Vigilance

Standard

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Attributed variously to any number of early American and British speakers, including (perhaps incorrectly) Thomas Jefferson, this line epitomizes early liberal thinking about the constant dangers to our freedoms. Sadly, some have interpreted it as an excuse for endless security and increases in police and state powers. Security in defence of freedom is one of the new mantras.

I’ll give you a second quote: Those who trade freedom for safety deserve neither. We cannot allow the terrible incidents of the last week turn us into a closed frightened society. This is the one thing we must not do in the vain hope it will stop another madman doing another mad thing for whatever deluded rationale he may have in his head.

But what to do? Not witlessly expand the powers of surveillance to the point where even thinking dangerous thoughts is a crime. That is Orwell at his finest — or his worst.

So, I railed (another sign I’m getting back to normal) when I heard Minister of Public Safety Stephen Blaney describing his plans for yet more tightening of the security apparatus and especially his dismissal of politicians who had the temerity to question his motives and rationale.

Perhaps Mr. Blaney hasn’t heard that one definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. We’ve had years of tightening the security system, of increased powers of surveillance and detention. It seems to have worked so well, hasn’t it?

There are other approaches. Germany has had real success diverting young men from Islamic extremism, using the same techniques used to divert them from neo-Nazi activities for decades. It doesn’t involve the police constantly hovering over their shoulders. It involves education, social programs, in some cases, treatment for mental disorders. Vigilance, yes, but designed to inculcate them with a sense of freedom, to integrate them into society. In this they have, in fact, learned from Canada’s approaches to multiculturalism but have taken it farther.

Denmark is trying something even more controversial, radical if I can use that word before its meaning is completely destroyed. They are meeting returning extremists at the border — men who have gone to fight in the Middle East — and given them counselling, education, jobs. They think it is working.

It certainly can’t do any worse than constant hounding, driving disaffected and unhappy men to desperate measures. So, yes, more vigilance — but don’t stop there. Teach them — show them — the value of a free open society.

That’s the way ahead.

But that’s ten minutes.

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