Tackling Terrorism in Liberal Democracies

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HARVEY_P_ESSAY_ Tackling Terrorism in Liberal Democracies

The basic question is not whether terrorism can be defeated; even third-rate dictatorships have shown that it can be put down with great ease. The real problem is the price that has to be paid by liberal societies valuing their democratic traditions. Over the last two decades considerable academic debate has taken place concerning the correlation between differing political systems and terrorism. It has become somewhat conventional wisdom to argue that liberal democracies are disadvantaged, when compared to illiberal non-democracies, in countering terrorism because of institutional constraints that prevent them from responding to terrorism with repression. It appears that liberal democracies have mainly five inherent weaknesses against terrorism: freedom of movement, freedom of association, an abundance of targets, constraints of the legal system and the media. Also democratic societies are particularly vulnerable to a form of violence that incites their governments to overreact and subsequently lose legitimacy, along with their ideology , as will the impact of freedom of the press and other media within liberal democracies. The first of the four weaknesses is the freedom of movement found in liberal democracies, the growth of private cars, mass tourism and international migration and the ability to move across borders, especially in Europe makes it particularly problematic for liberal democratic states attempting to counter terrorism, as free movement facilitates terrorist activity. There is concerns that countries who open their borders to immigrants and political refugees could potentially offer infrastructures to international terrorism. Affordable freedom of movement has facilitated, for instance, the training missions of terrorists. Over the last two decades there has been a transition process involving the dismantling of former police and tight border controls which had existed in former socialist states and countries such as South Africa. The European investigations post-September 11, 2001 found that many terrorists had supported themselves through organized crime activities such as credit card fraud across nation's borders. By spanning different jurisdictions terrorists attempt to minimize the risk of effective law enforcement. The terrorists behind the September 11 attacks in 2001 planned their crime in Hamburg, received training in Afghanistan, funding from the Middle East and perpetrated their crime in the United States.

The second, weakness that is believed to have undermined liberal states ability to counter terrorism, was the freedom of association found in Western democracies. In most cases the private lives of citizens are not the business of the state and in such cases; terrorists can abuse the freedom of association provided by democracies in conspiracies against the state itself. So important was this that the 61st session of the General Assembly (September to December 2006, New York) met to try and resolve the situation. The report stressed that that any decisions that limits human rights must be overseen by the judiciary, so that they remain lawful, proportionate and effective. However since the terrorist attacks in the US in 2001 both international and European liberal democracies have to some degree or another prevented freedom of association to terrorist-linked groups. For instance, the potential for creating quite wide ranging restrictions was established in the UK under the Terrorism Acts, the Anti-terrorism Act and Patriot Act in the United States as well as the Anti – Terrorism Act in Australia (2005), placed a much heavier burden on those charged with association with any terrorist organizations. Nevertheless a number of human right instruments pertinent to freedom of association exist and do provide restrictions that must be adhered to within liberal democratic states: such as the UN International Covenant on...
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