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Civil Liberties: What's Your Asking Price?

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Patriotic questions that must be asked if we are to remain a free society and understanding that ignoring your rights is an unpardonable invitation to tyranny and oppression - that silence is merely another form of consent.

The mantra and rallying cry of the continuous Republican spin machine is that any nonconforming voice opposing the Bush administration's obstinate, combative posture on the Iraq conflict is cowardly and a "cut and run" strategy. While three-word sound bytes, intelligent-insulting slogans and contemptible political catchphrases sell newspapers and dredges up conservative pundits frothing at the mouth for air time, it addresses absolutely none of the current crop of critical thinking questions that Americans need to be asking.

It was with outright horror that I reviewed a recent, well-respected survey that found that a full 25% of Americans are still willing to give up certain civil liberties in order to make us feel safe. My first question was, "Feel safer from whom and from what?" Safer from Bush's trumped up, manipulated and outright lies about Iraq and the absurdly laughable idea that Saddam was going to annihilate the U.S. in a mushroom cloud of atomic obliteration? Maybe it is the superfluous, arcane and esoteric notion that Islamic Fundamentalists "hate us for our freedoms" and ostensibly, the less freedom we have the safer we will be. Patrick Henry, if alive today, would be overcome with exasperation at the "cut and run" attitude of relinquishing liberty so easily and for such a hollow and subversive cause.

Reflecting on this "cut and run" strategy of such a cowardly revocation of civil liberties, the same unalienable rights this country's originating founders of freedom so robustly and courageously fought with their lives for, begets an interesting premise. Which freedoms do we give up, in the name of safety, and which liberties do we keep? Which ideas of emancipation do we honor, for the sake of all those that died to preserve it, and which liberties are now mere dime-store novelties that now appear quaint and antiquated?

When we start deciding that certain liberties are so capriciously negotiable, and can be suspended in the name of spurious national security reasons, then would-be terrorists and oppressors of freedom have succeeded in the reduction of America to a country of breathing corpses. After all, isn't that the goal of terrorism, tyranny and despotic fanatics? Is it not their quest to obtain supreme control, subjugate and conquer nations through implacable fear? Perhaps I missed a change in U.S. policy amidst all the propaganda, but since when did the U.S. begin negotiating with terrorists? Who decided the 'bargaining chips' were the civil rights each and every one of us is Constitutional guaranteed?

It would seem we have developed a double-standard and a rather hasty system of judgment over which of the ten Bill of Rights can be summarily dismissed. The Fourth Amendment, the right to unreasonable search and seizures without probable cause, seems to have been deemed an archaic sovereignty that has no place in the 21st Century. Freedom of speech, the right to peacefully petition the government for redresses and grievances, has been met with unadulterated blind nationalism and the sentinels of this once noble expression of independence are now branded un-American and as "giving aide to the enemy". The Eight Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishments, was certainly undermined and ignored by the Bush Administration's treatment of suspects at Abu Ghraib and at the Guantanamo Bay detention center on and after September 11, 2001.

Yet, I am certain that the NRA, Republicans, Conservatives and most prominently, Vice-President, Dick Cheney would fervently balk if we were somehow to be asked to give up the right to bear arms, in the interest of national security. The tidal wave of outrage would ferociously pour onto the streets and every gun-totting, militant supporter might certainly begin to have a vastly different view of how civil liberties must be abated in order to make us all safer! Pragmatically, couldn't it be argued that giving up guns would make us far safer as a nation? How many people are murdered and die from gun shot wounds every day and every year?

Some people mistakenly say that our current government, the war in Iraq and the President's policies are making us safer. At what point do the scales of obsession with national security out-strip our ability to live a life free from autocracy and tyranny, free from an over-bearing "Big Brother" and free to pursue life-long happiness? When, under such stringent acts of despotic rule, do we cease living and begin merely existing? These are all questions that true patriots, guardians of a free society and a justly democratic nation must now ask.

The reality is this; we can barricade ourselves right into a dictatorship, a police state and an Orwellian society, lose much or all of our independence and still be at incredible risk from untold and unthought-of atrocities. The truth is the only thing that makes us free and safe is the free will that allows us to choose our own destiny, in spite of the inherent dangers, and the irrevocability of all our rights to do so.

The next time you hear someone say that unconstitutional or inhumane acts are warranted in defense of the nation or that they personally have nothing to hide from the government, I suggest the following question: "Exactly what is the going price for civil liberties nowadays and which ones can you afford to irresponsibly give away for such a paltry price?"
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Frank J. Ranelli is an independent scholar, skeptic and critic, author and essayist. His erudite and iconoclastic style of provocative writing has been extensively published in a variety of news outlets and across (more...)
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