Throughout the “war on terrorism,” we have all heard our nation’s leaders pay extensive lip service to “protecting America.” But if “America” is just a collection of people on a slab of land somewhere, then there’s no significant difference between the United States and Afghanistan (or Iraq), and there’s no reason why one group of people should be protected over another.
The fact is, however, that America is not just a bunch of people on a slab of land. America is an idea. It is the idea of individual rights protected by a constitutional republic. Fundamentally, it is ideas that differentiate the United States from the Islamic dictatorships of the Middle East. Any defense of the US must be a defense of the ideas that make America possible, and these were conveniently delineated in the US Constitution over 200 years ago. The “war on terrorism” should not be viewed as a tribal feud between two fungible mobs. Rather, it is a war between capitalism and dictatorship; freedom and slavery; the Bill of Rights and Sharia law.
So is America defending herself effectively?
That is a question I asked myself a few weeks ago, and to find the answer I didn’t need to look any further than Lake Placid, NY. While returning to Albany after a daytrip to the Adirondacks, I was stopped at a US border patrol checkpoint. An officer with a gun strapped to his hip asked me where I had been, what I was doing there, and where I was going. I told him that I objected to having to answer his questions, but that I would answer them out of fear of imprisonment. His canned response to my weak protest consisted of two words: “Border Patrol.” That seemed to settle the issue for him, but it didn’t settle it for me.
The officer did not search my car, but according to US Code, he could have. Title 8, section 1357 grants immigration officers something called “powers without warrant.” The code explicitly gives them permission to board and search any “railway car, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle.”
So what’s the big deal? The big deal is a little thing called the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
It is just a few words–a single sentence, in fact–but you won’t find a sentence like it in all Islamic law. It’s one of those essential ideas that make America possible and that Americans need to fight to protect. The Fourth Amendment was designed to stop border patrol officers on I-87 from searching my car. In fact, it requires that officers first obtain a warrant, and to do that it requires that they present (to a judge) evidence demonstrating that I have probably broken the law. In my case, I was over 50 miles from Canada, minding my own business. No warrant would have been granted. And yet, US Code explicitly allows officers to search my car. The US Code effectively negates the Fourth Amendment to the constitution “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States.”
Unfortunately, this government-sponsored attack on America’s foundation is not an isolated incident. In the post 9/11 hysteria–just when representatives should be rushing to the defense of American ideas–officials are clamoring for more and more anti-American policies. For example, under Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System), President Bush’s Citizen Corps will recruit as many as 1 out of every 24 Americans to “use their common sense and knowledge of their work environment to identify suspicious or unusual activity.” “Suspicious activity” is undefined; an oversight that McCarthy would no doubt have loved.
In the war against the United States, the Islamic militants are winning. They started winning as soon as Americans lost sight of the fact that America stands for something–that it’s not just a collection of people, but that it is based on the moral principle of individual rights. That principle is what makes America worth defending, and to the extent that government officials undermine it, they are helping to destroy America, not protect it. Buildings are nothing compared to the ideas that make them possible. The real terrorists aren’t in Afghanistan, or even Iraq. They’re in Washington.
- US CODE: http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/8/1357.html
- Oppressive Taliban laws http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/nea/iraq/offtxts/1026tlbn.htm http://www.cbc.ca/news/indepth/background/taliban.html
- Iranian law: http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/world/iran.htm
- Islamic law: http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/law/
- Operation TIPS: http://www.citizencorps.gov/tips.html