Monday, March 2, 2009

Civil liberties threatened in Europe. Well everywhere...

"Why then do the European states claim for themselves the right to spread civilisation and manners to different continents? Why not to Europe itself?". Joseph Roth, 1937
If our liberty were safe in the EU (surpranational or national levels), there would be no need for citizens to raise the alarm. Yet alarm bells are ringing throughout Europe. In view of the economic crisis, we should not forget the lessons of history (post-1930s...), i.e., not take freedom (democracy) for a European granted.
The Convention on Modern Liberty is one of those ringing bells. Bringing together people from all walks of life and political affiliations, it focused on the situation in the UK. Yet its message is truly universal. We are lead to believe that in the name of so-called "justice", "security", "truth" we should sacrifice our freedom. A little here, a little there.... but in the end, it all adds up. And what the facts are demonstrating is a trend of erosion of civil liberties throughout Europe with increased state intervention and intrusion in our lives.

Most fall for the rhetoric of fear used to justify the curtailment of individual freedoms. The answer is to keep questioning, to challenge the claims, to test the facts, to debate the issues and hopefully reverse the trend.

History tells us too that fighting for liberty makes a difference. During his exile in England young Voltaire (1694 –1778) was impressed by the British Monarchy's support to freedom of speech. Back in France he fought for civil rights at a time when the French Monarchy was absolute. His words in defense of freedom of speech continue to inspire "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it". Looking at the dangerous course taken by today's European leaders, there are reasons to be concerned. Voltaire must be turning in his grave. And we need to take action.

That said about Europe, don't expect to find guidance and/or solace with the United Nations and its human rights "Alice of Wonderland world" where freedom of opinion is increasingly viewed as a problem. In her speech Jo Glanville (Index of Censorship) argues that the UN is actually retreating from defending free expression. "The prevailing view at the UN Human Rights Council is that potentially offensive speech is so dangerous that our liberty is better served by deploying censorship rather than protecting the right of free speech"....

The Council passed a resolution condemning "defamation of religions" (non-binding Resolution 62/145, 2007) and calls on governments to take action. Freedom House (FH) reports that the U.N. General Assembly is considering an "Anti blasphemy Resolution" which would make it binding on member states to make it a crime to criticize all religions (A resolution pushed by the group of 57 Islamic nations). In the CNN interview, Paula Schriefer (FH) says that the effect of the non-binding resolution on freedom of speech is already being felt around the world (arrests of journalists). So what next? A Euro goulag, global inquisition?.... Food for free thought. For now.

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