The quotation at the head of this essay is the final paragraph of the Lecture for the Ninth Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry as revised by Albert Pike in 1857. I write the essay in a sincere attempt to perform a high duty.
The moment that President George W Bush of the United States of America declared "war" on "terrorism", the cause of freedom suffered a severe setback. War itself is terrorism on a scale that boggles the imagination. The chief difference between terrorists and foreign invaders is that the former have to operate covertly whereas the latter can carry out their destructive death-dealing operations openly because they are too powerful to be challenged by a militarily inferior, even if morally superior, force.
The most significant difference between "freedom-fighters" anywhere and those who oppress them is that the overwhelming preponderance of money and destructive technology is always on the side of the latter. This inequality fosters a bullying strategy at the expense of moral authority.
It is entirely understandable that American citizens and their sympathisers throughout the world felt anger after the atrocity of 9-11. Benjamin Franklin wrote that "Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame". Since September 2001, the United States has, in the name of Liberty, done many things which its Founding Fathers would not have countenanced. Precipitate American reaction, in defiance of the moderating counsels of the United Nations, has already had shameful consequences, and there is no end in sight.
It is entirely understandable that many Iraqis and their sympathisers throughout the world should feel anger against the bullying invaders who have overthrown an unloved dictator but have in the process inflicted grievous suffering upon the Iraqi people. Quintus Ennius (BCE 239-169) wrote: "Whom men fear, they hate; and whom they hate, they wish dead". So it is no surprise that the insurgents fight back as best they can.
American, British and allied forces are feared and hated in Iraq. Israeli forces are feared and hated in Palestine.
There was no Jewish state in the world before 1948, and the United Nations itself may rue the day when it agreed to partition Palestine between Jewish immigrants and resident Palestinians. Ever since then, the Israelis (with American diplomatic and financial support) have been confiscating land and water supplies at the expense of Palestinian neighbours for whom terrorism may well have seemed the only viable form of resistance. Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) wrote: "We are almost always guilty of the hate we encounter".
As the Palestinians are mainly Muslims and the Israelis are supported by nations which are mainly (if only nominally) Christian, the effect on Palestine is reminiscent of the ill-fated Crusades of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. A small area of land near the geographical centre of gravity of the populated world is a focus for concentrated hatred that spreads out in tsunami-like waves and threatens to engulf the globe in fear, suspicion, and paranoia. Israeli intransigence is sparking a renewal of anti-Semitism. Yet the Master Jesus, a Jew who provided the inspiration for the development of Christianity, said: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other cheek also."
Fear leads directly to hatred, and one of the few things of which we can be certain is that terrorism, whether covert or overt, can never win the hearts and minds of people anywhere at any time. The world sorely needs to heed the healing message of Jesus.
Lord Acton (1834-1902) famously wrote: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely". The United Kingdom has tamely aided and abetted the United States in its exercise of absolute power to dictate to the rest of the world and, in doing so, has provided much evidence to support Lord Acton's assertion.
Presumption of innocence until proven guilty underpins systems of justice both ancient and modern. Magna Carta, the "Great Charter" of 1215, has had a beneficent influence, first on the laws of England and subsequently on those of both the United Kingdom and the United States. One of its key provisions is that no free man shall be imprisoned or dispossessed except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. Now, alas, the UK Government is considering how it may plausibly water down its long-standing dedication to Liberty and allow the Home Secretary to arrest individuals for an indefinite period merely on suspicion, without any accusation against them being tested in a Court of Law. The right to trial by jury for indictable offences is also being challenged.
Neither Jesus nor Lord Acton would approve.
The only liberty that means anything is inherent in the human individual, and it comes in the form of four freedoms of thought, of speech, of action, and of association.
Thought is a private possession. Of all freedoms, it is the most secure. As long as I keep my thoughts to myself, I cannot do anyone else any harm; and in any case, thought is not amenable to any form of legal sanction. That is not to say that thoughts are unimportant. They determine one's speech, one's actions, and one's character. Hence the importance of education and the inculcation of healthy rational thinking.
Freedom of speech (which includes any form of artistic expression) is subject to the law of defamation in cases where the reputation of another person or organisation is falsely traduced, and penalties may be imposed by a Court of Law. Verbal incitement to violence may be dealt with similarly.
In cases where the actions of any individual can be shown in a Court of Law to have harmed any other person or damaged property belonging to another entity, freedom of action may be curtailed in some way to prevent repetition of the offence, and some form of restitution may be ordained. But the criminal act must be shown to have been committed by the accused person. Mere suspicion or suggestion that an individual may intend to commit some felony or other is not, and never should become, grounds for depriving any free individual of anything.
Similar considerations apply to associations of individuals and to corporate entities.
Only craven fear can induce the Parliamentary representatives of a once-proud nation to abandon their guardianship of liberty, and every illiberal law passed by a government is a victory for the terrorist.
In general, it may be said that only persons who voluntarily refrain from knowingly harming the persons, property or reputations of other people can be deemed "responsible" and thus fit to be free. For all other persons, their unfitness to be free must be established in open Court, and in serious cases by a jury of their responsible peers, before judgment is pronounced upon them.
The ill-founded sentimental doctrine of human "rights" has undermined liberal laws because it has given too much licence to individuals who are not fit to be free. Assumed or imagined "rights" are difficult to challenge, and non-recognition of responsibilities among the population at large makes it difficult to dispense justice in any meaningful form. That is why, prompted by terror, governments are tempted to react by resorting to illiberal means with scant regard for "rights".
Liberal laws are founded on the assumption that persons have privileges and responsibilities. When it can be established that responsibilities have not been discharged, privileges may be curtailed accordingly. Thus, for example, it may not be unreasonable that killing another human being, whether by deliberate intent or incidentally to terrorist action, may in some countries be punishable by death. Some readers may strongly disagree. But no dissident person or nation can be justified in forcefully imposing, or attempting to impose, a particular morality on any other person or nation. Diplomatic persuasion is permissible; forcible coercion by any means is not.
If "regime change" is to occur in any nation, it must come through the efforts of that nation's own people. The forcible imposition of "regime change" from without is precisely what the United Nations, and the League of Nations before it, were set up to prevent. Under cover of war, justice becomes impracticable, and it is hard to see that indictment of selected scapegoats for "war crimes" after the event can be anything more than a gesture to save the faces of those powerful people principally responsible for initiating the war, and who are themselves seldom arraigned in practice.
Whereas war on a foreign enemy cannot be concealed, what amounts to war on the assumed "rights" or the justly enjoyed privileges of a supposedly "democratic" government's own citizens must be clandestine if that government is to remain in power. Any change in the law that permits any citizen to be put under any form of arrest without being charged with any offence cannot work, because it is psychologically repugnant to any freedom-loving people such as British subjects and American citizens used to be, and many still are. Such a course would merely augment terrorism by multiplying the number of home-grown dissidents.
"Soft" liberals tend to assert a "right" to privacy and to confuse liberty with anonymity presumably because they seek to avoid the shameful consequences of irresponsible actions. It should be clear to anyone with a modicum of common sense that there can be no such right. As the word implies, privacy can only be private, and if I want to keep things to myself, then I can share knowledge of them only with people I trust. It is not possible to be private in public. The privacy of any act or overt expression which affects anyone else in any way cannot be guaranteed.
In turbulent and undisciplined times, governments may feel it necessary to resort to underhand and undercover means of gathering "intelligence" in order to identify potential threats to the continuation of their regime, and to keep these threats under observation. Despite assurances to the contrary, regular users of the telephone or the Internet know full well that their communications cannot be assumed to be private. But people with nothing to hide should have nothing to fear. There is therefore no reason why any form of correspondence which can be shown to constitute evidence of conspiracy to commit a terrorist act or any other felony should not be produced in a Court of Law where its provenance can be tested, and can be seen to be tested, before the essential liberty of any person is curtailed.
The proponents of draconian legal powers argue that open courts enable evil-doers to threaten the lives of under-cover informants and hamper law-enforcement. That may be so. But it seems to me to be a price that must be paid for liberty. Liberty and physical security are mutually incompatible. Accidents will happen. No one is ever too young to die, and the longevity of any individual life can never be guaranteed. Maintenance of a false sense of security by hiding heads in sand is self-defeating and uneconomic.
The only hope for a gradual cessation of terrorism lies in wholeheartedly following the advice of Jesus. This is the only way to diminish fear and the hatred it inspires. To begin with, it will require courage the kind of courage that was exhibited by millions of Iraqis who turned out to vote in the knowledge that some of them would be killed and injured in the process. They did it because they loved liberty more than they feared death. How will they feel when they discover that elections are by no means synonymous with democracy and that what commonly passes for democracy is no guarantee of liberty?
Lovers of freedom must be courageous and be ready to suffer for their beliefs if they wish to retain them. Their governments must also be courageous, and refrain from bullying through abuse of the powers which have been entrusted to them by the people.
It is a sobering thought that the United States of America is the only nation on Earth currently capable of declaring and sustaining an international war. Is it conceivable that a nuclear holocaust might be envisaged by some "fundamentalists" as a just punishment for "sin" or as a long-term solution to the problems of an over-populated and discordant world?
It is to be hoped that it may not be too long before even the United States voluntarily forgoes both the threat and the reality of foreign military adventures under pressure from those of its own citizens who seek to sustain their freedom-loving principles and restore the honour of their country. And it is to be hoped that freedom-lovers in other countries will ensure that any nation which declares war on any other nation will find no allies. The real struggle for freedom is not against military invasion from abroad but against abuse of power at home.
As I have argued in other essays, mere military might is powerless against the forces of love. A courageous determination to turn the other kindly cheek paradoxically seems to offer the best possibility of gaining time for the peoples of the world to find it in their hearts to give love a chance.