China stops airline terror attack
China claims it has stopped two terrorist attacks "including one targeting the Summer Olympic Games" conducted by Muslim separatists from northwest China. CNN reports:
The flight had taken off from Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The militants' attempt to hijack the plane was foiled by the flight crew, the official said.
Wang Lequan, chief of the Xinjiang regional committee of the Communist Party of China, said the government was prepared to strike against the "three evil forces" in the region: terrorists, separatists and extremists.
The LA Times, explains the Chinese success at preventing their equivalent of a September 11 attempt in this way:
China has certain advantages against extremists, analysts said. As a police state with a system of watchful neighborhood officials and a largely homogenous population, outsiders tend to stand out. Gaining access to enough materials needed to mount a dramatic terrorist incident, such as the fertilizer used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing or the aircraft used on Sept. 11, 2001, would also be more difficult than in a relatively open society, analysts said.
Furthermore, the Chinese government has few qualms about suspending civil liberties, denying access or acting without explanation, warrants or other steps expected in a democracy.
The LA Times aside on the advantages enjoyed by a dictatorial state like China in fighting terrorism is really an unconscious admission of disruptive role they believe free speech should play in a democratic society. But why should it be so? Is it necessarily true that one must choose between free speech, privacy and due process on the one hand and security on the other?
Free and law abiding Western societies were in the past better able to suppress terrorism than most dictatorships. During World War 2 for example, the FBI was able to squelch Axis sabotage at a far lower level of repression than the Gestapo or NKVD could manage in Germany or Russia. Even Britain, far closer to existential danger than the United States, never needed the controls commonplace in the German homeland. Yet despite this the British rounded up practically every German agent worth the name, and were able to keep even a huge operation like Overlord secret from the Nazis.
Thus the LA Time's uncritical assumption that democracy equals more vulnerability to terrorism is not self-evidently true. One of the traditional advantages of a democracy in former times over a tyranny was its ability to operate through culture rather than coercion. Democracies were in the past able to mobilize the voluntary efforts of the citizenry in much more effective ways than police states. Culture enabled the America of World War Two send hundreds of thousands of men of Italian, German and even Japanese origin overseas to fight people of their ethnicity without any serious worry of treason.
Today, despite the massive expansion of its state, Britain found an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Scotland Yard. "The four were identified by the paper as Londoners of subcontinental background, working in different police stations around the British capital." Somewhere along the line the engine of culture -- the bonds of shared values that would have sniffed these traitors out -- was turned off. And in that vacuum of loyalty some members of the press and the bar may even now be rushing off to defend these al-Qaeda sleepers in the genuine belief that in doing so they are serving, not extremism or intolerance, but liberty.
The mistaken supposition that Democracy equals weakness should be challenged on its first principles. Democracies are only vulnerable when its features are used to restrict society rather than to empower it. If the past ideal was a citizen who acted without being told; today it is not to act unless explicitly told. Order has become alles in ornung in the politically correct sense. But the West hasn't arrived at this inversion by accident. For too long chains have been marketed under the name of liberty. 'Promoting tolerance', for example, is now a code word for restricting speech. 'Academic freedom' now too often means that no dissent is allowed on campus. 'Punishing those who break the law' now connotes lawsuits against telecommunications companies which have voluntarily cooperated with Federal authorities to wiretap terrorism suspects.
But the real benefit of this switcheroo is that the public can eventually be persuaded to believe that freedom is dangerous; that a real trade-off exists between democracy and safety; when in reality it is a false choice between a kind of wooley-headed socialism and safety. In the end the perpetrators of this swindle may be able to persuade the public that it's really safer to be like China than like America. And eventually get that way by the high or low road.
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