Free speech all but destroyed

By Nicole Kobie

Those who believe books like George Orwell’s 1984 or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale are likely a little nervous these days. In these novels, characters and societies hand over hard-earned freedom with minimal resistance. Little steps, justified by fear and war, erode liberties until people are trapped in a frightening, suffocating dictatorship.

Have those first steps been taken? Have we already started to tumble down the slippery slope to the society Orwell depicted with a boot stomping on a human face? Whether or not such a slope exists, we have less liberty now than we did last year, be it freedom of movement, freedom from unfair incarceration or freedom of speech.

Cross the American border with a visa from one of two dozen nations declared "elevated national security risks" and border guards armed with machine guns question you or take your finger prints. Justified as protection against terrorist attacks, Americans let this happen out of fear. How much more will they allow? Will we become like Atwood’s world, people, slotted into castes, are differently restricted and identified by their biology?

It wasn’t necessary to press charges to imprison Abdullah Al Muhajir. Held as an enemy combatant for planning to detonate a dirty bomb, he has yet to be charged with anything other than being an enemy of the state. Is this the American government protecting its people, developing an early version of the Thought Police or a little of both?

It no longer takes terrorism to scare us. Now, all it takes is protesters. At the upcoming g8 Summit in Kananaskis, people are being denied the right to protest in order to protect us. However, protesters can’t harm Calgarians if allowed in K-country. If allowed in parks, they can’t be downtown to harm local businesses. Why isn’t public, organized dissent allowed? What’s next? The strict, watch-what-you-say realities of Orwell and Atwood, where dissenting conversation is cause for arrest?

It’s hard to believe we’ll reach the extremes Orwell and Atwood described, but if we allow for this subtle, constant erosion of freedom, anything’s possible.

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