As a liberal, there are a couple of things that have been in the news over the last few months that I really care about; the refugee crisis and increased surveillance. My gut instinct is that immigration is a great thing and we should do everything in our power to help people deposed by war, and that increased government snooping powers is something to resist. However events of the last week mean that liberals like me need to ask ourselves some very difficult questions.
Constant immigration has turned the UK into one of the most vibrant, varied an interesting countries in the world. Evidence shows that immigrants contribute more to the economy than they take out. And the British (for the most part) have a worldwide reputation as being the most tolerant people on the planet.
On top of all of this, we have a moral responsibility to help with the refugee crisis. There is very real, human suffering, and we have the means to be able to do something about it. However, if recent reports are to be believed, one of the Paris attackers arrived on a migrant boat into Greece and made his way across Europe to France. We are, begrudgingly, going to have to admit that some people warning about the dangers of accepting masses of refugees were right. Even if these reports were false, why would ISIS not try and do this? If your MO is to launch guerilla attacks on European countries, what better way than to smuggle people from Syria in on migrant boats?
This means that we have a tough reality to face up to; we need to decide if we want to freely allow a continued stream of migrants from the Middle East into Europe. If there are jihadi fighters amongst them it is undeniably a minority, but that’s all it takes. We cannot sit here on our high horses commenting about how we need to be able to help these people whilst we willfully let murderers into Europe.
This is not for a second to suggest that we shouldn’t do something to help the refugee crisis. But we need to carefully think about how we respond to it. And this is ignoring the fact that there are almost certainly more ISIS fighters active within Europe, planning the next attack.
Which brings us on to surveillance powers. The government has recently been trying to get what has been termed ‘the snoopers charter’ through parliament. Amongst many other things (this is not the place to discuss the nuances of the bill) they are looking to introduce powers for the security services to be able to see your browsing history. Now, I am certain that the only reason we have not seen an ISIS led attack on British soil yet is because of the work of our security services. And our security services are crying out for these new powers.
As I stated in the introduction, I am sympathetic to the cause for civil liberties. At any other time this article would be saying that we should resist this infringement on our freedom. That we cannot trust the government with so much power in a manner that makes it inescapable. That Goebbels’ mantra that “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” only applies when you have a rational government in power. Even the government we have has been seen to drag people through the courts for sending joke tweets or receiving porn videos of a guy in a tiger suit.
But we cannot ignore it anymore; we are at war with ISIS. And they have the ability to attack us at home. And as such, we need to be able to fight them on every front. And that means liberals need to challenge their established opinions on issues like immigration and government surveillance.
All of the arguments put here result in a couple of very unpalatable truths. There are certainly arguments that the short-term changes in approach are hard to undo. Once you have given the government more powers, it’s very unlikely that they will be given back. And once we start to turn public opinion against immigration, we could start to bring limits on the very thing that has made this country great.
But would preserving our liberal ideals be worth a Paris style attack in the UK?