53 rea­sons to stay at home

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

If you think rad­i­cal Mus­lims, bu­reau­crats and cops have made travel mis­er­able for ev­ery­one in Amer­ica, you might have to stay away from Bri­tain.

Gor­don Brown, the new prime min­is­ter in Lon­don, has re­vealed his new scheme for say­ing hello and good­bye to tourists and other trav­el­ers, and it’s a scheme that could please only a busy­body bu­reau­crat. The ji­hadists are work­ing now on crack­ing the code.

“Trav­el­ers,” re­ported Lon­don’s Daily Mail, “face price hikes and con­fu­sion af­ter the gov­ern­ment un­veiled plans to take up to 53 pieces of in­for­ma­tion from any­one en­ter­ing or leav­ing Bri­tain.”

The rel­e­vancy of all this to Amer­i­cans is clear and present, since bad things spread swiftly to un­ex­pected places. Even now, there’s a rank­ing bu­reau­crat in the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment say say­ing, “Hm­m­mmm. Pos­si­bil­i­ties here. If the Limeys can get by with this . . . ”

The 53 items in­clude the usual ques­tions of sex, name, ad­dress, tele­phone num­ber, pass­port num­ber and so forth, but also such trivia as fre­quent-flier num­ber, “no-show” his­tory, names of in­fants trav­el­ing in the party, check-in time, ini­tials of check-in agent, “group in­di­ca­tor of whether a party mem­ber is a ‘friend,’ ” and — here’s the real sticker — “any other in­for­ma­tion the ticket agent con­sid­ers of in­ter­est.” Who knows what a nosy ticket agent might want to know. How close is that “friend”? Are you sleep­ing to­gether? What’s your fa­vorite color? Your as­tro­log­i­cal sign? (Would a Sagittarius be al­lowed to fly with a Libra?) If you die in a ter­ror­ist crash, what tree would you like to come back as? This opens up con­sid­er­able pos­si­bil­i­ties on the slip­pery slope, and who knows who would ul­ti­mately get such a priceless data dump?

But worst of all is the prime min­is­ter’s pro­posal to ex­tend to 58 days the length of time the gov­ern­ment can hold a “sus­pect” with­out fil­ing a charge against him (or her). This is not go­ing down well in the land that in­vented civil rights, and par­tic­u­larly that lit­tle gem of the An­glo-Saxon com­mon law, the right of “habeas cor­pus.” Where, in­deed, is the body — and the for­mal charge of a crime.

The prime min­is­ter’s chief min­is­ter for se­cu­rity, Ad­mi­ral Lord West (I’m not mak­ing up this ti­tle) first said the ex­ten­sion from 28 days, now al­lowed by Bri­tish law, to 58 days was rub­bish. “I want to be to­tally con­vinced be­cause I am not go­ing to go and push for some­thing that ac­tu­ally af­fects the lib­erty of the in­di­vid­ual un­less there is a real ne­ces­sity for it,” he told a ra­dio in­ter­viewer. “I still need to be fully con­vinced that we ab­so­lutely need more than 28 days and I also need to be con­vinced what is the best way of do­ing this.”

Con­vinc­ing him didn’t take long. No sooner had he gone off the air but he was in­vited in to dis­cuss his con­cerns with the prime min­is­ter. He emerged 30 min­utes later and told re­porters: “My feel­ing now is, yes, we need more than 28 days.”

David Davis, the Con­ser­va­tive “shadow” home sec­re­tary, ob­served that the gov­ern­ment al­ready has the power to de­clare a tem­po­rary state of emer­gency and sus­pend civil lib­er­ties, but hold­ing sus­pects with­out charge for two months was ef­fec­tively a dec­la­ra­tion of a per­ma­nent emer­gency. He scoffed at the sug­ges­tion that such a for­mal dec­la­ra­tion would cause panic and chaos.

“Panic the na­tion?” he cried. “Are you jok­ing? This is a na­tion that had 3,000 deaths un­der the IRA cam­paign. It had 3,000 deaths in one night at the height of the Blitz [in World War II]. I don’t think that pan­icked it. We’ve had habeas cor­pus for cen­turies. It’s one of the fun­da­men­tals of Bri­tish lib­erty. We now have the long­est pe­riod in the free world in which a gov­ern­ment can de­tain some­one with­out charge.”

Feel­ing sym­pa­thy for Gor­don Brown, like feel­ing sym­pa­thy for Ge­orge W. Bush, is not dif­fi­cult. The world­wide Is­lamist cam­paign against civ­i­liza­tion — and not only West­ern civ­i­liza­tion — poses a real dilemma for free men and women. We’ve never had a threat quite like it. Most of us ac­cept the abridge­ment of cer­tain free­doms to safe­guard life, the most es­sen­tial free­dom of all. But eter­nal vig­i­lance is still the price of lib­erty, and there’s a les­son here for all of us.

Wesley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief of The Times.

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