Save Us From Our Saviours

Imagine a scene from a dystopian move depicting our society in the near future. Walking towards the sports stadium you weave between rows of concrete blocks and upon entering the stadium you must navigate huge wire fences and armed guards patrolling the entrances using facial recognition scanning to filter through a database where the names and identifications of everyone are listed. If you are suspected of doing anything suspicious – a world appropriately vague – you are thrown into detention for 14 days, no lawyer, no nothing.

This is no scene from a dystopian move but an act from today. At the national security summit to be held this week in Canberra, ministers will discuss using ID scanning to sweep crowds, including facial recognition technology. This comes only a day after Malcolm Turnbull implemented strong new anti-terrorism laws which will give police the powers to detain “suspects” for 14 days without charge. Turnbull’s justification goes as follows:

SABRA LANE: Why aren’t existing laws sufficient?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, they just aren’t. There’s not the, you need, you also need very clear, clear laws. It’s, it’s important to make sure that you give the police a very clear offence that makes, so that there’s no ambiguity or grey area.

Turnbull clearly offers a very convincing argument. But even if we are not swayed by Turnbull’s eloquent defence of these new security measures, we must consider that these measures come after a mass shooting in the United States, which, in a very real way, has to do with their lax gun laws. Another problem in another state is hardly a sufficient reason to change our laws. Even so, there is a problem with defending civilisation by giving police more powers and whittling away the freedoms and rights to privacy of everyday citizens. A hundred years ago, G.K. Chesterton articulated the deadlock in which critics of religion find themselves,

Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church … The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them.

At the very least, even if these measures are entirely fruitless, they guarantee that we will destroy our own liberties before the terrorists ever get a chance. Our leaders are so eager to fight terrorism they end up sacrificing freedom and democracy just so they may fight it. Slavoj Zizek notes,

If the ‘terrorists’ are ready to wreck this world for love of another, our warriors against terror are ready to wreck democracy out of hatred for the Muslim other. Some of them love human dignity so much that they are ready to legalise torture to defend it. It’s an inversion of the process by which fanatical defenders of religion start out by attacking contemporary secular culture and end up sacrificing their own religious credentials in their eagerness to eradicate the aspects of secularism they hate.

But these laws are not the source of our problems and nor are the terrorists which they are meant to defend against. The true culprits are the coordinates of global capitalism and the punishing state. It’s a public secret that the invasion of Iraq was not for the plight of oppressed peoples but for oil; it is equally unsurprising that the number of terrorist acts has increased exponentially every year that we have continued bombing and pillaging the Middle East. We have become blinded by our obsession with defeating ‘the enemy’. Terror exists to rob us of our freedom and security. Rather than fighting terrorism by voluntarily robbing people of freedom and security, perhaps consider another path. If you want to stop terrorism, stop participating in it. For that, I am sure the people in Iraq and Afghanistan will be very grateful; and so will Australians who will be able to attend a sports match without having to pass through a surveillance system reminiscent of an Orwellian dystopia.

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