely a cause of concern and are a matter of national security. What then should be done about it?
There are two possible actions really. You can take the warped and cowardly way out and prevent Meredith from going to the college of his choice or you can stand up to the bigots and defend his right to be treated equally.
Fortunately the American government chose the latter.
(As a side note, the Kennedy administration was not always so fearless.
For example, it took significant international and domestic political pressure before they made a firm policy stand against segregation.
The activities of the Freedom Riders, activist who travelled in the segregated south to ensure that the laws on equality were enforced and who faced extremely violent reactions from racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and even state law enforcement, were initially frowned upon by government of the time).
My point is this; there will always be extremists, those who will not hesitate to use force, or threaten to use force against those they disagree with; even when their “enemies” are merely living according to their inherent human rights.
It is ridiculous in the extreme to victimise the victims of such fanatical groups even further by restricting their rights in order to appease the extremists.
In effect what this means is that extremism is not seen as the threat to national security, which it is, but instead in some twisted way human right is seen as the threat to national security.
This is ridiculous not only in its patently absurd logic, but also because it sets precedence where those who advocate violence, the very ones who should be shunned and pushed to the fringes where they belong, can effectively hold a country to ransom.

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