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Liberty remains Unscathed

Barun Mitra
September, 2001

As we watched Amercia's day of terror unfolding on television, hardly anyone missed the symbolic significance of the attack. The targets of the attack stood for all that is America, the World Trade Centre, a symbol of economic strength and the Pentagon, of military might.

Amidst all this mayhem, the real symbol of America has remained unscathed. The green lady with the torch continued to shine the beacon of liberty from her position in the Upper New York Bay. The Statue of Liberty, the symbol, and the US constitution, the affirmation, of the freedom which America stands for - "that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed ... with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Yet today, the American government is rarely seen to be upholding these core values which made America the most prosperous and powerful of all nations. This is true not just within its borders, but also in its actions abroad.

The WTC is completely destroyed, as is a part of the Pentagon. The scale of this tragedy in terms of loss of life and property will be enormous. The temptation will be great to react aggressively and impinge on the freedoms, internally and abroad, with the aim of immediate retribution. The perpetrators of this crime must be identified, pursued and brought to justice, and there is no doubt that it this will happen sooner or later. But the purpose of this exercise must be to reaffirm the strength of rule of law and liberty, and not to crush these ideals in the manner of the terrorists who perpetrated the dastardly attacks.

India, which has been seeing the ugly hand of terrorism for many years now, will find the terrible events in the US all too familiar. As will countries similarly affected. The destruction of the WTC is hauntingly reminiscent of the Mumbai blasts of 1993. The daily death count in Kashmir finds its echo in Israel.

The cause of justice in all such cases of terrorism can be served only by reaffirming the ideals of liberty, not by restricting or sweeping these ideals away in the face of such a crisis. For that will only make the terrorists victorious. It is at times like this that one has to scrupulously maintain the distinction between a criminal act and the rule of law, so that not only justice is done, but is also seen to be done. Diffusing this line will only help undermine the rule of law, and elevate the criminal and his code of might is right as an equal. The terrorist obeys his code, and has no respect for the life, liberty and property of its victims. But terror cannot be fought with counter terror. The protectors of law must respect the code they have promised to uphold, and secure the individual rights of its citizens. The war against terrorism can only be won by defending individual liberty both politically and economically. Without this, the very foundation of the rule of law and civilisation will be undermined.

It is this foundation of freedom that made the WTC and the rest possible. The strength of America lies in the idea of liberty, something that cannot be destroyed by violence. Such violence becomes possible only if America forgets or ignores these ideals. We, in India, remember the former American President meeting the family of one of the victims of the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft to Afghanistan. The time has come for the US to go beyond mere gestures. It needs to take a fresh look at the basic principles that have made America possible, and apply them in all aspects of life affecting its people, including foreign policy and defence. It is the only way for America to rebuild and make itself invincible.

The ideals of liberty are universal. The onus of upholding them lies not just with the United States, but with freedom loving people all around the world. This crisis in America should unite the world under one flag of liberty so that the price paid in terms of the tremendous loss of life and property is not wasted.


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