Those halcyon days when "democracy" really meant "for the people, by the people" are tragically over in countries which purport to expound this ancient method of governance. In its place comes a system which spies on, categorises, labels and restricts "the people" for the benefit of governments. It’s clever though.
The metamorphosis didn’t happen overnight–far from it. Indeed, the change is surreptitious; an erosion of civil liberties here; an attack on human rights there with the individual being reduced to the contents of a know-all, tell-all chip just about everywhere.
So insidious are the changes that most of us don’t realise they are even taking place. It began with video cameras on street corners–some five million in the U.K. alone. Then there is the secretive global surveillance body Echelon, the most powerful intelligence-gathering organisation in the world used by the United States Security Agency, NSA, to secretly monitor satellite, microwave, cellular, and fiber-optic traffic.
There’s little doubt "we the people" have long been under scrutiny in both audio and visual terms by governments elected by us to serve us. Yes… serve us. It’s worth repeating lest we forget this concept.
However, as we saw prior to the invasion of Iraq in Britain, this is no longer the case. Although more than 80 per cent of Britons were anti-war with over a million protestors clogging London’s streets last February 15, the government went ahead anyway on the basis that Saddam Hussain posed an imminent threat, a charge later found to be false. In this case, "the people" have been proved right. No proscribed weapons have been found; Iraqi scientists, who now have little to fear, insist they were destroyed in 1991, and pre-war Iraq had no links to Al Quida or international terrorism.
Donkeys towing missiles, recently responsible for devastating Baghdad hotels, perhaps sum up the irony of this. Iraq’s illicit armoury now incorporates "weapons of ass destruction".
Undeterred by the almost daily killings of their nations’ finest, the leaders of nations in occupation insist that Iraq will be a "democracy" whether it likes it or not and just to make sure of this fledgling "democracy’s" longevity, the occupiers will indefinitely station their troops in and around Iraq. You must admit it’s a novel idea–a democracy in a country which cannot throw out foreign armies.
One also wonders whether the new Iraqi Democratic Republic, or whatever it will be called, will be able to change from petro-Dollars to Euros or to invite French oil companies to assist it with exploration. And what if in this new ‘free’ nation, its citizens decide en masse that they don’t want a democracy after all? Perhaps they would prefer a theocracy or some other system. Will they get the right to choose? Alright…alright… enough of the stupid speculations already!
After all, those who hate "freedom" must be sought and destroyed. Isn’t it worth considering that Iraq’s insurgents, far from hating ‘freedom’, want metal-clad foreign armies off their country’s soil?
While the self-described leaders of the ‘free world’ are bent on enforcing their much-vaunted shared values and democratic principles throughout the Middle East, we "the people" can be forgiven for wishing they would first start at home.
The War on Terror, which many now believe is a recipe for terrorists of mass production–since there are far more murderers of innocents around nowadays than ever before–triggered the so-called Patriot Act in the US This rushed through piece of legislation is responsible for the detention of hundreds of non-citizens and the denial of legal representation or access to loved ones. At the same time the FBI received new powers of search and surveillance, and according to an article in the New York Times dated November 23 is now collecting "extensive information on the tactics, training and organisation of antiwar demonstrators."
Further, the report states local law enforcement officials have been advised by the FBI to report any suspicious activity at protests to its counter-terrorism squads. So much for free speech and the right to peaceful protest enshrined in any democratic constitution. No wonder civil rights advocates and legal scholars are concerned that the "monitoring programme could signal a return to the abuses of the 1960s and 1970s when J. Edgar Hoover was the FBI director and agents routinely spied on political protestors like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior".
Determined not to be left behind in the control stakes, Britain is poised to introduce new anti-terrorist measures, which, according to Andy McSmith, the Independent’s political editor, will give the government "power to over-ride civil liberties in times of crisis, and evacuate threatened areas, restrict people’s movement and confiscate property".
Under these draconian measures, once a state of emergency–due to war, flood, breakdown of power supplies, outbreaks of disease or any situation that "causes or may cause disruption of the activities of Her Majesty’s Government"- has been declared "we the people" can be banned from travelling and prohibited from assembling.
The way things are going the Bush-Blair "enemies of freedom" are having a field day. The concept of freedom for the individual, in both the US and Britain, is being relegated to the trash heap. Sure we still have the illusion of being free. We can still watch our soaps, take out a mortgage, shop ’til we drop and leap semi-clothed into fountains if such is our wont, but isn’t real freedom being able to take part in the decision process, one which shapes not only our own futures but those of our descendants?
It seems to me that the War on Terror has not, and is not likely to, reduce terrorism but it will reduce the quality of life for the citizens of those countries it was constructed to protect. While "we the people" see our own powers eroded, the powers of individuals in government, driven by ideology, ego or material gain, are being dangerously ramped up.
Under the spotlight
It’s time that Western "democracies" and "shared values" were put under the spotlight. At a time when Iraq’s occupiers are demolishing homes a la Sharon, detainees languish in Guantanamo Bay in contravention of international law and Britain contemplates separating children of asylum seekers from their families in the hopes they will voluntarily ship out, then not only democracy is under threat, but so are traditional humanitarian values.
Terrorism didn’t just appear in a vacuum. It is a phenomenon born from inequality and injustice. Unless its root causes are understood and seriously tackled, then our one beautiful world is likely to be irreparably scarred with "we the people" reduced to fearful, impotent, indoctrinated and gagged nonentities.
We might do well to return to the root of all Western laws: Iraq’s Babylonian Code of Hammurabi protecting "we the people" from those who seek to divest us of our God-given rights, whether they be criminals, terrorists or those elected to serve … yes…"we the often gullible, pliable, propaganda-besieged people".
LINDA S. HEARD is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org