Targeting Terrorists

Last week the Senate broke an impasse over President Clinton's anti-terrorism bill. If the House of Representatives follows suit, 1,000 new "counter-terrorism agents" will be granted broad authority to tap telephones and access credit cards and other records of private citizens. It threatens some very basic civil rights. This has chilling implications. If the House goes along, this newly created police force could one day be unleashed against those whose views deviate from the "politically correct" establishment. We can all agree that our country needs protection from the kind of horrific violence that made Timothy McVeigh a household word. But there's grave danger of overreacting. Edmund Burke once said that "no passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear." Here's the peril: that we become so fearful of violence and terrorism that we voluntarily surrender some of our freedoms—all in the mistaken belief that we are thereby preserving our freedom. But that, my friends, leads straight down the road to the flagrant abuse of civil rights—yes, to tyranny. It's happened before, right here in America. In the early part of this century, the country witnessed anarchist violence inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Widespread fear led to the notorious "Palmer raids." Thousands of immigrant Americans were arrested and deported on the flimsiest of evidence, or no evidence at all. History seems poised to repeat itself, but this time it might not just be terrorists. Christians are being lumped together with terrorists. Remember the remarks by Michael Lind in the Washington Post, which I mentioned previously? According to Lind, "the main form of political terrorism in the United States today is perpetrated by right-wing opponents of abortion." The passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) and the application of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) have already sent a clear message: Anyone involved in the prolife movement is a potential candidate for heavy-handed government restrictions. Add to this the president's recent remarks at Michigan State University, where—in the same breath as his condemnation of terrorism—he questioned the patriotism of those who criticize the government. Does that mean that those who object to the current pro-abortion policy are "unpatriotic" or, even worse, guilty of supporting "terrorism"? David Kopel of the Independence Institute testified before Congress that there were only 31 terrorist incidents in American in the last five years, most of which were attributable to animal-rights activists—and none in 1994. That makes one wonder whether the drastic anti-terrorism legislation is justified. Or does it give the bureaucrats an excuse to justify their insatiable lust for power? I don't want to be an alarmist, but there is cause for alarm. Christians could find themselves the object of government surveillance from agents with frightening new powers—the kind of domestic spying we outlawed a generation ago. Any anti-terrorism bill should be drawn so tightly that it targets real terrorists, and not those whose opinions may simply be out of political favor.


Chuck Colson


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