The moment CNN announced the assassination of Benazir Bhutto at a political rally on TV, I immediately realized how the event could be sung to impress to the world of the idea that security supersedes liberty. I half expected Pervez Musharraf to justify his previous decision to impose martial law but it did not right away come across my mind on how the assassination affects Malaysian politics. Weeks earlier, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that he is willing to sacrifice public freedom for public safety.[1] Indeed, Deputy PM Najib Razak wasted no time to relate the uncertainties in Pakistan with dissent in Malaysia just a day after the death of Mrs. Bhutto.[2] The pictures painted by the Malaysian government however are disagreeable. The juxtaposition between liberty and security and the supposed trade off between the two is only an illusion undeserving of consideration of the rational minded. On the contrary, it is possible to have both. In fact, individual liberty cannot exist without security.

The concept of individual liberty within classical interpretation at the very least relies on the precept that an individual is free to act according to his will, bounded only by others’ same rights. These rights — negative rights — include but not limited to rights to life, to property and to freedom of expression that we Malaysians lack. It is a grave irony of us celebrating our freedom from colonial powers on yearly basis only to suffer oppression brought upon by our own government.

We are not unique. History without fail has shown how transgression of liberty occurs throughout human consciousness. One of many lessons we could derive from history is this: we must be prepared to defend our liberty; our individual liberty. These rights that make up liberty have to be protected from all efforts to negate it. Thus, as is ever so common in literatures of freedom, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Liberty cannot stand without security. The instability of anarchy — anarchy as in the political philosophy — is a proof to that. This gives the impetus for a society to create a government, a state or any entity for that matter, to protect its members’ liberty from internal and external threats.

At the same time, a liberal constitution outlines individual liberty and in that respect, the role of government in protecting that liberty. While the entity enforcing the constitution is the rightfully elected arbiter of conflict of rights between individuals, in no whatsoever way it gives the state the authority to disrespect individual liberty, unlike the meek Malaysian Constitution.

A good liberal constitution is able to stop anybody, the state, the majority, the mob even, from robbing an individual of his liberty. Democracy by itself is useless; it has to be guided by a liberty-conscious document for tyranny of a majority is no different from tyranny of a dictator. That is the ultimate security. From there, is it not clear that for liberty to prevail, security is required?

In the end, there is no dilemma between liberty and security.

Security however does not necessarily demand liberty. One can be thrown into a cellar for hundreds of years, be safe and unfree from cradle to grave. I have a tingling suspicion that when a politician speaks as if there is a trade off between liberty and security, the term security requires qualification. He seeks not to throw himself into the cellar but instead, he seeks to throw free individuals, whom will not stand aside quietly while watching liberty is being trampled upon for whatever reason, into the cellar. When he speaks of security, he speaks for himself and not for others, not for individuals. When he speaks of security, he speaks of security to his grip to power. The only dilemma he speaks of is between others’ individual liberty and tyrants’ security.

Therefore, the next time someone presents to you an option between liberty and security, tell them with utmost confidence that you insist on having both.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — PUTRAJAYA: Public safety will be the Government’s top priority before public freedom and there will be no hesitation to take the stiffest action on irresponsible people, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

“If the choice is between public safety and public freedom, I do not hesitate to say here that public safety will always win. I will not sacrifice my sense of accountability to the greater public, especially in the face of police intelligence about planned fighting or other violent intent.” [PM: Public safety will prevail over public freedom. The Star. December 10 2007]

[2] — Najib said political conflicts, assassinations and instability seen in some other countries should serve as a lesson for all Malaysians.

In this connection, he rapped those who had orchestrated street demonstrations that caused property damage and disrupted people’s daily activities, just to gain political mileage. [Najib: Goverment To Act Against Troublemakers. Bernama. December 29 2007]

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

This article was first published on Bolehland.

One Response to “[1492] Of I will take both”

  1. […] well as Democrat candidate, it became clear that his position on the question liberty and security does not match mine. With other candidates possibly mirroring his more palatable positions, it was not hard to remove […]

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