Is anyone else disturbed by the tone of the anti-terror discussion? We have the PM calling for heads to roll at the ABC because a guy who was acquitted of terror offences and has since renounced his support for jihad asks some pointed questions on Q & A; the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection not only wanting the right to unilaterally strip citizenship from Australians he suspects of fighting with ISIS but declaring he doesn`t want the courts second guessing him; and the Leader of the Opposition welcoming the deaths of those Australians fighting with ISIS.
It seems that in the rush to combat terror we are surrendering the very things that make us strong and rushing headlong into the abyss of hatred, censorship and lawlessness that mark illiberal societies. This is not the time to waver in our commitment to the rule of law, the protection of freedoms, and the primacy of love but to assert them more strongly than ever.
When someone publicly questions government policy the appropriate response is not to shut down debate by declaring he has no right to be here and then shooting the messenger; it is rather to provide an intellectually robust defence of policy. The free contestability of ideas is one of the hallmarks of liberal democracy.
When citizens join a conflict we oppose and engage in murderous acts, the answer is not to disenfranchise them by the uncontested fiat of a politician, thereby making them another country’s problem, but to prosecute them in a court of law. History suggests any step away from this principle inevitably results in acts of tyranny.
And when anyone, let alone one of our own, dies on the battlefield, even fighting on the side of our enemy, surely we should be filled with grief. I am reminded of an old Jewish story of the exodus. The Red Sea has parted to allow the Israelites through, then closed in on the pursuing Egyptians. The Israelites are celebrating wildly, free at last from their captivity, when someone notices God isn’t there. “Where is he?” Moses asks. To which the archangel replies, “The Lord is over in the corner weeping, for many of his children died today.”
In the face of terror I want to say that I trust in the rule of law, the freedom of speech and religion, and respect for the humanity of all, even my enemy. These are the things that make us strong. Let us not surrender them.