Terrorism and the balance between freedom and security

Seminar Paper, 2005

13 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of contents

1. A new quality of terrorism

2. Terrorism as social construction

3. The balance between security and freedom
3.1. Protection of freedom in the German constitution
3.2. The impact of the new anti-terror laws

4. Science as a vocation

5. A continuous process?



1. A new quality of terrorism

"The world after September 11 presents a particular challenge to all of us." (A. Lewis, 2002: 61) – this or something like this is the tenor of just about all articles in journals or newspapers that are dealing with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In an address to his cabinet, U.S. President Bush called the events a "deadly and deliberate attack by a different enemy than we have ever faced" (Wilkins-Newman, 2003: 220). The German Federal Minster of the Interior Otto Schily emphasized that with New York – as "a symbol for the desire for freedom in this world, for democracy in this world" – being the target of the terrorist strike and more than 80 nations having citizens among the victims, not only the USA were attacked, but freedom, democracy and the consciousness of the Western world in general (Lepsius, 2004: 438-39).

And indeed, September 11, 2001, ultimately made clear to the Western world that they were confronted with the development of a new quality of terrorism. A great deal of the knowledge one had about terrorist organizations is now obsolete. "Even distinctions such as 'international' and 'domestic' terrorism are decreasingly meaningful because technological advances (…) and corporate globalization facilitate more complex and flexible ways to organize terrorist activities" (Turk, 2004: 276). The new terrorist threat was perceived as de-regionalized and de-individualized – it was no longer possible to identify specific, known perpetrators and their limited environment, but the danger arose from "impersonal networks and organizations harbored in the diffusion of Islamic fundamentalism" (Lepsius, 2004: 438).

In one sentence: the motives and organization of terrorism became less simple and local in recent years. Now the greatest threat no longer emanates from nationalist or material, but from ideological, especially religious concerns (Turk, 2004: 277).

The purpose of this paper is to discuss, how the reaction to this new quality of terrorism affects the balance between freedom and civil liberties on the one side, and national and public security on the other side. On the example of the Federal Republic of Germany it is examined, what civil liberties are affected and how. Before doing this, the issue of the perception of terrorism is shortly illuminated. The last part of the paper calls for the engagement of social scientists in response to the curbing of civil liberties and finally gives an outlook on the future development of the balance between freedom and security.

2. Terrorism as social construction

Notwithstanding the points mentioned in the beginning, terrorism not only has to be recognized as a fact or an event, but as a "social construction". This is especially important when talking about reactions to terrorist attacks or fear of and reactions to the threat of terrorism. "Terrorism is not a given in the real world, but is instead an interpretation of events and their presumed causes. And these interpretations are not unbiased attempts to depict truth but rather efforts to manipulate perceptions to promote certain interests at the expense of others" (Turk, 2004: 271-72).

The so-called "labeling theory" or "societal reaction theory" says that labels given by society define the incident and determine the reaction to this incident. Some sociologists take the stand that the individuals and groups of a society do in fact not at all react to the actual event, but to labels that are assigned to this event. In the case of an emergency, the reaction of society therefore depends on how the occurrence is defined or labeled. "Frequently, it is the perceived threatening nature of the event at the time of the occurrence rather than the actual enduring consequences of the event that instigates the official and social responses" (Wilkins-Newman, 2003: 219-220).

What implications has this theory for the response to terrorism? The attacks of September 11, 2001, have been publicly perceived as an emergency. When such an emergency exists, people are likely to "rally around the flag" to support the country or the president and accept whatever measures are taken to respond to the emergency. In bringing the public to the point where they see current events as constituting an emergency, the media is playing an important role (Gould, 2002: 76). In the case of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the media coverage was extensive: the whole world immediately was made aware of the events. The event was labeled as an "attack worse than Pearl Harbor", it was defined as "the bloodiest day on American soil since our Civil War" and titled "a clear and present danger" and an "act of war" (Wilkins-Newman, 2003: 220). In terms of societal reaction, the taking of severe measures was predictable.

3. The balance between security and freedom

As the American Chief Justice William Rehnquist suggests, "national emergencies shift the balance between freedom and order toward order – in favor of the government's ability to deal with the conditions that threaten the national well-being" (Gould, 2002: 75). It is largely accepted that there is a trade-off between security and civil liberties – in general the one can only be enlarged at the expense of the other.

According to the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, the fundamental purposes of the federal government are to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty …". But how the trade-offs between the two values order and liberty, which the Constitution is dedicated to, should be made and when they are acceptable, is not explained (C. Lewis, 2005: 18). The competition between those two values is also prominently articulated in the famous quote by the former U.S. President Benjamin Franklin: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety" (A. Lewis, 2002: 62). As expressed by this quote, often the measures taken to improve security in the name of liberty, are in fact eroding the freedoms being defended.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Terrorism and the balance between freedom and security
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg
Terrorism, National Security and Constitutional Rights
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
516 KB
Covered topics: (1) A new quality of terrorism, (2) Terrorism as a social construction, (3) Liberty, security and terrorism in Germany, (4) Freedom, Security and the social sciences ...
Terrorism, National, Security, Constitutional, Rights
Quote paper
Florian Seidl (Author), 2005, Terrorism and the balance between freedom and security, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/39445


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Terrorism and the balance between freedom and security

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free