The implications of the attacks on the 11th of September over a decade ago still reverberate throughout our nation. Indeed, the murder of nearly 3,000 American citizens who were simply going about their daily lives has left a scar on our national psyche that will be with us for many decades to come.
Unfortunately, this assault was not the first time in modern history Americans were attacked on their home soil. It was, however, the first major attack motivated by something other than military strategy.
Unlike the Pilgrims, Quakers, and other religious groups that came to American shores to escape religious persecution, the 9/11 executioners came here for the exact opposite motivation, enforcement of religious oppression. These fanatics would dogmatically compel practitioners of religions other than Islam to choose from only three alternatives: convert, die, or become a virtual, economic tax slave known as a dhimmi.
What has been the American response? Like President Jefferson, when faced with threats from Muslim terrorists in the 19th century, President Bush responded with force. American military forces prosecuted a successful war in Iraq and another of somewhat more questionable success in Afghanistan.
After a decade of effort, extremely dedicated intelligence officers finally located the mastermind of 9/11 and began planning for his capture or demise. Elite American special forces stealthily swept into the evil man’s hiding place and dispatched him in almost Hollywood style. Our government continues to order drone strikes in distant lands against would-be-replacements for the slain religious fanatic who issued a “fatwa” for “jihad” against America.
While the costs of our military operations overseas have been high, private citizens here in the United States have also paid a price. Among other impositions to liberty, our citizens now undergo intrusive searches at airports that many would have rejected out of hand as grievous violations of Fourth Amendment rights prior to 9/11.
Safeguarding our people from foreign attack, or “providing for the common defense,” is one of the basic functions of government cited in the Preamble to our Constitution. However, “securing” our rights and liberties is also a basic responsibility of that same government. In fact, according to our nation’s founding document, The Declaration of Independence, that is the principle reason for the existence of any government.
Security and liberty are always in continual tension. As James Madison cautioned centuries ago, “It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.” Consequently, there needs to be a constant and serious, recurring evaluation of own government’s invasive monitoring of its citizens.
Once the balance tilts too far away from liberty, it never returns easily or peacefully. For this reason, Tennessee’s own Andrew Jackson warned in his farewell, presidential address: “…eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty…”
Our nation has defended itself against Islamic extremists in the 21st century following Thomas Jefferson’s example from centuries earlier. However, to ensure we remain a viable, representative republic with individual liberty, perhaps, another bit of Jefferson’s logic should also be followed.
“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When people fear the government, there is tyranny.”