The argument that constraining liberty boosts security has been used time and again by governments to accumulate power.
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury was born in 1588, the year the British defeated the Spanish Armada. This was the start of the rise of English global supremacy and the inhabitants of this blessed green isle were busy deifying Good Queen Bess. However, civil war broke out in 1642 between Roundheads and Cavaliers, and Hobbes was duly horrified to see the natural order of society so rudely upended. As a loyal royalist, he left England to live in exile in Paris, the land of Louis XIV, Le Roi Soleil (the Sun King).
Horrified by England and inspired by France, Hobbes argued for absolutism. He argued that monarchs need untrammeled absolute power over their subjects to prevent “war of all against all” that is inevitable given human nature. He argued that without absolutism, there would be “no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
It seems David Cameron, Britain’s Etonian prime minister, is a devotee of Hobbes. On November 4, Cameron’s government tabled the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which has been derisively termed Snoopers’ Charter for good reason. As with most government declarations during our politically correct times, this government has been full of pious homilies. The devil lies in the details though.
The bill authorizes Her Majesty’s 007 spies with their flashy suits, fancy cars and flirty seductresses to access records tracking the use of the Internet by everyone in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, “Internet service providers will be required to keep Internet communication records for a maximum period of 12 months.” In “urgent cases,” the government would not even need any judicial approval.
In 2013, the British Security Industry Authority estimated that there were up to 5.9 million closed-circuit television cameras in the country, including 750,000 in “sensitive locations” such as schools, hospitals and care homes. In Britain, Big Brother is always watching.
The new fashion of increasing surveillance is supposed to make Britain safer. Two questions arise. First, who acts as a safeguard against the intrusion into the daily lives of over 64 million people? Second, are the authorities even capable of handling the information they are collecting? Many intelligence professionals argue that the collected information increasingly acts more as noise than a signal.
The focus on mass surveillance has led to a neglect of traditional methods that have been far more effective in preventing terrorist attacks. For instance, building community relations with vulnerable poor minority communities is generally a better idea than tapping their phones. Similarly, improving sharing of information by a Kafkaesque state is a decent but unglamorous idea. Washington and London crave absolute control, though, and are in thrall to the new cult of technology that is supposedly omniscient.
Even as his government unveiled Snoopers’ Charter, Cameron welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to London. In an interview with the BBC, Sisi defended Egypt’s security laws. He claimed that extremists threatened Egypt and tough laws prevented it from suffering the collapses experienced by its neighbors.
Sisi masterminded the coup against President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and then claimed power in a rubberstamp election. During his time in power, over 1,000 people have been killed and more than 40,000 have reportedly been locked up in a ferocious crackdown on dissent.
A little over two months ago, three Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to three years in jail for “aiding a terrorist organization.” After spending nearly two years in detention, Sisi was merciful enough to pardon them on the occasion of Eid al-Adha. Yet the entire episode revealed contempt for basic freedoms that has marked Sisi’s regime. Sisi argues in the same vein as Hobbes and claims he is providing security to Egyptians. If Sisi did not have absolute power, Egypt would implode and would suffer civil war and anarchy.
Cameron is either staggeringly stupid or callously cynical to buy Sisi’s claim. In the words of Jeremy Corbyn, the British opposition leader, the prime minister’s welcome and military support of Sisi “makes a mockery” of British “claims to be promoting peace and justice in the region.” Corbyn is right.
Just over a week ago, a Russian plane crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula killing all 224 people on board. Sinai Province, a local jihadist group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, claimed the honors. Even as Cameron was hobnobbing with Sisi, his government was joining others in suspending flights to Sinai. It is clear that despite repression and surveillance, Sisi is unable to provide security and stability to Egyptians or tourists. In fact, Sisi’s actions are causing despair and pushing more of his people into extremism.
Like Cameron and Sisi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is promising security to his people too. In June, the Justice and Development Party, which Erdogan hails from, lost an election and the president’s hold on power seemed tenuous. Now, Erdogan’s cynical efforts to wrest back power have succeeded. He declared war on both the Islamic State and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He labeled his opponents of supporting terrorism. He has taken a leaf from the Vladimir Putin playbook and curbed press freedoms quite effectively.
Erdogan won because he was able to appeal to the same primal sentiments of identity and security as Putin and Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. As many tyrants have discovered in the past, fear works. In uncertain and perilous times, Turks voted for stability and strength. The appeal to religious nationalism worked. Erdogan is now the indisputable sultan of Turkey.
*[You can receive “The World This Week” directly in your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list. Simply visit Fair Observer and enter your email address in the space provided. Meanwhile, please find below five of our finest articles for the week.]
Accusations of Genocide Rock Myanmar’s Transition
With claims of genocide in Myanmar, the international community has failed to usher the country through its democratic transition.
Al Jazeera English recently broadcast a documentary, which was supported by a Yale Law School report, that accused the Myanmar government of an orchestrated campaign to trigger communal violence, and it claimed there was “strong evidence” of genocide against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority situated in the country’s Rakhine State.
Much of what the report discusses is nothing new to those who have been following the issue over the last few decades. To some extent, the findings justify the fears of many who had warned that Myanmar’s journey of “transitional democracy” was at best weak or at worst a superficial attempt at misleading the international community. What the report and documentary do highlight is the embarrassing situation world powers find themselves in having not heeded these warnings.
Led primarily by British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama, the international community has fallen over itself to “reengage” with Myanmar… Read more
A Glimmer of Hope for the Syrian Crisis… But Only
The talks in Vienna offer the first faint hope for a solution to the civil war that has wracked Syria. But intractable issues could yet frustrate this hopeful beginning.
At first blush, the auspicious beginning of the latest peace initiative on Syria that concluded in Vienna on October 30 offers much by which to be encouraged.
The 17 participating nations, plus the European Union and the United Nations—the Syrian government did not participate—issued a joint communiqué that called for, inter alia: protection of the rights of all Syrian people; the defeat of the Islamic State (IS); and an invitation to the United Nations (UN) to convene representatives of Syria’s government and the Syrian opposition in order to seek a political process leading to credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance, followed by a UN-supervised process to establish a new constitution and hold free elections. Moreover, the parties committed to maintain Syria’s territorial integrity and state institutions.
A number of factors make this newest peace-brokering initiative different from the two Geneva collectives… Read more
An American Anxiety
Anxiety is linked to the insecurity gripping a divided, unequal and conformist United States of America.
I have anxiety. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, officially. It was never really acknowledged or diagnosed until it swelled up into a wave of depression during my second year of college. Looking back now, I can trace the breadcrumbs marking its trail: the odium for sleepaway camp, the times spent fighting off nausea in the locker room before swim meets.
At most times, it flares up unannounced, unwelcomed. It doesn’t always make sense. I’m white, in my 20s, grew up in the same house my parents still live in and have graduated college debt-free. I’ve got a good family with four living grandparents, a brother, cousins and good friends.
To the objective observer it would seem I’ve got it all. And I kind of do. Maybe I have a genetic predisposition for anxiety and depression; but maybe it’s environmental. But maybe there’s something more going on. Maybe America has something to do with it… Read more
Saudi Fighter Challenges Stereotypes of Women
In the Middle East, a female jiu-jitsu fighter works to eliminate bias against women in combat sports.
No historian can say for certain whether the Amazons existed. Some say they lived in a matriarchal society, where little girls were raised as warriors and men took care of the babies. Some say they were a figment of the Athenian imagination, a way to frighten the men into cooperating during times of “political stress.”
In 1861, Johann Jakob Bachofen’s Das Mutterrecht, or Mother Right, presented a theoretical ancient world: polyamorous, communistic and with a religion recognizing a matriarchal rather than a patriarchal line. Some interpreted this to mean that the dark ages of humanity ended with the enlightened advent of patriarchal rule and monogamous marriage. More recently, feminists use the theory to hypothesize about a utopia ruled by women.
To be fair, however, the idea of harmonious women living in villages and engaged in peaceful goddess worship is less threatening than the idea of an Amazon who fights “like a man.” A vicious… Read more
US Warship Doesn’t Scare China
Given the factors involved in US-China relations, territorial disputes in the South China Sea will not lead to open conflict.
On October 26, true to its prior announcement, the Obama administration had a US Navy warship enter waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The move was meant as a provocative signal to show China that Washington does not accept its territorial claims to islands and reefs in the disputed waters, while showing American support for Asian allies.
As the step had been announced beforehand by American officials, the Chinese initially condemned the move, but did so in a calm way.
Subsequent reactions, however, showed that Beijing did not take the measure lightly. In a video conference, a high ranking Chinese admiral warned his American counterpart that the United States should tread more carefully, since even a minor incident could spark a war in the Asia Pacific.
Territorial disputes in the region’s seas are nothing new. Current conflicts mostly concern the Spratly and Paracel Islands in… Read more
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.