Counter-Terrorism legislations on societies, civil rights

Counter-Terrorism legislations on societies and civil rights

Counter terrorism legislation relates in particular to different measures taken by the state justified by it as a proactive measure against potential terrorist attacks.

The issue of terrorism has been a widely debated subject after the 9/11 events. However, terrorism is not a new subject and nor the legislation to prevent it. More precisely, terrorism defined as an insurgent action against the well being of the state is known in history since the 19th century. Thus, in France, the 19th century terrorist actions not only attracted the discontent of the population but also offered the first reasons for enacting anti-terrorist laws.

Among the first modern terrorists is Auguste Vallain in 1892 France (Wardlaw,1989) when he threw a bomb in the Chamber of Deputies. That incident represented one of the first reasons for which the French state decided to pass laws that would prevent further such events. In this sense, the first counter terrorism laws were in France related to the freedom of speech and assembly. This was largely due to the fact that France had had a well established tradition in the art of revolution and political terrorism.

Until the 20th century, there was little talk if any on the issue of terrorism. It was more a matter of insurgency related to revolutionary purposes. However, even so, actions were taken against the press or the assemblies forming in different areas of the cities throughout the country.

The 20th century saw an increase in terrorist practices largely due to the Cold War and the political practices that developed throughout. More precisely, the 70s saw a new type of terrorism, “the new terrorism” who some argue that it is the result of the Iranian Revolution (Juergensmeyer, 2000).

It is rather hard to ascertain whether the war on terror staged by the United States is a real war or is related to the actual desire of the state to infringe the actions of the society and to limit their rights. Terrorism is not a very concrete, visible action. The only visible parts are the actual results which include attacks, deaths, and misfortunes. Therefore, the war on terror is as well an invisible endeavor. Indeed, some results are visible such as the capture of important heads from Al Qaeda. Even so, it has been argued that the limitation of liberties does not necessarily help the war on terror.

Given the nature of the legislation, which includes limitations on freedom of expression or transportation, the society is most of the times limited in its enthusiasm. In this sense, members of Parliaments throughout the world draw the attention on the fact that anti-terrorism laws have infringed the freedom of speech, the liberties of the societies, but most importantly they interfere in the right to privacy of the community (Conservative Home, 2010). Moreover, the right of the state to hold in custody without warrant suspects of terrorist acts is also one of the most important statements made against the Miranda rights and the rights of a suspect.

Academics and experts have consider the fight against terrorism to be important precisely for the protection of human rights, the most important being the right to life. In this sense, Michael N. Schmitt and Paul Wilikinson, some of the most important voices on the subject of terrorism argue that counter terrorism measures and laws are crucial for the way in which life is conducted after the end of the Cold War. Given the increased threats of terrorist attacks, terrorist attacks are not necessarily an isolated event, but rather a determinate one. This is the main reason for which the laws for counter terrorist measures are defended. Yet, it is important to consider the side of the human rights activists who strongly point out that these measures are most of the time abusive and used as means to intrude in the personal lives of the individual and more importantly determine abuses which cannot be afterwards proven.


Conservative Home. Labour’s increasingly draconian anti-terrorism laws questioned by cross-party parliamentary committee. 2010. Available at

Mark Juergensmeyer. “Undestanding the New Terrorism.” Current History (April 2000), pg 158-163.

Schmitt. Michael N. “Counter-Terrorism and the Use of Force in International Law.” The Marshall Center Papers, No. 5. The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.

Wardlaw, Grant. Political terrorism: theory, tactics, and counter-measures. Press Syndicate University of Cambridge, 1989.

Wilkinson, Paul. “The strategic implications of terrorism.” Terrorism & Political Violence. A Sourcebook. Edited by Prof. M.L. Sondhi. Indian Council of Social Science Research. Har-anand Publications. India 2000

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