Happily, my article over at Salon has generated a lot of conversation. I wanted to respond to the comments, but came up against technical obstacles, so I’ve decided to post my response here.
According to some of the comments, some readers have misread my point. I am not comparing the murder of Trayvon Martin to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden or Anwar Al-Awlaki—at all. Ever. However, the deaths of 16 year old Trayvon Martin and 16 year old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, both of whom were US citizens, are devastating, heinous, and reprehensible. Again, as Jemima Pierre at Black Agenda Report points out: Trayvon Martin was killed based on a perceived threat by a lone individual. Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki was also killed based on perceived threat—by the US government, under the auspices of national security. He was killed by a drone 2 weeks AFTER his father, Anwar—also a US citizen–was droned to death. The US government has shuffled its explanations for Abdulrahman’s death, at first claiming that he was 21 years old, then claiming that he was standing next to another member of Al-Qaeda, and at another point, refusing to confirm that he was killed. I mentioned the two teens’ names as one example of a larger argument about the double-standards of liberals under a Democratic President—and the lack of outrage –with regard to the ethics of the project of American Empire.
Even with ‘proof’—given the shoddy system of due process that is afforded to African Americans and other vulnerable populations–we must reconsider state-led executions, whether of Black Americans or foreign nationals. It is no better when government policy dictates the murders of foreign nationals or American citizens or teenagers–than when a lone racist individual kills an African American teen–or adult. Indeed, it is exponentially devastating to condone such acts when they are part of government policy—as there is no recourse to law, to appeals, to evidence. Such actions, on the part of the state, implicate all of us.
Some were offended by the comparison that I made between racism domestically and racist policies administered under the auspices of the global War on Terror by the current Administration. It is hardly an original argument: Cynthia McKinney, (several articles by) Glen Ford, Bruce Dixon, Jemima Pierre, Cornel West, and others have made this point. In their days, Dr. Martin Luther King, W.E.B. DuBois, and many others made comparisons between racism domestically and international racism/empire.
Many commenters found my argument unbelievable because I cited too few liberals. Yet, I cited 5 liberals—2 politicians, a blogger who self-identifies as ‘liberal,’ and 2 MSNBC commentators, in the space of that article. In addition, at the end of the article, I cite an article about a study by Michael Tesler, a political scientist at Brown University. Tesler found that racially progressive liberals were significantly inclined to change their minds and approve targeted killings when they found out that President Obama supported the policy. I’m not sure how many liberals I must cite to be convincing, if one refuses to consider the argument. According to a very recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 77% of liberal Democrats supported the policy of targeted killings. That seems like a fairly high number. 83% of Americans in general supported the President’s drone policy.
In the article, I was drawing attention to the much larger acceptance of state-led killings—by liberals—under a Democratic Administration than under a Republican Administration. But the other part of my concern is that these policies are being conducted under the project of American Empire against Muslims. As Deepa Kumar wrote in an excellent article published last July in The Nation, Islamophobia has been a long-standing bipartisan project, beginning well before 9/11. I’m also concerned about the dual functions of the US Homeland: to guard its borders, and to police internal and external populations. The war on terror, with its ubiquitous, elusive enemy guarantees a perpetual war.
Hannah Arendt, a German Jewish refugee, philosopher and political critic, pointed out in her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, that the point of Empire was to create unity at home. Part of this unity includes the positing of presumptive divergences between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Americans, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foreigners, and ‘good’ Americans and ‘bad’ foreigners. Witness Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s suggestion that Anwar Al-Awlaki was a “so-called American.” Al-Awlaki Sr’s moral disposition has little do with his legal citizenship or legal treatment. Feinstein’s insinuations entrench the assumption that Americans are upstanding; but she has yet to reconcile this assumption with our judicial system. Al-Awlaki was American; and like other Americans, if he is suspected of committing a crime, then he should be charged and tried. If he is as compelling a danger as the state insists, then presumably proof can–and must–be provided to show why it is necessary to execute him.
Finally, politicians, regardless of their political affiliations, must be treated with wariness and skepticism. That is part of the larger point in my article. The increasing jingoism of the last decade has found its counterpart in the internal policing, harassment, and exploitation of darker populations—through anti-immigration laws, among others. As an example of how closely these purposes are linked, consider the example of Kris Kobach. Kobach is the architect of racial profiling laws that are currently directed towards migrants in several states. He initially devised that approach to racial profiling as a counterterrorism strategy, when he was a young attorney working under Attorney General John Ashcroft.