After 9/11, the Patriot Act was promulgated to protect the collective security of the people . Some of people’s liberties—especially the right to privacy—had to be curtailed to trace possible sources of terrorism. Under the circumstances of 9/11, these seemed to be acceptable practices. In situations such as war of that of 9/11 (the US eventually went to war against Iraq), curtailment of people’s rights are expected and are acceptable practice. In different contexts however, the application of such laws can be perceived as abuse and discrimination.
Not all crises is war
Hurricane Katrina was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the US. It struck the country in August 2005. The tragedy of the relief and rehabilitation efforts at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was that all operations seem to be more akin to war operations. Indeed, Hurricane Katrina was a major calamity. It was a natural disaster that the government of New Orleans had been unprepared for and ill-equipped to handle the relief operations.
It is appalling to compare how New Orleans handled the crisis especially in the light of how third world countries handled similar situations—the earthquake in Nepal in 2015 , the world strongest typhoon to hit land in the Philippines in 2013, the tsunamis in Thailand in 2004 and Indonesia in 2004 . Japan did much better in its relief operations after the tsunami in 2010 than any city in the US after a natural calamity .
The New Orleans government failed in its relief operations (relative to the other countries mentioned) because it treated the calamity as they would a war. In the process, the government seems to have lost all sense of humanity. The people of New Orleans were victims of a natural disaster, not enemies in a war zone. Unfortunately, the hurricane victims were treated like prisoners of war. They were herded in concentration camps and kept there by force with arms and ammunition. Relief goods were unready and slow to come so chaos ensued as people became desperate and hungry. In the course of the relief operations, the government seemed to have committed certain human rights violations.
One of the most celebrated rights violations cases during the period was that of Abdulrahman Zeitoun and some of his friends and relatives .The man was detained for an absurd crime (looting his own home) and some of his money and property as well as some of his friends’ and relatives’ were confiscated. Zeitoun was an example of collateral damage that could result in the implementation of the Patriot Act .
Zeitoun was not only a collateral damage of the Patriot Act but also the entire Katrina relief and rehabilitation efforts. The government treated the disaster as some kind of war, as though some enemy forces have invaded US shores. As a result, all actions seem to be controlling people as in war. In this context, suspicions as what happened with Zeitoun would arise. The laws were wrongly applied in this case. For one thing, the likelihood of any terrorist threat was very remote so certain actions that the government undertook were unnecessary. Again, this stemmed from the strange approach that the government took to help the hurricane victims.
Justice and the law can be harsh. Appropriate actions should be applied to particular situations. A natural disaster is not a war or an enemy invasion. The victims are not prisoners of war. To balance liberty and security under such circumstances, government officials, leaders and other decision-makers should not mindlessly apply the stipulations of the law. They should exercise their sense of compassion and humanity. People need help under the circumstances. Harsh treatment of hurricane victims only add pain to their sad experience and curtail liberty. The Hurricane Katrina relief operations is one example that people’s liberty was curtailed unfairly in the name of security.
Conformance and respect for other people’s rights
American citizens are guaranteed of several rights. The First Amendment to the US Constitution, for instance, guarantees the freedoms of religion, speech, the press, assembly and petition . The exercise of these rights cannot be absolute. One has to ensure that in observing these rights, one does not violate other people’s rights. Also important is that the practice of these rights does not violate certain laws. After all, some of these laws are in place precisely for the common good of all, so that everyone could enjoy their freedoms and protect everyone from any violation in the exercise of rights.
Every practice, habit, values, culture and traditions—including the wearing of certain type of clothes—have definite roots or origin. These practices evolved because of the culture, climate, the religion, the traditions of particular geographical locations. These practices are aptly performed in those places because they properly belong there. However, once individuals from certain ethnic groups, religion or geographic location move to another place, these practices may not be appropriate in the new place. The new place would have its own culture and traditions. An outsider who enters this place would have to adopt to this new environment to a certain extent.
The US, for instance, would have its own traditions, even with regard to the clothes that people should wear. Certainly, it requires people observe some level of modesty. Topless women and g-stringed men may be acceptable in some societies but certainly not in the US.
The wearing of the hijab, niqab and burqa by women has cultural, religious and geographic origins. The hijab and niqab are fairly accepted in some communities. The wearing of the burqa may not necessarily be acceptable in some societies. Wearing the burqa can be a sign of disrespect to other people. For one thing, the burqa is not a prescribed attire in Islam or in the Quran. It is how certain Islamic groups interpret the Quran. Unfortunately, the groups imposing the wearing of the burqa are somewhat on the extremist side, to which some violent groups are also associated.
The wearing of the burqa in a country like the US could violate some laws and other people’s rights, especially during war and similar crisis situations. For one thing, they conceal the identity of the persons wearing these clothes which could be violating ordinances in the same way as wearing ski masks in an urban center would.
In the practice of one’s beliefs and religions, one must take into consideration the context of the place. There may be places that one should not be in the first place.
Balancing liberty and security
People should always remember that their freedoms and liberties are not absolute. They will have to be exercised in the context of society in general. One will have to exercise these rights in consideration of other people’s rights. They should be exercised without stepping on other people’s rights.
People should also remember that sometimes they will need to sacrifice certain rights for the collective security of everyone. This will be demanded of everyone in society. Unfortunately, in times of war, there could be some ethnic, cultural or religious groups that may need to be watched more closely. While the majority of people in these groups are peaceful, the extremist minority can pose some real danger to society . And some measures will have to be undertaken to identify these dangerous groups and protect society in general.
Admittedly, there can be abuses and mistaken application of laws as what happened in the Zeitoun case. But people should realize what these are—abuses and exceptions. The laws themselves could actually be fair for the common good of the people. At the same time, the laws should be applied and interpreted in the context for which they were made. If there is no war or any similar imminent danger, then there may be no reason to be so strict in implementing the law.
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