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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Legislating freedom?

From Nazi Germany to the War on Terror - the use of fear & racism to implement Fascism with the approval of the deceived populace.

One month after Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, there was a suspicious fire in the Reichstag (German Parliament).  Hitler and the Nazi party used this event to spread fear of communist terrorism plots and take-overs within the Germany population, resulting in the enabling of the Order of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State otherwise known as the Reichstag Fire Decree and Enabling Act 1933.  This Act severely limited the rights of German citizens, paved the way for the one party state, increased the power of the military and law enforcement bodies and the apprehension of citizens and non-citizens, in particular those who were Jewish, communist, members of trade unions or other areas nominated as being a threat to the state.  The decree stated 'It is therefore permissible to restrict the rights of personal freedom , freedom of opinion, including the freedom of the press, the freedom to organize and assemble, the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications, and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed'.

Within 10 minutes of Soviet Union President Joseph Stalin being advised of the assassination of Leningrad chief Sergei Kirov, he ordered the enactment of an emergency law which decreed that the judicial process must be hastened when dealing with terrorism.  Stalin's new law stated that accused terrorists must be brought to trial within 10 days of being charged and that they must be executed immediately after judgement without right of appeal.  This law was used to as the basis for the purges of the late 1930's which resulted in the deaths and imprisonment of millions of his own citizens.

Interestingly, eight months after George W Bush was appointed the President of the USA, the terrible attacks of 11 September 2001 occurred.  Following this, much of the world and certainly the population of the USA was frightened of further terrorism being perpetrated by Islamic militants.  Within a month, George W Bush had passed the USA Patriot Act, otherwise known as the 'Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001'.  This Act greatly increased the power of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, border security, apprehension and long term detention of both citizens and non-citizens without charge, limited freedom of expression and the freedom of the media.

In Australia, the Liberal Party government under Prime Minister John Howard strengthened Australia's laws for dealing with suspected terrorists following the introduction of three bills by Attorney General Phil Ruddock, namely the Anti-terrorism bill, 2004, the Anti-terrorism bill (No 2), 2004 and the Anti-terrorism bill (No 3), 2004 and the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005.  Opposition parties criticised the lack of time allowed for consultation and the severity of the legislation which included 'shoot to kill' provisions, as well as severely limiting discussion around the application of the Act in specific circumstances.  For instance, the Criminal Code Act describes that it is a criminal offence to reveal that the person was detained under the Act, this applies to the person being detained, their lawyer, interpreter, parents or anyone else who becomes aware of the detention.  The Act has almost unlimited power to severely restrict freedoms of a suspect.  The issue with this Act is not that it is combating terrorism but that anyone who is merely a suspect can be detained involuntarily for ongoing periods, can be placed under house arrest, can be barred from speaking about their detention - all without charge.  This legislation limits freedom of expression in that people expressing dissenting opinions can be charged with sedition and imprisoned.

Is there a correlation between the Reichstag Act, Stalin's emergency law, the Patriot Act and Australia's anti-terrorism laws?  The governments of George W Bush and John Howard are far removed from that of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.  My reason for making the comparison however, is to warn that we need to learn from lessons of the past.  Terrorists certainly need to be dealt with and police need powers to address terrorism, but isn't it a victory for terrorists if the freedoms that countries such as the USA and Australia cherish are removed by their own governments in knee-jerk responses to a fear of terrorism?

The citizens of Hitler's Germany blamed certain people groups for the threats facing their economy and security as a result of Nazi propaganda and subsequently embraced the removal of their freedoms.  Stalin, fearing the peasants and others who may or may not have been opposed to him, forced the emergency laws on his citizenry in the name of security and defence of the Soviet Union.

Many Australians and Americans embraced the removal of their freedoms because of fear of terrorism by supporting the introduction of the Anti-Terrorism Act and Patriot Act respectively.

The introduction of these laws justified in the minds of many people the link between terrorism and asylum seekers.  The Acts also provided justification to many people that all Muslims needed to be treated with suspicion.  The Acts sadly increased the level of hostility between different racial and religious groups which we have seen expressed through increased acts of violence from some segments of the community.  It must be borne in mind that the actions of a few rarely reflect the attitudes, opinions and behaviours of the majority of people in that national, racial or religious group.

Yes, terrorism needs to be fought, but it is important to segregate the crime from the community in order to promote tolerance, respect and dignity of all persons.  Without these basic human rights, acts of terrorism and violence will flourish as we have seen in Hitler's Germany and in countries where people are persecuted because of their race, religion or beliefs.

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