The war on terrorism can never justify the dismantling of fundamental Western institutions, writes Raimond Gaita.

IMMEDIATELY after the first of the London bombings in July last year, Tony Blair and John Howard told us that only if we went about our business as normal would we deny terrorists their victory.

A day or so later, they announced that they were contemplating (perhaps radical) changes to laws that govern us. In the same week, speaking in New York to the American Australian Association, the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, said he was examining his obligations under article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It states that “everyone has a right to life, liberty and security of person”. He did not want, he said, to be the attorney-general against whom grieving relatives could complain that he had not done all that he could to protect the lives of Australian citizens.

Ruddock wanted to let civil libertarians know that two can play the human rights game: at the crunch, the protection of life trumps the protection of liberty.

A few days later, Ruddock was in discussion with the US Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales, the man who called the Geneva Convention a quaint document and who helped to redefine torture in US law to exclude many acts considered internationally as torture. Australia declined to condemn the Americans on these counts and appears sometimes to have connived with them.

All this has happened in a political culture in which we are discussing whether it is sometimes permissible to torture people. The Government is not likely to join that discussion, but its tendency to argue (in effect) that evil may be done for the sake of the greater good of Australians should make us worry what it will do.

Is life really worth more than liberty? I suggest we all watch a re-run of Braveheart. As one who believes in the resurrection I think the ‘survival at any cost’ mentality needs to be seriously questioned.

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