Why care?

In his column in Golwg this week Normal Mouth wonders why public opinion seem to support issues that human rights campaigners see as an erosion of our basic liberties.

He highlights the fact that many communities are calling for more CCTV cameras rather than complaining that those that exist are an intrusion.

Opinion polls seem to suggest that the 42 days (and more) proposals of detention without trial are supported by about two thirds of the population.

Many seem to believe that taking DNA samples and identity cards are a good thing if they help police catch more criminals.

Part of the answer, I'm sure, is that we have a high level of trust in the police and the other security forces not to abuse those powers. Which is fair enough, the difference between freedom and oppression is often based on how the authorities use (or abuse) their powers, rather than what powers they actually have.

The second reason (which may be based on the first) is that we don't expect the reductions in human rights to effect us, they will only effect people who have no rights to have rights.

The attitude that I hear on the streets (and promoted in some parts of the media) seems to be:

I won't be locked up for 42 days without trial and who cares if a terrorist is locked up for 42 years, never mind 42 days? Why should we care if a person who wants to bomb, kill and maim loses his human rights? OK some of those locked up might not be charged afterwards. We all know that there is "no smoke without fire", so many of those released will be the ones who have been allowed to get away with it because of our soft laws, rather than the innocent. Even if the odd "innocent" person is locked up they will be Muslims who don't believe in human rights anyway so why should I care?

But before taking this attitude that it doesn't affect me so why should I care, it might be worth reflecting on the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.


  1. the difference between freedom and oppression is often based on how the authorities use (or abuse) their powers, rather than what powers they actually have.

    I think that is quite right, and it may be why opponents of 42 days and other measures cannot seem to make their case convincingly to the public.

  2. Look at the way the debate was framed, when the vote on 42 days detention is reduced by the opposition parties and the UK media to a referendum on Gordon Brown's leadership, (even if he lost he was still going to be PM) its hardly a good atmosphere for serious debate on both sides and whatever you think of David Davis actions just look at how quick the media and commentators have been to dismiss him a a crackpot.

    So why should anyone expect people to care about Civil Liberties, Law and Order or any other political issue when the debates are often reduced to such trivia?

  3. But why doesn't the human rights lobby stand up for freedom of speech or the right to buy a pond of apples without getting jailed.