The discussions about this theme almost inevitably fall on a biased statist (even if not consciously) view that takes for granted that State will give us security, and that we must make a true choice between security and freedom. On the other hand, this may allow extremists to be sanctified as freedom-fighters. They will always find some fringe of public opinion that will support them for being against the evil western capitalist powers, accusing this countries of either not being enough tolerant towards misogynous totalitarian religious beliefs or of being too tolerant in face of racial or sexual minorities.
To break these mistaken views and to clear all foggy discussions, I think that we must adopt a more coherent but also dynamic starting point: the concept of freedom in its multiplicity. To do so, analysing both the “pro-security” and the “pro-freedom” arguments is crucial.
The concept of security is in fact an empty one if it is not submitted to freedom: I am safe if I am not under the potential or factual harm of others, that is, if I am free to act under no illegitimate violence. Statal violence isn’t any better than other forms of violence if not to protect individual freedom. That is a key point that must be stressed.
Publishing the PATRIOT Act doesn’t make political repression, private communications’ violation or torture any more valid on a moral basis. The defeat of “pro-security” arguments starts at its very beginning: giving huge powers to obscure and self-illuminated bureaucrats or politicians does not create security. It only transfers (or, more probably, sums) the sources of insecurity. For example, can French citizens feel safe if secret services – under the noble mask of the fight against terrorism – start gathering information about their political activities, sexual orientation or health status (let’s see what will happen with Edvige and Cristina)?
On the other side, we have “pro-freedom” arguments. This is a much more difficult ground. Freedom is the core issue, and the proof of that is that even when we put it against the concept of security, we do so in order to know which is the most balanced position: we don’t want that freedom may be used against freedom, and so we must put some kind of restraints. Defending the rule of law is a political, ideological, moral conviction; it is also, pragmatically speaking and in accordance with the previously written, the best way to defend security.
Nevertheless, we must also keep in mind that a law that is not able to protect individuals from harms (whatever the source of such harms and whatever the origin of this law’s inefficiencies may be), that law, rules nothing.
I do not believe that straight answers can honestly be given when we presently face a deadly combat with terrorists that fear nothing (not even death) except the possibility of not entering an imaginary place. It is quite different from other clashes of European recent History, such as extremist left or right terrorist movements, or even the secessionist movements like IRA or ETA. But I am convinced that setting axiological priorities – Freedom as the beginning and the end of any political decision (and understanding the polysemic senses of freedom: freedom from the State, from other individuals, from social constraints, life, privacy, absence of violence, etc.) – will allow us to have at least a rational criterion for decision-making.