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Defeating terrorism

Reader comment on item: [The Abu Ali Case and] Balancing Liberties, Security

Submitted by Derek Bernard (United Kingdom), Mar 3, 2005 at 13:22

William Pitt to House of Commons, 19 November 1783:

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."

Revolting anti-freedom regimes, whether fascist, communist (or socialist), islamic fundamentalist, or any other, will never prevail in the long-term against free, liberal (in the original sense of the word) democratic, "Western" regimes, so long as those free regimes maintain - indeed strive to improve - the structural characteristics that have made them the most successful societies for the highest proportion of their citizens, in the history of the world.

Perhaps the most important of these structural characteristics are: strong protection of individual liberty; powerful personal property rights; maximum entrepreneurial freedom, including free trade; minimum government regulation; freedom of speech and religion; a strong and independent-of-government legal system that is based on open, published codes, a jury system and the principle of "innocent until proved guilty".

Sadly the West is not remotely doing enough to strengthen these characteristics. In many countries and in many areas, it is not even maintaining them. By way of example, for the past 30 years the EU has done a huge amount to reduce entrepreneurial activity, increase government regulation, generate unemployment (with all the human misery and anger that that causes) and throttle free trade.

In fact, the current bete noire - Islamic fundamentalism - is hugely less able to destroy the West than either fascism or communism. Its entire creed is anti-individual freedom with the result that those countries in which it is strongest are largely dysfunctional. It will only succeed if we become so frightened that we destroy ourselves.

Of course terrorists can and do carry out terrible acts, but becoming like them through undermining our justice system and our focus on individual liberty is not the way to go.

Encouraging or forcing regime change, as in the Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine - with the ripple effect that that is having in neighbouring states, is by far the best way of dealing with the problems at source.

In the meantime, however, every free country is full of literally millions of "soft" targets - every school, bus, train, cruise liner, shopping mall, tanker (both road and sea), and block of flats, ad infinitum, is a soft target. How can all of these possibly be protected?

Well of course they can't. And increasing the police force, or using the military, are immensely expensive, ineffective and virtually certain to lead to further undermining of individual liberties.

But there is a way in which public safety can be considerably enhanced without spending a penny of taxpayers' money. There is now massive, sustained evidence (see John Lott, Jr.'s extensive research on the subject) that readily allowing the public to carry concealed firearms for self-defence has a substantial, beneficial effect on "ordinary" murder and violent crime and a massive beneficial effect on incidents of multiple murder.

For the full benefits to be produced in the UK, it would also be necessary for the legal climate to be changed. So long as the Attorney General of England & Wales can state, as a matter of policy, that "criminals must also have the right to protection from violence" (Daily Telegraph, 12 Dec '04), those who are prepared to fight back against criminals are not only disarmed, but shackled as well.
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