On June 26th a decision, concerning the Arizona SB 1070 Act, was reached. A few months earlier, the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation was passed in Pakistan, supposedly specifically for the tribal areas. Both pieces of legislation are chilling echoes of the Law of Suspects passed, on 17th September 1793 in France following the French Revolution in 1789, by the then leader, Maximilien Robespierre.
The Arizona SB 1070 Act concerns the rules of immigration applicable to the American state of Arizona. Even though three provisions of the Act were struck out, the basic ‘show your papers’ doctrine has been allowed to stand. Section 2B of this legislation allows policemen to check the immigration documents of individuals stopped for other offences. The legislation has been viewed by many (President Obama and some Arizona officials included) as promoting a culture of suspicion without any use of hardcore evidence of guilt.
The FATA Actions (in Aid for Civil Power) Regulation similarly appears to have established the criterion of guilt as mere suspicion of wrongdoing. Specifically, Chapter IV ‘Powers during action in aid of civil power’ states that, anyone merely ‘suspect’ of wrongdoing can be arrested. Regulation 6b states that even a mere ‘apprehension’ that someone may be hiding weapons is enough to enter upon a property and seize the suspicious item. It has been argued that this legislation is applicable not just for those residing in the FATA region, but for all Pakistanis, as explained by Regulation 9 (The News Pakistan, 3 March 2012, page 7, ‘Criminalising Justice’, Babar Sattar).
These two pieces of legislation remind one, unrelentingly, of the similar culture of suspicion that was created by Robespierre during, what came to be known as, The Terror in the years immediately following the French Revolution of 1789.
In his speech, on February 5th 1794, ‘On the Principles of Morality (that should govern the National Convention in the domestic administration of the Republic)’, Robespierre’s most striking claim was that while a nation at peace may be governed by ‘virtue’, a nation at war must be governed, both, by virtue and ‘terror’. And for Robespierre, France, having just established the success of the Revolution that in turn established ‘democracy’, was in just such a state of war- a war against those ‘conspirators’ and ‘enemies of the revolution’ who were trying to destroy the new Republic. Robespierre believed that because France was in an emergency situation, consequently emergency- and apparently excessive- powers were needed for those who ruled. It was this belief that led him to create the Committee of Public Safety in 1793 and pass the Law of Suspects which stated that suspected persons were ‘ those who, either by their conduct or their relationships, by their remarks or by their writing, are shown to be partisans of tyranny and federalism and enemies of liberty’ (http://www.chnm.gmu.edu/revolution). Nothing beyond a mere suspicion was required to give the leadership the right to execute a man.
The Law of Suspects heralded the Reign of Terror in 1793 (after Louis XVI’s execution), claiming its very first victim, Marie Antoinette. In the months between September 1793 and February 1794 the revolutionary tribunal in Paris convicted and executed 238 men and 31 women and acquitted 190 persons, and on February 5 there were over 5,000 individuals in the prisons in Paris awaiting trial (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1794robespierre.asp ).
But what is even more frightening, than the fact that our legislation- today- eerily reflects the legislation passed during the reign of The Terror, is that even the logic used to justify The Terror appears to have diffused into our society. A recent article explained that the public will be satisfied if the judiciary is able to persuade the Prime Minister to write to the Swiss authorities because ‘the court will be viewed as doing the right thing even if it is for the wrong reasons’ (The News Pakistan, 27 June 2012, page 7, ‘This Disastrous Changeover’, Zafar Hilaly). Such a mentality would reflect the very same logic Robespierre used to justify his use of Terror. He argued that because enemies of democracy and the revolution do not respond to reason, and since the Revolution had to be saved at any cost, terrorising its ‘enemies’ was justified. The reasoning above seems to imply the same thing: the leadership of the country must be removed because of the wrongs it has committed in the past and continues to make in the present, regardless of the principles of right and wrong.
Clearly, such an idea is a complete contradiction. The leadership of our country is condemned because it is corrupt (the refusal to write to Swiss authorities to expose the President’s money swindling past) and yet it has been suggested that removing corrupt leaders by using similarly wrong methods and consequently becoming immoral ourselves in the process, is acceptable. Some may believe that in certain situations, particularly Pakistan currently, the old maxim ‘the end justifies the means’ is acceptable. However, it is the consequences of pursuing such a policy that have been witnessed before in history that must notbe forgotten.
In our enthusiasm to remove corruption we must not forget the principle’s that we are fighting for- noble as this may sound. This was the precise fault of Robespierre, then a champion of liberty, ‘the Incorruptible’, now remembered as the ‘master of The Terror’.
[Sources: the News Pakistan, Fordham.edu, chnm.gmu.edu]