Much is being written about the anniversary today (well, yesterday for me) of the attacks in New York on 11th September 2001. People are recalling what they were doing and how they felt when the news broke, or having 24 hours blogging silence, or castigating at considerable length the bastards who were responsible and the bastards who supported them and now idolise them. For me the saddest thing about it all is not the 2,977 deaths (I don’t count the hijackers) that day, let alone the destruction of a landmark. It’s not even the thousands more Allied deaths and thousands and thousands of civilian deaths in the wars that were launched in response to the New York attacks. The saddest thing is that we lost the war before it had even begun. We wanted our freedoms protected, and our governments protected them by incrementally taking them away from us. The Americans got the Patriot Acts and a new government department to make them safe by spying on them; the British got the Civil Contingencies Act allowing government frightening emergency powers, not to mention police forces suddenly arresting everyone with a camera; and everyone in the world got treated as suspected terrorists every time they flew anywhere (except in Israel of all places, where they seem able to deal with this stuff both more effectively and without inconveniencing everyone).
If a war was launched against the west and the freedoms of its peoples on September 11th 2001 then we lost. No matter what the end result of the gunfight we’ve got ourselves into in the Afghan mountains, we lost. Even if if every single person connected to the September 11th attacks, and the Bali bombing, and the London July bombings, and the Madrid train bombings, and indeed everyone who raised a weapon to Allied troops or supported those who did, even if all of those people are captured or killed, we lost.
We lost not because of bullets fired or bombs exploded or even aircraft crashed into our cities. We lost at the stroke of a few politicians’ pens, politicians unable to see that freedom cannot be protected by locking it away from the people it is for. Our own reaction to attack secured a host of little victories against us for those who hated our freedoms, and who continue to hate us for what freedoms that, for the moment, we still have. Too many of us demanded our governments take action against those who attacked, and the governments listened. Too few of us told our governments that we were not the enemy, and we went unheard. And so, sadly, inevitably, we lost.
And we won’t get un-lost until governments – and more importantly, people – remember the words attributed to Benjamin Franklin:
A society that gives up a little liberty to gain a little security deserves neither and will lose both.
We’ve given up more than a little security and lost more than a little liberty. I think it’s past time we started demanding it back.