That”s the answer given by the U.S. government when justifying its force against Afghanistan. “Osama bin Laden is to blame, the Taliban had been harboring and supporting him. Trust us.”
Evidence? “Trust us.”
America has entered a fraternity of sorts a brotherhood whose most knowledgeable members are India and Israel. Who would have thought that New York City would come to empathize with Kashmir and the West Bank?
This isn”t a club that America ever wanted to join. It quickly learned the rules of the game a country suffering from terrorist attacks cannot sit on its hands and wait for the legal process to solve the threat of terrorism. The basic premise of the legal system rests on two things: A Yossarian-esque unwillingness to die (on the part of both the criminals and the system as a whole), along with an explicit understanding that the legal process will not be threatened by the criminals. When either of these suppositions degrade, the legal process must adapt, or else it will be destroyed.
A classic example of the degradation of the second premise is organized crime, where criminal syndicates subvert the legal process by bribing officials and/or killing police officers. Whereas “normal” criminals try to evade the law, organized criminals attack the law. Russia is suffering from this problem right now, and its inability or unwillingness to respond is doing untold damage to the country.
In the case of terrorism, both premises of the legal system are degraded: Not only are terrorists intent upon destroying the entire system, but they are also unconcerned with dying. It is impossible to guarantee vague notions of “rights” (such as due process) in the case of terrorism, because of the fact that terrorists are capable of striking at speeds that the legal process is incapable of responding to.
America has quickly learned the rules of the club, but it has not, as yet, learned how to play along with its brethren. Just as America responded to the felling of the World Trade Center with full force, it must allow indeed, it must support India and Israel when they respond in kind to similar attacks.
A state”s primary goal is to preserve the lives of its citizens. The safety of the populous is far more important, since civil liberties mean nothing to a dead population. When Israel loses 25 citizens to terrorism, it must use whatever means it has to protect its citizens when India”s Parliament building is attacked, it must do the same.
Terrorism thrusts defenders of democratic institutions into an interesting dilemma. On one hand, there is the seemingly intuitive, democratic notion of individual civil liberties. On the other hand, there is the notion of the protection of the whole. Democracy must thus question itself very seriously about which is more important: The individual or the society?
This moral dilemma was explored in the movie “Swordfish,” when Gabriel Shear (John Travolta) asks Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) how many people Jobson would be willing to kill to save the lives of a million people. One? Two? Ten? 100? 1,000?
Is it morally justified for the state to act, in the protection of its population, in sometimes violent manner toward others, even if innocent people suffer? Should the state act with the preservation of the collective in mind, sometimes ignoring the freedoms of the individual?
During normal times, when the two basic tenets of the social contract are upheld by both the state and the individual, this question is largely unnecessary. But when that contract is violated by the individual (or, in this case, a group of individuals), the entire social contract must necessarily adapt even if that means relaxing the supposedly “inalienable” rights of the individual. After all, if the individual is not playing by the same rules, then the game can no longer be played fairly.
This dilemma between individual rights versus collective security isn”t as far-fetched, nor as horrifying, as one would imagine from reading my words.
In 1861, the southern states decided that they no longer wished to play the same game as the northern states and seceded from the Union. Abraham Lincoln decided that the preservation of the collective was of utmost importance, above and beyond any individual southern citizen. The Civil War was not a pretty war innocent people were slaughtered left and right. But I am secure in saying that the greater good was secured by the unfortunate murder of countless people.
Furthermore, the individual today is often subjugated by the state for the purposes of the collective with full blessing from democrats. Redistributive tax schemes take money away from the rich (thus infringing on the individual”s right to keep his wealth) and give to the poor assuming that social equality is more important than individual property rights.
So too with terrorism, both here and abroad. In response to terrorism, the United States cracks down in order to secure the greater good. The U.S. has quickly learned something that India and Israel has known for far too long: When a nation is plagued by individuals who aren”t playing by the rules, the rules have to be abandoned.
Manish Raiji can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.