On July 7, Muslim terrorists bombed the London Underground trains, as well as a bus in Tavistock Square. Over 50 people were killed, and over 700 were injured.
On July 21, Muslim terrorists attempted to bomb both a bus and the London Underground once again. The following day, British police, suspecting that an overcoat-wearing man could possibly be attempting a terrorist act, chased him into the subway and shot him five times, killing him.
Most Americans reacted to the July 7 bombings with horror. The bombings renewed our sense of vulnerability. The July 21 bombings reiterated the message that Muslim terrorists still wish us all dead; the July 22 shootings reminded us that in a state of war, all of us must retain the utmost respect for law enforcement.
So most Americans were perfectly willing to go along with law enforcement officials who suggested that bags should be searched at subway stations in Washington, D.C. and New York. Yes, we’d prefer that police target those of Muslim religious persuasion for searches: After all, bombers tend not to be middle-aged white women from Kansas or elderly Asian men. Random searches are worse than useless, because they provide the illusion of security. But that doesn’t mean we should resist police enforcement or lobby against further enforcement.
Most of us realize that during wartime, sacrifices must be made. During the Civil War, President Lincoln famously suspended writs of habeas corpus. During World War I, Congress passed the Espionage Act, prescribing harsh penalties for anyone revealing defense information or preventing the recruitment of troops. During World War II, thousands of Japanese were interned because President Franklin Roosevelt had information suggesting that some American Japanese were aiding the enemy.
Surely, having our bags checked does not even begin to approach such heavy-handed and horrific measures. As New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly explained, those who do not want their bags to be checked can simply opt not to take the subway. Communal safety supersedes any supposed individual “right” to transportation here. Effective law enforcement should supersede individual “rights” to transportation when hundreds, potentially thousands, of human lives are at stake.
But taking such a stand requires common sense and the knowledge that we are in the midst of the great battle of our time. Some Americans lack both common sense and knowledge. Such people maintain all this war talk is nonsense – we are simply being misled by a government that seeks to remove our civil liberties in order to establish a fascistic regime. One such person, Tony Lu, a New York “immigrant rights activist,” decided that resisting the NYPD was far more important than allowing police to fight terrorism. And so the day of the second London bombing attempt, Lu designed a T-shirt reading “I do not consent to being searched.”
This is obnoxious and wrongheaded. Yes, governmental intrusion can be scary. Yes, we would all prefer to ride the subway without the hassle of having security employees rifling through our bags. But most of us would also prefer not to be blown up, and if that entails having some uniformed city worker check my backpack, so be it.
Unfortunately, Lu is not alone in his refusal to acknowledge the reality that we are at war. The American Civil Liberties Union focuses far more on preventing effective law enforcement than on protecting American lives. Its incessant complaints about the treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees has undermined the moral authority of the American military, despite the fact that treatment has been more than adequate under the circumstances. Its obsession with “exposing” as many Abu Ghraib images as possible is designed as a direct attack on American soldiers abroad. It is no wonder that American soldiers at Guantanamo hotly castigated ACLU allies Teddy Kennedy and Daniel Akaka for the obscene Democratic rhetoric regarding prisoner treatment.
But civil libertarian absolutists will continue to assault America’s safety in favor of American “liberties.” Myopic civil libertarians ignore the simple fact that effective law enforcement is the best way to promote civil liberties. If we live in a safe, secure country – if we rid ourselves of threats domestic and foreign – there is no need for harsh safety precautions.
Habeas corpus was restored after the Civil War. Free speech protections were strengthened in the aftermath of World War I. Japanese internment ended after World War II. Temporary safety measures remain in force only as long as safety is threatened. If civil libertarians undermine such measures, they threaten our safety – and temporary measures become more and more permanent. The only way to fully restore civil liberties is to defeat our enemies.