Land of the Free? (Mar 03)

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 In the weeks leading up to the war in Iraq, I became aware of how many friends I have that I don't yet know. Many of these friendships, I must admit, are virtual ones, born of Internet technology and involving only the exchange of opinions and online pseudonyms.

One Sunday before the war, for instance, the listserv informed me of a "rolling wave" of peace vigils in more than 600 countries around the world — spreading from Auckland, New Zealand, to Edinburgh, Scotland, and from Cape Town, South Africa, to the Boston street corner where I stood that evening dripping candle wax and shivering with my mother, my daughter and a bunch of like-minded people willing to brave the still-nippy New England air. As wondrous as technology can be, some things still require warm bodies interacting in real time.

But while I'm not altogether techno-phobic, I am scared of how technology is being used and toward what ends. I'm worried about those long-range spy cameras and centralized databases controlled by the National Security Agency and the Justice Department, about secret trials and about unfettered surveillance. I don't want government watchers to know what I read and who I talk to and what listservs I'm on just because they don't believe what I and many of my friends around the world believe. I'm horrified by this war, but I'm also terrified by the sacrifice of civil liberties that we're allowing in the name of national security because I think such sacrifices invariably lead to abuses of power that violate human, body and spirit — often on a fairly massive scale.

Recognizing patterns is one of the few benefits of aging; and the pattern of abuse of official power has been prominent even in my lifetime — though its roots run long and deep. Sometimes I'm tempted to scream, "Wait! Do we really want to go down that road again?"

Ever since the tragic events of 9/11, we've heard a lot of talk about the meaning of patriotism and defending our American way of life. We've also witnessed a flurry of laws passed to allay our fears of another terrorist attack. Yet there's been a glaring lack of concern for civil liberties in the process. What I find most disturbing is the apparent readiness of those in authority to abrogate the very rights and freedoms they are sworn to protect.

For these reasons, I'm forwarding this preview article from the spring issue, "Anti-terrorism Strategy: Arrest First, Sort Out the Facts Later." And whether your main interest is getting involved or just staying informed, we also offer a list of useful online resources.