Saturday, August 06, 2005

Changing The Rules

In almost every episode of Law & Order, no matter which subset of characters were the focus, each time the cops went out and arrested the perpetrator of a crime, the battle was only half-won. Thereafter, it was up to prosecutors to somehow find a way to prove the defendant's guilt. Most times they were successful; however, there were times when they were not. This aspect of reality is why the show is as excellent as it is, and the reality depicted therein is that many times, there is no way to prove a defendant is guilty, which leads to a great many criminals being released back into the cesspool of society.

This aspect of reality is less than charming. And I sometimes wonder if we should overhaul the justice system and change the rules.

On a more global scale, yesterday's news brought some interesting developments from the other side of the pond. Tony Blair, in response to the pair of bombing incidents in London as wellas subsequent threats made against London by al-Qaeda, announced a variety of anti-hatred crackdowns, including, but not limited to, deportations of those advocating terror, imprisonment of those who seek to harm society through extremist views, and the ban of terrorist training in or outside Britain. Essentially, he explained that free speech isn't going to be stifled, but hate, terror and extremism will.

Mr. Blair also indicated that extremist groups will be outlawed and anyone inciting terror will be shown the door. It's about time.

Not too long ago (July 21st, specifically) I opined that the status quo -- they attack our cities, we mourn the victims, beef up security and wait for the next attack -- was not the answer, but in its stead, we should find the cancers among legitimate, law-abiding citizenry and remove them -- deportation, imprisonment, the morgue -- however possible.

Finally, things are beginning to change. Not necessarily for the better, mind you -- but the fact is that speech -- whether shouting fire in a crowded theater or as incitement to terror on young, impressionable muslims -- has repercussions. So while this nation was predicated on Voltaire's oft-quoted proclamation "I don't agree with a word of what you have said, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it," there will -- and must -- be some limits to that speech.

If I were muslim, I would view Mr. Blair's policy shift with some skepticism, but I would also welcome it on some level. Yes, Blair's government will increasingly scrutinize Muslim thought; but at the same time, this scrutiny will -- hopefully -- draw a line between legitimate political dissent and the type of anti-state hatred that leads to people dying indiscriminately. It's one thing to see young, uneducated, brainwashed muslims burning an American or a British flag on a crowded street in the Mideast -- it's another watching ambulances, police and fire vehicles scurrying around New York & London hoping to rescue victims of that same type of free speech. A free society protects unpopular thought, but not that thought which is meant to destroy it from the inside out.

As Adlai Stevenson once said, "My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."

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