Written by Jonathan Cummings
I like many others was truly inspired by the march that took place in Paris last Sunday. It was an unprecedented act of defiance and unity in the face of an increasingly hostile and unpredictable threat and it sent out a clear message. No matter how great the threat to our lives, the right to free speech, liberty and democracy must always be maintained. That’s why it dismays me that the reaction to this appalling massacre amongst British politicians was to look at giving away even more of our civil liberties, in particular proposals to ban forms of communication that encrypt their data such as Snapchat and WhatsApp. Not only are new powers wholly unnecessary but they are wrong and show that if you threaten us enough, the government is always happy to go further in eroding our right to privacy.
Firstly, let me explain why these powers are unnecessary, those responsible both for the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the murder of Lee Rigby were known to the authorities well in advance but surveillance was later dropped as they were deemed “low risk”. This highlights that it isn’t new powers that the security services need it’s more resources and it’s this that all three parties must seek to resolve by providing MI5 and MI6 with the manpower they require to tackle the current threat level.
The more important argument though is on how much of our liberty we are prepared to give up to keep ourselves safe. The right to privacy and to be able to live your life without too much state interference are fundamental to allowing each and every citizen to live their life peacefully and to retain their independence of thought and action. But we must consider the changing nature of the threat and how best to tackle it when answering this fundamental question.
These attacks are increasingly being carried out not by the far flung fighters who masterminded 9/11 and 7/7 but by western born and western radicalised jihadists. This highlights a worrying disconnect between young Muslims and the values of the countries in which they grow up. I believe is the case because of the rise of political parties on the far right across Europe including the National Front, who topped the poll in last year’s European Elections in France, this has allowed the line between the beliefs of the peaceful Muslim majority and the radical minority to become blurred and the demonisation and rise in islamophobia this has caused has left many Muslims marginalised. This marginalisation makes a lot of disillusioned young Muslims prime targets for the radical ideology preached by clerics.
In light of this, I believe that new powers and more spying will only make the situation worse, increasing already high levels of tension in our society over issues like immigration, Europe and national security. Retaining our civil liberty allows us to demonstrate the futility of violence and that we will not be cowered, but having a more inclusive and integrated society is more important to ensuring that these radical form of Islam doesn’t take hold in the first place. Those who believe in tolerance should continue to stand up to those who encourage division and hatred in our society, showing that the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech are for people of all races, genders, religions and sexualities. This, along with educating people on what Islam really stands for and the facts about immigration is something we can all do immediately and will make a long term difference in reducing radicalisation in the future.
Finally, with regard the immediate threat, the western world must show that it isn’t prepared to embrace the authoritarian rule that terrorists promote, instead promoting the ideals of freedom from state interference, free speech and democracy by resisting the urge to spy on its citizens. And we as citizens must be prepared, especially those of the younger generation, to sacrifice to a degree the extent of our safety to remain resolute in ensuring these ideals are retained at all costs in the generational struggle against extremism in all its forms.
Defiance and a little bit of risk are the only way to preserve our ideals.