Newtown, CT: The Culture of Terror and the Failure of the National Security Agenda*

Yet again. Yes, again. Another heinous massacre in Newtown, CT. When I read of the details on Friday, I didn’t plan to write about it. I didn’t want to write about it.  I wanted to lose myself in the heated discussions over the misleading and graphic depictions of torture in Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty, in the Twitter project of NYU student & artist Josh Begley, who is tweeting every drone strike between 2002-2-12, in the details of the pre-trial motion hearing of Pfc. Bradley Manning as reported by Nathan Fuller and Kevin Gosztola and others; in the discussions of the conflagration of the meaning of terrorism in NY courts.  I wanted to consider those “national security” issues that form the basis of my work.  But in fact, the horrific event that occurred in Newtown, CT is also a national security issue. It is the result of the failure of the National Security Agenda put in place in the US since 9/11.

There isn’t one dominant definition of national security, but it might be safe to suggest that in the U.S., national security relates to domestic and foreign policies created in the name of fighting the “War on Terror.”  The policies of National Security relate to waging wars on sovereign Middle Eastern nations on the pretense that they have hidden WMD’s, or that their women need saving from Afghan men, or that they have nuclear weapons technology that will be used against us if we don’t level sanctions. National security refers to the hunt for alleged terrorists through pre-emptive policing, warrantless and indefinite detention, torture, solitary confinement. National security refers to the solitary confinement, humiliation, and abuse of whistleblowers such as Bradley Manning for turning over evidence of ethical wrongdoing by the U.S. armed services to transparency organizations such as Wikileaks.

The media coverage of the Newtown murders and the memorial speech given by President Obama would lead us to believe that what happened on Friday in Connecticut is worlds away from national security issues, because effective national security lies in rooting out terrorists. And we know that terrorists operate in dark shadowy cells, in the basements of mosques—in Kandahar, in Sana’a, in Abbottobad, in Queens, Brooklyn, Paterson, NJ, Lodi, CA. Terrorists don’t walk up to schools in grassy, leafy, quiet New England towns, with semi-automatic rifles in their hands, and after killing their mothers, force their way in, and shoot twenty 6 year olds multiple times at close range. Terrorists don’t have Asperger’s. Well, maybe they do. But only if they’re Muslim.

The media reports and the corresponding images of the heinous massacre in Newtown, CT have done their utmost to distinguish the unique tragedy of this shooting, to humanize the beautiful young children whose families grieve for them so heavily. Everything we hear about Adam Lanza reinforces that this was a random tragedy, fueled by the easy accessibility to guns. It had nothing to do with the Culture of Terror. Nothing to do with National Security.

Doesn’t it? In fact, the latest shooting of schoolchildren is the latest evidence that the national security project of the U.S government has failed.  The shooting in Newtown, CT is but part and parcel of a culture of shooting children, shooting civilians, shooting innocent adults, that has been waged by the U.S. government since September 12, 2001.  It has been directed by two United States Presidential Administrations, and has intensified under the second President, a Democrat.

And let there be no mistake: many of “us” have directly felt the impact of that culture: Which “us”? Yemeni parents, Pakistani uncles and aunts, Afghan grandparents and cousins, Somali brothers and sisters, Filipino cousins have experienced the impact of the culture of killing children. Families of children who live in countries that are routinely droned by the U.S. Air Force. Families of children whose villages are raided nightly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Culture of Terror has been waged insistently through Pres. Obama’s policy of drone strikes. Or by U.S. Cruise missiles, as the one that targeted a Yemeni wedding party in 2009, in which 20 adults and 21 children died.  The Culture of Terror is intensified when the journalist who reported that strike was jailed—at the command of POTUS—and remains in jail to this day.  The Culture of Terror was waged insistently on the day that the same President was re-elected–when another drone strike was launched in Yemen, and 3 more people died. The Culture of Terror was perpetuated when the US insisted on the right of Israel to “self-defense” in Gaza—in the face of the systematic, legal, theft of land and the disproportionate “targeted” killings of Palestinians by the Israeli government.

And in case, you have forgotten: here are the numbers for Israel’s “self-defense” in Palestine:

From January through September 2012, Israeli weaponry caused 55 Palestinian deaths and 257 injuries. Among these 312 casualties, 61, or roughly 20 percent, were children and 28 were female. 209 of these casualties came as a result of Israeli Air Force missiles, 69 from live ammunition fire, and 18 from tank shells.In 2011, the projectiles fired by the Israeli military into Gaza were responsible for the death of 108 Palestinians, of which 15 were women or children, and the injury of 468 Palestinians, of which 143 where women or children. The methods by which these causalities were inflicted by Israeli projectiles breaks down as follows: 57 percent, or 310, were caused by Israeli aircraft missile fire; 28 percent, or 150, where from Israeli live ammunition; 11 percent, or 59, were from Israeli tank shells; while another 3 percent, or 18, were from Israeli mortar fire.

The Culture of Terror has been consistently, repeatedly, enforced through the innumerable practices of rendering and torturing Muslim men and women alleged to be terrorists. Without ever providing evidence of their terrorist activities. The Culture of Terror is waged every minute that Bradley Manning is incarcerated in solitary confinement for having turned over documents that show the immoral, illegal, reprehensible practices of our U.S. Armed Services at the behest of the POTUS.

The Culture of Terror is reflected in the mass shootings in Oak Creek, WI, in Newtown, CT, in the 60 other places where mass shootings have occurred in the last 3 decades in the U.S. It is reflected in the deaths of countless children (2700 children in 2010) in the United States through needless and random gun violence—despite restrictions on guns. It is avoidable violence. The Culture of Terror is reflected in the “See Something, Say Something” posters, directed by the Department of Homeland Security, found all public transportation systems in the U.S. In the Pamela Gellar anti-Muslim posters posted all over NYC and Washington DC.  The Culture of Terror is reflected in the deportation of over 1.4 million migrants over the last four years. In the separation of 46,000 children from their parents (only in a 6 month period in 2011) . In the jailing of Dr. Shakir Hamoodi for sending money to his family in Iraq despite the needless sanctions imposed by the U.S.  In the refusal to allow a Muslim U.S. veteran fly home from Qatar to see his mother until the prolonged intervention of journalists and advocacy groups made it happen. In the fear that contributing to Bradley Manning’s or Julian Assange’s legal defense funds will render ordinary innocent citizens vulnerable to arrest and jailtime and similar privation of Constitutional rights. In the development of ever-longer kill lists and “disposition matrixes.”

In each and every one of those instances, the Culture of Terror is organized and directed by the U.S. government. And in each and every one of those instances, the Culture of Terror reflects a failure of the goal of National Security.  Because the goal of National Security cannot—can never succeed—if some among us must live in fear of being arrested, persecuted, imprisoned without charges, susceptible to being tortured or killed for being Muslim, Arab, hijabi, religious, the son of a suspected terrorist, a political dissenter, a whistleblower…

The project of National Security is the project of forcing us to live in fear of each other, of cutting social services to families whose members have severe neurological, psychological illnesses–in order to fund an increasing Culture of Terror. The National Security project is the project of allocating “2/3 of a trillion dollars” for 2013 alone: for the purpose of continued US military presence in other sovereign nations. The National Security project is to reward banks and financial institutions with even more money for their achievement of plundering the life-savings of thousands of ordinary citizens. For gratuituously rendering Americans homeless through subprime mortgage foreclosures.

What is the difference between the heinous tragedy that occurred last Friday in Newtown, CT and the instances that I mention above?  The key difference–Attorney General Eric Holder, POTUS Obama, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta—will tell you, is that the poor children in Newtown, CT were the innocent defenseless victims of a lone gunman, whereas the U.S. is in the full-fledged battle of combatting terrorism—which makes the murder of innocent civilians, of innocent children an unfortunate collateral damage. They will tell you that the housing crisis was the unfortunate result of greedy bankers, but they tried to punish the bankers. They will tell you to “Look forward, not backward.”

But in fact these are not the primary differences. The primary difference is that the U.S. has legitimated the Culture of Terror—and the failure of National Security—by insisting that needless violence, the random deaths of thousands of children and adult women and men, the gratuitous incarceration and solitary confinement of thousands of young men without charges is a necessary approach to “solving” terror.

The second primary difference is the complete lack of accountability—demanded from or given by– the U.S. government, the U.S. Congress—on the issues of unjust wars and invasions, human rights violations, damaging racial profiling, illegal drone and missile strikes, and countless other damage to ordinary citizens in the US and around the world. The third primary difference is that the same Liberals who are shocked by the shooting at Newtown, CT, in fact have legitimated the Culture of Terror by endorsing, voting for, and re-electing POTUS and his murderous terrorist Administration–instead of demanding accountability.

And that same legitimation—and the absence of outrage at the murders of thousands of innocent civilians around the world—whose parents, families, grieve identically to the families of the youngsters and teachers who tragically, horrifically died in Newtown, CT—shows the massive failure of our National Security agenda and the “War on Terror” in the era since 9/11.

Yet again. Yes, again.




Author: Falguni A. Sheth

I'm a philosopher and political analyst who writes about all kinds of things, from national security, US politics, race, terrorism, miscegenation, feminism, philosophy, and whatever else captivates my attention. My views are idiosyncratic. I'd like to believe they're carefully considered, and I'm not particularly interested in following crowds.

17 thoughts on “Newtown, CT: The Culture of Terror and the Failure of the National Security Agenda*”

  1. Ms. Sheth,

    I recently discovered your work and very glad I did with this piece being a fine example. Your analysis has been a great addition to my understanding of a complex world. I am however a bit perplexed by your tweet today to GG saying you are “pleased to be mentioned along side @jricole (Juan Cole). Mr. Cole has certainly done a lot of great work in his area of expertise but I’m curious to know how you reacted to his support for the NATO “intervention” in Libya. I for one found it extremely troubling. Even given his desire for a “limited” intervention his arguments before during and after the assault in defense of his position were grounded in highly dubious expectations regarding the imperialist parties involved (his mockery of those on the left who disagreed with him didn’t help matters). The highly predictable and terrible carnage the NATO assault directly and indirectly unleashed and the resultant destabilizing of the region (Mali for one) could be hardly called a minor misjudgment on his part. It has been near impossible for me to read him with the same regard ever since. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Cole in the context of this subject.
    Martin Donovan

    1. Martin, thanks for your kind words. While I understand that you may not have high regard for Juan Cole, I don’t understand your question. I do not expect to agree with others, whether colleagues, friends, or lovers, on all or even most issues. If I find myself in agreement on more important issues than not, and if I respect his/her writings on said topics–even when disagreeing, then I am pleased to be mentioned in the same context. Not having followed his debates with others–or even his take on Libya–I can’t speak to the mockery issue. But with regard to his writings on issues like torture, the CIA, drones, etc., I like his writing. As you yourself say, “Mr. Cole has certainly done a lot of great work in his area of expertise.” That seems to be sufficient grounds.

      1. Fair enough Falguni. But I’m not challenging the basic principle that says in human relations there will be frequent disagreements between ourselves and those we love and/or respect. I was just wondering how his position on something so huge namely aggressive imperial war impacted your view of him and why exactly you still feel pleased to be in his company. From what I’ve gathered from your work so far I would have thought his stance would have struck at the heart of everything you’ve dedicated your life and work toward exposing and resisting. To put it another way it is because I have so much respect for your analysis that I guess I’m asking how you saw Cole’s position on Libya. If you’ve already addressed his stance in print before I hope you might direct me to it. I am certainly open to you showing me a more constructive way to look at his position in relation to his other work if you feel there is one. I come to you with these questions in the spirit of deepening my understanding and not merely to express my outrage with Cole.

        1. Martin, I didn’t follow Juan Cole on Libya. I tended to follow the astute, progressive writers at, one of the best sites for considering ME politics. And while most folks there opposed intervention–they used a very cautious formula: if intervention did less harm, then it might be warranted ( And because they couldn’t affirm that principle, they took a stand against it. I would add that another imp’t principle would be whether the citizens of a nation ask for intervention–and what kind of intervention they believe to be in their best interests.

          But still, in circles that I respect, there were divided opinions about whether intervention might be useful, and if so, what kind of intervention. So, I think the question of intervention anywhere (for example in Syria now) is a complicated question, especially given that US/NATO support for a nation’s gov’t doesn’t necessarily mean that civilians within that nation aren’t dying, suffering. See my colleague Omar Dahi’s piece on this blog, for example. There is also a great piece on the too-easy dichotomies btwn “bad US” and “good Ahmedinejad” in Iran. It’s by a truly sharp group, the RAHA Iranian Feminist Collective ( That’s not to say that I endorse interventionism, but that we need a more complex view by which to consider these questions–on a case by case basis.

          1. Falguni, I’m surprised you missed Cole’s high profile presence in the Libyan debate. Because you’re not up on his writing re the subject it’s of no use for me to go on about it. I’ve made my point.

            I’m a frequent visitor to Jadilyya and find it very informative. The piece you link seems familiar to me and it’s likely I read it at the time of its posting.

            I agree it’s vital we avoid Manichean theories or analysis of world affairs and history. The nature of power results in extremely complex dynamics that make for strange bedfellows in movements and ideologies. So for instance if we’re going to argue against NATO intervention in Libya it should be the result of rigorous analysis of its history combined with as clear headed a view of the current crisis as possible – just as the piece you link recommends. Reflexive rejection of imperial power as a source for good is understandable but we should be constantly challenging our own assumptions especially regarding closely held beliefs.

            The other piece you link is very interesting and it’s in an area where I lack sufficient study so thanks for the tip. The writers make what seem to me to be reasonable points about Ahmadinejad and the american leftists mentioned. My cursory take on the man is that he is a fundamentalist hack politician fronting a repressive regime. It seems common sense to say that there are many ways to reject the dangerous and now torturous US policy toward Iran without aligning ourselves with a man like him and the political class he represents.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this piece. On Friday, I really didn’t know how to respond to everything that was going on around me because I’ve (unwillingly) grown accustomed to internalizing the outrage and sorrow that inevitably comes with the (daily) slaughter of innocents (whether it be the senseless murders of inner-city youth at home or the “Collateral Damage” tragedies that are necessary to save foreigners from the dangers of self-determination). I was at work when the Newton news broke and everything stopped: people ceased their already low level of work to watch the news, then some started to cry (especially when Obama pretended to cry…that was a nice touch by him btw) and everyone was vocalizing their outrage and demanding some form of gun control legislation; such behavior made it much worse and it was incredibly difficult to not lash out at my coworkers/facebook friends for their selective compassion. In the end, I stayed silent, avoided the MSM and fought back every urge to attack anyone who mentioned Newton and/or gun control (as if gun control legislation — that will almost certainly further militarize the police — is anything but a very real, yet tertiary problem in “War on Violence Against White People and Especially Schoolchildren”).

    On a side note, I have a sneaking suspicion that Obama will seize on this opportunity to pass some form of ultra-pragmatic gun-control law that ironically manages to increase inner-city violence, further empower drug cartels in Latin America (and thus justify more funding for the War on Drugs) and grant draconian powers to law enforcement agencies (especially with regards to policing the internet: “We have to find these domestic terrorists before they strike again and monitor those playing violent video games”). I hope I’m just being overly-cynical, but I have a really bad feeling about where this is heading as even Joe Scarborough is now in favor of gun-control legislation.

    1. Jacob, thanks. I think you’re on the mark. I think it is a fantasy that gun-regulation is the panacea to the culture of mass shootings. Certainly, restrictions on automatic/semi-automatic weapons are important to shifting away from a casual gun culture. But as we’ve seen almost consistently, when POTUS facilitates legislation, it’s usually with a view to centralizing executive power in direct opposition to the rights/protections/safety of US residents/citizens.

      We also know that in the US, social services and public infrastructure funding has been massively eroded in favor of utilizing private markets for public services, which exacerbates the unaddressed psychic traumas and violent impulses of various segments of the population: US soldiers returning from the war, of special-needs folks and their families. We also know that rage/violence increases during times of economic uncertainty, high unemployment, and social and political catastrophes. These are also correlated with re-allocating money away from infrastructure and into more state-directed violence. It’s a complex, vicious feedback loop involving multiple factors, sources, monies, locations.

      It will, sadly, keep happening until we insist on more complicated public policy solutions that respect the rights and safety of US denizens.

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