There comes a point when freedom and safety no longer align. You cannot have perfect safety and have freedom. Being free requires courage, and not just from men and women in uniform on the front lines. In a representative form of government, as is our republic, freedom demands a certain notion of courage from all its citizens. You can have relative freedom and relative safety, but neither concept can live in perfect union with the other. And when it comes to freedom, better to be a little freer than a little safer. As Ben Franklin so wisely said many years ago, “They who can give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
This is a point that seems to be lost in the conversation about the recent immigration ban from seven countries in the Middle East that supposedly pose a danger to America. How much will it actually protect us and what are the consequences to our freedom?
Regarding the first question, it does not appear to protect us very much at all. It is more of an emotional band – aid. From a practical standpoint, the immigration ban does not actually stop those citizens coming from countries that have traditionally been prone to terrorism against American civilians in the 9/11 era, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE because those countries are not on the list. Secondly, terrorist networks are often professionally trained at gaining entry into countries. They know how to assume fake passports and identities or recruit citizens from nations that are not suspect. (One has to wonder where they get the training and resources that make such activities possible. Again, Iran, Syria and Iraq are not the culprits. The Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services on the other hand, have a long history of maintaining sympathies for the Wahhabi jihadism that is so dangerous to American civilians.) Third, and this is related to the second point, all major terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11 have been perpetuated by radicalized US citizens. We are setting up a ban to fight jihadists who already one step ahead of us. If anything, a reflexive and emotional response like blanket bans are good for the jihadists because they foster an, “us vs. them” mentality, which is exactly what they want. It is a central pillar in the scam they try to run on Muslims worldwide. Finally, the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack in the United States is 1 in 3.64 billion. Making policy on the 1 in 3.64 billion chance of anything usually insures that you have a much higher chance of causing problems from the actual policy, rather than what you are trying to defend against. (America today specializes in all manner of such policy and consequently, we see our freedoms consistently diminish.)
And that bring us to the second question: what are the consequences to freedom? On the face of it, the literal consequences are probably not too significant to American citizens, but there are cascading effects. The ban flouts the rule of law by discriminating on the basis of nationality and initially by banning lawful permanent residents, although that has since been rectified. Secondly, many travelers with dual nationalities, who are significant cogs in the business world, may encounter problems working in America, even for a brief business trip. Then you have the issue of reciprocity. How many countries will have had enough and choose to act in kind? Or worse, how many countries will simply choose to take their business elsewhere? That would absolutely be a choice that would affect American businesses and workers.
However, the greatest consequence of reflexive actions like blanket bans are emotional and instill a lack of confidence for the future. Instead of embracing an environment of freedom and standing strong in the face of danger, America is choosing fear and absolute safety to deal with an issue that kills very few American civilians. Not only do we look like a childish bully who runs behind his mother’s skirt when the outside world gets a little rocky, but worse, this sets a trend, a precedent in this administration. “Safety is more important than freedom. Papa Trump will keep you safe.” Where does it end? After all, these are the same people who have floated the idea of creating a Muslim registry, something that would be decidedly unconstitutional and un – American. Do other countries get added to the list? Do we start to add Latin American countries to the list because of our own appetite for drugs? Do we go start banning countries worldwide because of their ability to provide tech workers, researchers and scientists? Part of what has made America great is our ability to attract the world’s best and brightest. And what other actions are taken that err on the side of safety instead of freedom? Torture? Warrantless surveillance? Cancelling due process? These would all be violations of the Constitution as well as our fundamental American values. Given the rhetoric and early actions of the Trump administration these are valid concerns.
At the end of the day, we can debate all we want about subjects like the minimum wage, taxes and spending and healthcare, but going left or right on these issues are not fundamental violations of the American Constitution or our character. However, embarking on fear -based quests for perfect safety will lead to a loss of freedom and the moral fiber that unifies us as a people. If you believe that terrorists attack us for our freedom, they are winning.