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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Fear and the Dark Side*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Pittsburgh, PA Post-Gazette
September 11, 2011
as "We've held fast to our freedoms"

"Those who would give up essential liberty,
to purchase a little temporary safety,
deserve neither liberty nor safety."
-- Benjamin Franklin

When a country is attacked within its borders, things change, especially when such attacks by foreign entities take the lives of civilians. Some civil libertarians have claimed that individual freedoms have been curtailed by the government since 9/11. But exactly what rights have been surrendered?

The key to Dr. Franklin’s statement above are the words “essential liberty,” which most Americans take to mean those rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights.  Also included would be non-statutory rights, such as freedom of movement.

Freedom of speech is still very much in force. An evening on the cable news channels, the Internet, and in the letter to the editor section of the newspaper provides ample proof. People are railing against politicians and positions on both sides, without fear of reprisal. But when the line between legitimate beefs and actual physical threats is crossed, then, and only then, do the authorities take action.

Freedoms of religion and belief have not been revoked. No religions have been outlawed. The uproar about the new Islamic mosque in New York City was all about location. People are still free to be Muslim.

Reactionaries who call themselves “Christian” have been blowing up clinics and murdering abortion providers for a long time; yet fundamental Christianity is still legal. The violent actions of leftist radicals in the 1960s are historical fact. Yet, today one can still be a communist.

Our country has been built on the idea that people can believe anything they want as long as the activities associated with those beliefs don’t infringe on the rights of the rest of us.  Certainly there are extremists.  But most Americans are smart enough to separate the peaceful mainstream from the crazies.

We can still own guns, and be secure in our homes against unlawful search and seizure. Due process still applies, as does a trial by jury and protection against cruel and unusual punishment.  When government steps over any of those lines, it finds out quickly that it is just as subordinate to the laws of the land as We the People.

Some suggest that increased airport security has impacted freedom of movement. Yet, we are free to jump in our car or board a train or a bus for whatever destination suits our fancy. The only thing we’ve really sacrificed is convenience. And that’s not a protected right.

The most interesting aspect has been our willingness to endure the security measures, preferring the inconvenience and dehumanization to the possibility of death and disaster. We are at war.  There have been over 20 failed terror attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 and over 17,000 successful attacks world-wide. The threat continues. We get that. We understand why.  We also understand that we don’t have to sit there and “take it.”  The heroes of United Airlines Flight 93 showed us that.

We’ve lived through wars in our past, but this one is different. During the Civil War, either side could point to Washington or Richmond and say with certainty, “There lies the enemy.” In World War II, we could point to Berlin and Tokyo and say, “When we get there, it ends.” Now, there is no capitol, no headquarters to which we can point.  We are fighting not so much a physical enemy, but the power of an idea. It is the idea that there is only one true religion, and no other religion has a right to exist and therefore must be eradicated. In the face of such absolutism, there is no definable finish line.

Yet, we must also protect our freedoms, not just from an enemy, but from us as well. War breeds fear; fear which can take us down an ever-darkening path.

The world changed on 9/11. Humanity’s story opened a new and darker chapter. The terrorists who acted out of hate and suspicion have inspired the same among us. Political divisions polarize us, building walls between friends and neighbors; even within families. In our past, we’ve always been able to rise above such things, but it’s different now.

With regards to the state of our rights, perhaps the question is not how far we’ve gone, but how far we are willing to go before we allow fear to destroy the essence of who we truly are.

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