Criminalising dissent

There's an old saying that circulates in more politically radical circles: "Protest is patriotism." In this post-September 11 world of paranoia and political expediency, however, protest, an essence of democracy, has morphed into something perfectly Orwellian: terrorism.

Two recent events demonstrate how easy it is for the government to dilute words and their meanings to close off opposition and dissent. Last week, the Maryland state police disclosed that 53 nonviolent anti-war and anti-death penalty activists were tracked for 14 months in 2005 and 2006 under the state's terrorism surveillance programme, and that their names had been added to the state's and the National Security Agency's database.

Who are these sinister terrorists? Two of the activists caught in the Maryland dragnet are Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platte, Dominican nuns in the Roman Catholic Church who did indeed break the law in acts of civil disobedience. On October 2, 2002, in response to the first anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, they broke into a missile silo in northeastern Colorado and painted bloody crosses on it.

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