On "Bringing To Justice"
First, let me say that the response from not only Blair, but all of London is inspiring. They are refusing to panic after these attacks. The underground is open and running this morning (with some nervousness). At Balkanization, Kim Lane Scheppele makes an interesting point about “Britain’s State of Emergency, and the anti-terrror laws in Britian failing to prevent these this.
Yesterday, I said that those responsible for the London bombings should be brought to justice. That generated response from Izar (in comments) that “sometimes it is better to have justice brought to them,” and from Steve C that “I don’t think they really care.”
Bringing terrorists to justice is not about them, its about us, and about those who support them. We could just as easily find them and kill them. We could capture them and bring them to secret detention centers, where we beat them to death. And while those both serve the preventative purpose of ensuring that those particular people don’t engage in further acts of terror, they are tactically part of a losing strategy. JihadWatch also gets it very wrong, and I’d been meaning to write this essay before London:
People often email me listing the alleged crimes of the Bush Administration and/or the United States in general as if such a list constitutes a sufficient riposte to the stories we post here daily. But in fact such lists are irrelevant. We are not interested in defending one Administration, but the American republic in general. We are not here to shill for one ephemeral policy or another, but to defend the West and the civilization it has inspired.
The first and most important differentiator between justice and vigilantism, or justice and terrorism is that justice is administered by a government, with a set of rules and regulations, laid down in advance. In the American conception, we are all equal before the law. No group of 10 or 20 people may decide that you’re a criminal and hang you. 50 random people in London are not asked to answer for the “sins” of Britian.
When we lose sight of the importance of process, and the visibility of process, we lose the perception of fairness. That perception of fairness, the goal of fairness, and the freedom from the arbitrary impulses of the police are key to our justice system. (That we don’t always reach that ideal does not mean the ideal is not important.)
When we are fighting against an orientation that seeks to restore and extend a caliphate over all lands Islam once controlled, we must respond not only, not primarily with military strength, but first from the position that our system is more desirable than that. We have to define and hold a moral high ground which causes the other side to waver. The American system can do that. At its best, the American system inspired and inspires people around the world.
But we are not doing our best. We are far from our best. Abuses at Abu Grahib, the images of Guantanamo with its beatings, the secret arrests, detentions, and deportations after 9/11 have come to define the United States. We went from Le Monde declaring “We are all Americans,” to polls that show Europeans considering us a greater threat than terrorists. Why? Its not because the Europeans are stupid, its because they see us using power without justice, without control, without reason. They see us as having lied about Iraq, and as willing to invade anywhere we see fit, then unable to pick up the pieces.
The wrong things have become symbols of the United States, not because of who we are in the main, but because America is seen as abandoning and betraying its ideals.