Renew the Patriot Act

Key sections of the Patriot Act are set to expire on June 1, 2015.  President Obama may have concluded the war on terrorism is over, but as events in France clearly demonstrate, we are actually in as much danger as at any time since 9/11. We need the Patriot Act now as much as ever.

Benjamin Franklin once said that those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security. That might have been a rousing clarion call from a provocateur fomenting revolutionary sentiment against a mad monarch, but some of our wartime presidents burdened with governance and committed the first precept of government -- security -- disagreed. 

Lincoln temporarily suspended the right of habeas corpus; Roosevelt interred Japanese-Americans for fear some would be saboteurs. Not our freest moments, but neither a slippery slope towards despotism; both were explicable in the smoky cauldron of war. We are still at war, and some Muslims living amongst us pose a greater threat than sabotage. 

Many observers postulate that Muslims in America are inherently different than those in Europe, hence they don’t need surveillance. Here they are assimilated, there they are separate. I’m not so sure -- America has had plenty of trouble with radical Muslims: from the Boston Marathon bombers; from Muslims weaned in radical mosques in Minnesota joining Jihad; from the Fort Hood shooter in Texas, and on.  Perhaps the biggest difference is that in Europe Muslim immigrants represent a far greater proportion of the population; for example, about 10% in France. 

With their native countries in disarray, Muslims do like to emigrate to the West, even as they denounce its supposed decadence. This should be no surprise because expanding the Ummah is a thread of Muslim history from the medieval Moors of Spain to the modern-day ghettos of Paris.  And one doesn’t have to be an infidel to recognize their danger. 

But one does have to be brave to highlight it, like President el-Sisi of Egypt, who recently chided a gathering of imams at a prestigious religious school.  Speaking out against Islamic extremism, he exhorted: “Is it possible that 1.6 billion [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants -- that is 7 billion -- so that they themselves may live? Impossible! …I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah.”

Even as the leader of one of the most populous Muslim (Sunni) nations takes a stand against religious radicalization, the Obama administration bans the use of Islam and Jihad in security documents.  More perplexing is that the U.S. has withdrawn funding for Egypt since el-Sisi vanquished the extremist Muslim Brotherhood. Unbelievable -- Obama bows to dignitaries all over the place but the one Muslim leader he doesn’t get along with is Egypt’s el-Sisi. Nevertheless, until the imams accede to el-Sisi’s call for a glorious “revolution,” we need more security against the Ummah. We need to renew the Patriot Act.

We didn’t sink into an Orwellian abyss of despotism post 9/11, neither will we in what perspicacious pundit Charles Krauthammer describes as the “Third stage of the jihadist war against us.” It’s characterized by local cells who’ve learned their despicable trade in the Middle East; they are aided and abetted by Al Qaeda and ISIS in plotting terrorist mayhem.

We didn’t sink because we are America, a land where liberty and privacy is as fundamental to our values as security. However, the first precept of government, even one founded upon a Social Contract, deriving its justification from the consent of the governed, is security.

Our Founders were rooted in the philosophical tradition of classical liberalism. If we could remain untethered from the leviathan’s tentacles we’d be purer and perhaps remain uncorrupted. But never completely free, for in a state of nature “might makes right,” and brutes may impose their will on weaklings. That’s partially why, according to Social Contract theories, we form societies -- to protect persons and property from the brutes, even if we have to surrender a bit of liberty.

Renewing the Patriot Act in 2015, even the sections that countervail our traditional (peacetime) notions of search and seizure, tweaks the fulcrum upon which society rests, tilting it slightly from freedom towards security. But I trust that the United States can fine tune the social contract.

Great Britain seems to be getting the balance about right. Through November, five terror plots were foiled in the U.K. in 2014, compared to just one the previous year. This suggests that surveillance is having an impact, perhaps preventing mass casualties. Now, the British are on the threshold of passing a Counter Terrorism and Security Bill to fight Islamic terrorism. In part, it authorizes officials to confiscate the passports of terror suspects travelling to jihadist battlegrounds. 

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., neither Obama nor his minions dare utter “Islamic” and “terrorism” in the same sentence, paragraph, page… even speech. Not surprisingly, passports of U.S. residents who travel to places like Yemen and Syria are not revoked by the State Department.  Sure, that’s more liberty for the minority, but less security for the majority. Perhaps they wistfully dream of a multicultural utopia, but history shows that political utopias implemented by humans (rather than imagined in some philosophically ideal state) are intolerant and subjugate individualism to the will of Leviathan. 

America’s wartime presidents believed our principles of liberty could long endure beyond extraordinary exigencies. But in a way, Egypt’s el-Sisi most reminds me of Churchill. He’s isolated yet courageous; similar to Winston Churchill sounding the alarm against appeasement during his wilderness years.

Churchill would probably support the Patriot Act. As it happens, he imposed some temporary restraints upon privacy during the WWII.  Not for the sake of government self-aggrandizement, mind you, but to see the country through an existential threat. 

As Time magazine concluded in 1950 when honoring Winston Churchill as “Man of the Half Century,” Churchill would fight his battle for reelection “…as he had fought all his other great battles -- on the issue of freedom. Churchill likes freedom. He has been with freedom on some of its darkest and brightest days.”

It was partly because he enhanced surveillance in freedom’s darkest days that our great ally re-emerged into broad, sunlit uplands; their souls soaring in creativity and freedom, and soon to rock our socks off in the epochal cultural phenomenon known as the second British Invasion. By the way, Churchill won reelection in 1950! And, with the Patriot Act renewed, providing flexibility in balancing security with freedom, America will win the third wave of the jihadist war against us.  We are America. 

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