It is fascinating to think, if James Madison, the putative father of the United States Constitution, were to be alive in these turbulent times, would he still have a head full of hair. Or, overwhelmed with exasperation and helplessness, he is on his way to pulling out the very last strand.
It’s been a decade since that fateful Tuesday, and somehow, no matter how much turbulence we experienced in our world pre-9/11, all that turbulence, through retrospective lens, now seem a distant paradise.
Not to be misunderstood, humanity has never lived without its evils, but to a greater extent, our evils have been quantifiable. Invariably, we always had answers to them, except the times we willfully chose to ignore them. Still, to confront our problems, we never really had to sell our souls, become a chapter in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, to make sure airplanes were not falling out of the sky like raindrops.
9/11 represents a chasm between a “prehistoric modernity” and present modernity. What Osama bin Laden and his Terror, Inc took from us, among many things, might just as well be our values and the state we seek.
For so long, we have enjoyed the civil liberties and freedoms which James Madison and other co-authors of the Bill of Rights found indispensable to a free and just society. After all the majestic arrogance and insolence paraded by King George III at the time of the founding of the republic, the Founding Fathers thought it paramount to declare that government cannot be the beginning and end of all things: “All men are created equal,” they wrote, “…they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
But in the period immediately after 9/11, we eagerly surrendered most of those rights to government. That line which separated us from repressive states such as Russia suddenly became blurred. Warrantless wiretapping, provisions of the Patriot Act such as “unsupervisable” search and seizure of property in the name of terror investigation, indefinite detention of immigrants, extraordinary rendition (where, for example, the U.S. picks up “suspected” citizens and transfers them into the custody of torture states like Libya to be interrogated on behalf of the U.S. — all cemented our status as the paranoia state.
All right, our fears have not been without reason. Our preoccupation has not being without cause. But somewhere in the midst of all the anxiety, the individual rights that defined the American state became a pariah that dared not show its face.
For a decade now, government has usurped individual rights and liberties in the name of communal good. That such usurpation has occurred is not the principal tension in this argument, but more so, the length of such usurpation. After all, Abraham Lincoln, in fighting the Civil War that threatened to tear America apart, suspended habeas corpus – a defendant’s right to a speedy trial before a jury of his peers. But the Civil War lasted 5 years and the quest for a constitutional state rapidly begun there afterward.
But in 2011, we are not even close to the end of such abrogation of individual rights by government, and it is beginning to take a toll. The de facto state is now the new normal, habit perpetuated for as long as we have been at “war” since 9/11 becomes the character and identity of a nation.
Now, rarely do we bat an eye when a federal agency such as the CIA or FBI wields sweeping power that hitherto we would have considered unconstitutional and provocative. So far as it is in the name of terror, our concerns and anxieties about whatever civil rights may have been breached are suddenly allayed. We are now in such a grey area that the only entity that polices government is government, as we have surrendered the rights that make government fearful of detaining innocent citizens based on flimsy or incoherent premises.
With no end in sight to the war on terror, our sanity has gradually evolved. The previously insane has come to be sane and acceptable. Heck, we chose to invade a Muslim country, Iraq, because of our fears and sensibilities. Understandably, it is indeed hard to juggle our fear of terror and our need of protection from terror. But is there a way we get our sanity back; get back some of these individual rights and freedoms that are “inalienable”.
What Osama did was open the door to hell, and now we constantly have to devise means to close it. Since the aftermath of 9/11, we’ve had the shoe-bomber, the underwear-bomber, and many other ingenious means of terror. We are always reminded they need only be lucky once, whilst we need be right every time. And on this front, the executive branch, the men and women of our national intelligence, and our military have done a remarkable job.
But still, we are no military state nor do we seek a kangaroo republic. We must note, Al Qaeda wins every time we wholesomely abdicate our centuries-old values in the name of fear. Our values are the antithesis of Al Qaeda, the very reason for which we were attacked. Our fears are not going to go away, and rightly should not. But our fear must not create a state where we become puppets to an alpha-and-omega government. It is indeed true, power corrupts, and absolute power, as we hereto have granted, corrupts absolutely. Well-meaning men in government, unrestrained by the burden and fear of an alert and dutiful public, are bound to behave inappropriately at some point. It’s been ten years, you do the math.
Government will always feel it needs to arrogate more and more power to itself to do its job efficiently. But, it is high time we had a national parley on which of these individual rights we have forfeited for too long; which we should forfeit some more; or whether these rights, by and large, to the everlasting horror of our Founding Fathers, are forever forfeited.