Today a Russian court sentenced members of a punk rock band to two years of prison for “hooliganism driven by religious hatred.” Wow, they must have done something serious, like spray painted hateful messages on and inside a church, or beaten up a minister or maybe even something worse to warrant this sentence, right? Umm, no. Their “crime” if you will is that they sang a song that is critical of Vladimir Putin, that country’s president (again), and they did so inside a church. To be fair to the Russian authorities the performance was staged, meaning the band was not invited by the church to perform there, so perhaps the band deserved being arrested, and some would argue that perhaps a little jail time too. But it is the judge’s verdict that is kind of an eye raiser, “hooliganism, driven by religious hatred.” The band’s actions could be described as “hooliganism” in many circles, but religious hatred? Not so much. A song against government shouldn’t be considered religious hatred; even if it is an uninvited performance in a church. But that is Russia, and the governments (yes plural, they have had many) there have never been too fond of the dissent of their citizenry.
Thank God we live in America, where we are free to speak our minds without fear of government reprisals, or can we? Well, yes we can still be critical of our government, at least for the time being. This isn’t exactly new news, but I haven’t really explored it too much on these pages (yes also plural), but how many of you have heard of the National Defense Authorization Act? It was signed into law on December 31, 2011. Still not ringing any bells? Okay, well it did receive some media coverage, but as the media gets tired of news stories so quickly this bill/law was but a blip in the news cycle. Anyway, this new-ish law is similar to the ironically named Patriot Act in that it gives the government far reaching power and authority over each and every one of us. What kind of power and authority? Well I’m glad you asked.
There is a provision in that law that allows the government to detain persons suspected of being involved in terrorism. Hey, that’s cool; we need to make sure we rid our streets of terrorists right? Well, read it again. People can be arrested (or detained) on only a suspicion of, not proof of terrorist involvement and the detention can be indefinite. Then there is the whole terrorism thing. What exactly is a terrorist or terrorism? I think I know what is the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind, but that is what WE think of a terrorist, a government could use a very broad brush in defining who is suspected of being engaged in terrorism. Taken to the an extreme this blog, where I am often critical of the government and its actions, could be seen as something other than the willful compliance to the government’s decrees, and should the authorities tire of me and my voice they could under this provision in this law, pull a Pinochet and simply make me disappear. Of course it is easy to say that our government would not infringe upon its good law abiding citizens and the Bill of Rights like that, and I would certainly hope they wouldn’t too, but technically with the passage of this law they already did. With the ill-defined word “terrorism” in that law almost anything that might be viewed as against the government could be construed as suspected involvement in terrorism. A reasonable person would not think criticism of government or its actions amounts to terror involvement, but let’s be honest, and critical, governments rarely act in a reasonable fashion. Just look at Russia to see an irrational and unreasonable response by government.
You never know what is enough, until you know what is more than enough. (William Blake)