Is Violence Cultural?


As the #YesAllWomen hashtag trended over the weekend, I tweeted out a few of my own. In response to one of my tweets [about having been menaced on 3 separate campuses by male students who were antagonized by the low grades or critical evaluations that I gave], a friendly tweep asked whether my experiences could be ascribed to a culture of violence. It was an important question, and I didn’t respond as 140 characters seemed to be rather limiting. I want to think through one part of that question here. But I want to note: my comments are not a reflection on my friendly interlocutor; rather, I’m trying to explore my concern about the phrase.

I’m always surprised when the words ‘violence’ and ‘culture’ are placed in close proximity. Much like the phrase “social construction of race,” the notion of a “culture of violence” seems to create an artificial stopping point at what should be the beginning of an analysis. These days, the phrase ‘social construction of race’ indicates a moment in the political development of theories of race rather than some meaningful insight in itself. Similarly, the notion of a ‘culture of violence’ is often the description given to explain the pro-gun discourse that marks the US in international lights, or the massacres that seem to be occurring with increasing frequency in the United States. The most recent one to come to public attention was the one that a young man, Elliot Rodgers, carried out a few days ago. The phrase ‘culture of violence,’ seems to be immediately problematic in several ways. First, it obscures the specificity of various kinds of violence (a shooting in cold blood versus a woman who shoots at an ex-lover in self-defense; a serial massacre by a young man versus a military massacre of a village). I’m not suggesting that they are all horrific or heinous. Rather, I want to suggest that the level and quality of (dis)approval in each case is affected by the conditions and institutions which supported that action. The second, closely related, way in which the discussion of a ‘culture of violence’ is problematic is that it elides state-led policies that endorse certain kinds of violent actions—based on who is committing the violence and who the violence is committed against—rather than on the action in question.

Examples of the second would include executive policies such as a memo that authorized the use of drones to kill people who are suspected of terrorism (or having a governmental body vote in favor of a federal judgeship for the lawyer who co-authored that memo); or the actions of federal judges who exculpate police officers who shoot young black men while sentencing a political protestor to prison for elbowing a policeman for a boob grab, or a range of bills that unanimously approve the pre-emptive policing, or potential detention, or profiling and entrapment thousands of people who loosely fall into the same group as the 19 men who flew into the World Trade Center in 2001.

You get my point.

‘Culture,’ like ‘social construction,’ seems to sidestep an assumption that certain traits are permanently embedded, without confessing to that assumption. It seems that culture is most often used in 4 different ways:

1. As a marker of identity: Indian culture, Russian culture, Irish culture, etc.

2. As a comparative descriptor, such as when praising a group of people affiliated with a certain society as having superlative values: French culture, Western culture, progressive culture.

3. To ascribe ‘primitive’ or ‘regressive’ traits to a group of people who are united on the basis of some practices or beliefs or (mutual) recognition of identity: Muslim/Islamic culture, Black culture, Masculine culture, etc.

4. To describe a set of (negative) practices that people abide by or embrace (wittingly or not), and therefore become part of that group: A culture of: consumerism, rape, terrorism, narcissism, violence.

Over a decade ago, at the first philosophy conference I attended after receiving my doctorate, my excitement melted into despair as I heard the keynote speaker, a white feminist philosopher of some renown, painstakingly describe how Palestinians and other Muslim cultures were more prone to a ‘culture of terrorism’ than those in Western societies. It seemed to link violence to a population while avoiding references to biology, ontology, or nature. [Uma Narayan, Talal Asad and Edward Said have challenged such a link in their considerable writings, but to judge from its frequent invocation, it still seems to remain an easy go-to place.] And in forging this link, the keynote speaker indicated that these actions were compulsive, driven by the culture to which said people belong.

This kind of deployment of ‘culture’ is striking for its complete bifurcation from a discussion of historical, (geo)political, economic, social, legal structures: what is the history of Palestine (or Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, etc)? What are the material, geopolitical, social circumstances in which certain men and women engage in certain specific practices? What are the legal structures that punish certain men and women for acts of violence while retaining a blind eye towards others? How do we construe violence or terrorism, when lone individuals or groups associated with non-state entities who blow up cafes become the prime figures of terrorism (and if they survive, will most certainly face punishment at the hands of government or military forces)–while other figures–surrounded by government security personnel as they instruct others to deploy drones against certain persons in Yemen selected by a computer algorithm–are hailed as heroes and voted repeatedly back into positions of power? All this, while those who provide legal validation for such practices are elevated to the nation’s highest courts (the most recent example being, of course, David Barron)?

Such a disarticulation from a discussion of underlying structures entrenches the belief that these practices are inherent – perhaps uniquely so — to the group with whom they are associated. So, to talk of a ‘culture of violence’ suggests that there is a set of violent practices that constitute the fabric of a society, bringing that very society together as a unit, which that society (or some part at least) doesn’t necessarily question, criticize, or challenge.

That may not be the intent of using this phrase, since—in none of the above 4 senses is culture used as a factual descriptor (even when that is the intent of the speaker) but more as a rhetorical descriptor. It is always possible to falsify a statement about culture that presumes that most if not all of its people ascribe to a certain belief. Hindus are not all vegetarian; Not all feminists believe that the hijab is oppressive; Not all Muslims (women or men) believe that the hijab must be worn. The French don’t all believe in republicanism. All of these groups have internal debates about various issues, and it may be impossible without (even with) extensive surveys, to discover which part of the group practices/believes in the belief under question, and whether that part of the group constitutes a majority.

My concern with the above deployment of term ‘culture’, is that the speaker obscures the very structures that s/he claims to take into account by locating violence/narcissism/entitlement/rape in a generic culture. It is true that the phrase ‘culture’ can accurately connote a set of embedded attitudes regarding violence, rape, narcissism or consumerism. But—especially when ascribing these attitudes to a group that is already the subject of criticism—s/he connotes that the actions of these populations are driven by their culture. By ascribing certain events to a ‘culture of violence,’ I wonder if it prevents us from having a more insightful conversation about the specific elements that drive a certain event.

Let me be clear: I do NOT want to exculpate men (or women) who benefit from patriarchy, white supremacy, or other systems validating hierarchies or endorsing oppression against groups on the basis of race, gender or nationality. These are systems—grounded through laws, economic policies, geopolitical history, and social policies of rewards and benefits–which can engender acceptance about the privileges that accrue to some persons on the basis of being – say — male or white (often without regard to class), or to being middle- or upper-class white women. And while it’s possible to talk of a set of beliefs that seem to be shared by those who benefit from patriarchy or white supremacy, I think it’s much more effective and important to prioritize a focus on systems rather than culture.

A useful followup to this rumination might be to problematize the discussion of “privilege”—as in in white privilege, male privilege, etc. That will be for a future post.


Turley and Cusack on the U.S. Constitution

I rarely do this, but this is a must-read column by progressive activist/actor John Cusack, followed by a very long, but urgent, conversation between Cusack and Constitutional Law Prof. Jonathan Turley. It will make liberals and progressives in the US extremely uncomfortable, but it’s time to feel uncomfortable: there are some serious questions that need to be addressed in the face of the November 2012 elections, and Turley and Cusack lay out clearly what’s at stake–morally, politically, internationally. Skip to the last six paragraphs if you’re short on time.


Editor’s Note from Shannyn Moore:  Read This.


By John Cusack

I wrote this a while back after Romney got the nom… in light of the blizzard of bullshit coming at us in the next few months I thought I would put it out now

Now that the Republican primary circus is over, I started to think about what it would mean to vote for Obama…

Since mostly we hear from the daily hypocrisies of Mitt and friends, I thought we should examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny than we hear from the “progressive left”, which seems to be little or none at all.

Instead of scrutiny, the usual arguments in favor of another Obama presidency are made: We must stop fanatics; it would be better than the fanatics—he’s the last line of defense from the corporate barbarians—and of course the Supreme Court. It…

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Guest Column: Al Gore’s False Climate Solutions

Dear readers: I am traveling/living outside the US for the next several months, improving my French language skills and doing some research (I can feel your sympathy for my difficult plight. Thank you.). I plan to use the occasion to post some guest columns alongside a weekly (or, if other commitments permit) a biweekly column by yours truly.  Please continue to check in when you can.

Today, I’m very happy to introduce a guest column by Ben Grosscup, a Hampshire College alumnus and long active in ecological and environment issues. Mr. Grosscup offers some important reflections on why Al Gore’s neoliberal approach to climate solutions is flawed.

Guest Column: Al Gore’s False Climate Solutions


An earlier version of this piece was published on Friday, March 2, 2012 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

On April 27, former Vice President Al Gore will keynote the inauguration of Hampshire College’s new president, Jonathan Lash. Gore may be the world’s best-known climate activist. While he has educated the public about climate change, his solutions are based on a flawed assumption that the only way to address the climate crisis involves creating markets and extending corporate rights.

Despite his commitment to environmentalism, Gore’s political legacy has been ecologically disastrous. The pro-corporate policies he supports – nuclear power, agrofuels, so-called “free trade” and carbon trading – are false solutions to the climate crisis. They fail to contend with its root cause: an economic system that demands ever-expanding corporate profits. But as this avaricious system impinges upon the natural limits of the biosphere, our world breaks down.

Faith in the flawed ideology that we can transcend the ecological crisis without addressing this contradiction in capitalism makes Gore’s “solutions” part of the problem.

As vice president, Gore led the fight to increase the power of the corporate class at the expense of popular democratic rights in two major treaty negotiations. Gore relentlessly championed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the media and in Congress, and he played a pivotal role in restricting the Kyoto Protocol’s legal mechanisms to carbon trading.

In Gore’s nationally televised defense of NAFTA, which aired on CNN’s Larry King Live in November 1993 just before Congress approved the deal, he presented the treaty primarily as a means of reducing tariffs on trade. He argued that as governments reduce restrictions on corporations, business productivity would increase and improve everyone’s livelihood.

But NAFTA had only partly to do with trade. It also gave corporations in all three participating countries the right to sue signatory governments whose policies interfered with their profits.

Following NAFTA’s adoption, Americans didn’t get the secure livelihoods Gore promised.

Instead, companies that once paid relatively higher wages relocated factories to Mexico and Americans struggled to adjust to a more precarious job market. Mexicans went to work in new “free trade zones” where companies drove down wages and evaded taxes while public infrastructure crumbled. NAFTA privatized traditional Mexican community land stewardship systems, pushing millions off their land. This corporate cannibalism of the body politic has exacerbated an utter breakdown of much of Mexican society, manifesting as poverty, drug violence and desperate northward migration as people seek respite from this misery.

Gore’s record on climate policy echoes his trade policy record. In 1997, Gore traveled to Kyoto, Japan, for an international conference to develop a framework for a global treaty on climate change. He stated that the U.S. would not sign the Kyoto Accord unless every other country agreed to a “cap-and-trade” scheme for carbon emissions. The U.S. position conflicted sharply with competing proposals to directly require industrial countries to reduce pollution. Gore successfully pushed through this agenda, which became the basis for the Kyoto Protocol.

Under “cap-and-trade,” governments allot transferable rights to spew climate-destabilizing pollution to the worst corporate polluters, who buy and sell those rights on a market. This privatizes access to the biosphere’s carbon-cycling capacity. By framing everyday corporate pollution in terms of an exchange value rather than an urgent threat, this policy regime makes the incalculable harms of climate disruption interchangeable with the more easily measured financial costs of mitigating pollution.

It prioritizes what it can quantify – and ignores what it cannot.

Some within the environmental movement still defend Kyoto, because it remains the only existing legal mechanism for curbing emissions. In 2005, European signatories inaugurated the EU Emissions Trading System as the official carbon trading mechanism under Kyoto. Shamefully, these countries’ carbon footprints have been rising since, discrediting those who support “cap-and-trade” for its ecological benefits.

Besides not helping to curb the pollution that endangers our lives, the most disgraceful aspect of Gore’s legacy on climate policy is that today the notion of “tradable rights to pollute” dominates the U.N. climate negotiations, displacing non-market alternatives. Those negotiations lack credibility because, after 20 years, they aren’t ameliorating the climate crisis.

The system of market fundamentalism that brought us to the sorry place we’re in has failed catastrophically – a realization more people are making thanks to the Occupy movement. Growing numbers throughout the 99 percent have lost faith in the corporate state and gained confidence in their own initiative. Through creative occupations of public spaces, this movement demonstrates its commitment to creating and envisioning radically different alternative worlds that remain off-limits to market fundamentalists like Gore.

Hampshire College may view Gore’s visit as bolstering its reputed dedication to ecological sustainability, but Gore’s record violates this commitment. The same thinking that delivered the debacle of NAFTA and the calamitous distraction of carbon trading will help none but the clever investor in navigating the difficult times ahead.

The college should feature Gore as part of a debate in which his solutions to impending global catastrophe can be challenged, not just passively applauded.

Ben Grosscup of Amherst, a Hampshire College graduate, represents Precinct 9 in Amherst Town Meeting. He is actively involved in Occupy Amherst and is a board member of the Institute for Social Ecology.

H.R. 347 and Quelling Political Protest: You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

When President Obama promised in his signing statement not to deploy NDAA maliciously, he was really distracting us from the real issue at stake in the passage of that bill. NDAA (click the link for the PDF; the HTML version is missing the crucial Sec. 1021) cemented the rollback of civil liberties, a rollback that had been noted prominently in the USA PATRIOT ACT, and continued through numerous bills since 2001.  As we know, NDAA gives POTUS the authority to order the US Military to detain indefinitely anyone suspected of terrorism on US Soil or on international grounds.

Here is the wording that pertains to whom is liable to indefinite detention. Besides those who took part in the attacks of September 11, 2011, Section 1021 also includes

A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

In fact, according to Sections 1021 and 1022, the US Military is “required” to detain anyone suspected of “assisting” Al Qaeda, or other terrorist groups to be held indefinitely by the US Armed Forces. Section 1022 also enables POTUS the option to extend that provision to US citizens, and it promises to detain anyone who commits a “belligerent act” against the U.S. or its coalition allies in aid of such enemy forces, under the law of war, “without trial, until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF].”

What is especially alarming in NDAA, besides the infinite expansion of authority awarded (and demanded by the POTUS in order to sign it), is the ambiguous wording of Section 1021. Anyone who “aids” enemy forces or commits a “belligerent act.” Belligerence, in this day, can be interpreted to mean getting pissy or making bad jokes with TSA officials at US airports. It can also mean being “angry,” as the White House has already warned Occupy protestors. And, as we know, in this age of unabashed warrantless surveillance of folks’ online surfing habits, it can mean listening to the sermons of fundamentalist preachers (always Muslim, of course), or writing pointed critical comments about POTUS or the War on Terror or the US Banks, or the 1%, or the NYPD, or…

While NDAA doesn’t break any new ground in the violation of the civil liberties of US citizens, it does open up the slippery slope to conflate political protest or civil disobedience and a “threat” to the safety of politicians.   This past Monday, the House voted to approve, 388-3, a bill that cements that slippery slope. HR-347 makes it illegal for anyone to be in a Federal building, or be near a person who is protected by the Secrete Service, without permission to be there. Yup. Seriously.

Here’s an excerpt:

‘‘§ 1752. Restricted building or grounds
8 ‘‘(a) Whoever—
9 ‘‘(1) knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so;
‘‘(2) knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions;
‘‘(3) knowingly, and with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds; or
‘‘(4) knowingly engages in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any restricted building or grounds;
or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
‘(b) The punishment for a violation of subsection (a) is—‘‘(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 10 years

Any bells going off? The bill, less than 3 pages, packs a serious punch to the 1st Amendment. If you are a citizen, non-citizen, foreign national–doesn’t matter–and you want to express your dissent, protest, disagreement of current policies and practicies in proximity of some of the powers who created them, whether in a Federal Building, in front of the White House, or in front of Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney–you are now engaging in an illegal act.

The amount of damage that it can potentially do to the capacity to express dissent, to protest, to challenge political authority is enormous: Good-by Occupy. Good-bye political demonstrations near US politicos. Good-by, dissent of POTUS’ War on (Terror? WMD’s? Iraqi massacres? Drones? Iran? I’m not sure anymore).  This bill is a response by the political powers that be to the increasing unrest, anger, and outrage that their plutocratic, kleptocratic and authoritarian actions are inducing: bank theft and embezzlement, violence by a police state, murder of US and foreign nationals, invasion and murders of civilians under the auspices of “democracy,” and many other heinous actions.

This bill, which still has to be passed by the Senate before it can become law, is the logical extension of the series of bills that expand the political aura and untouchable authority of our politicos and the ruling elite which is increasingly identical. Note the political success of billionaires Mayor Michael Bloomberg (defending the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims outside his jurisdiction, including in CT, PA, NJ, or Syria, Iran, Lebanon and elsewhere), former NJ Jon Corzine (former head of MF Global, which is missing substantial sums that can’t be accounted for), Mitt Romney, etc.

Don’t be fooled by the “kinder, gentler” message delivered by Obama in the NDAA signing statement. That was just the foil. The best of political silencing is yet to come.

LGBTQ Young People of Color Mic Check

Clearly, these young folks get it: they understand the importance of transracial, transnational, solidarity. And they make clear that they are understand that anti-queer politics, homophobia, imperialism, homonationalism, and racism  are linked and must be seen together. If they can get it, why can’t other progs? Props to LGBTQ Young People of Color. Fierce, Sharp, Insightful. Gives me hope.

Occupy Protests, Imperialism, and Silence: Haven’t We Seen this Before?

Sunday in Oakland and yesterday in DC, protesters clashed with the police. In DC, they stood their ground and refused to move even though they were ordered to vacate the park. In Oakland, protestors moved to occupy a community center.  Even as they were being accused of breaking in, Oakland protesters challenged that assumption, insisting that the door was open. Whatever the details of the case, what an amazing tale this is, when the “people” are accused of trespassing by sitting in a public building. After all, it’s not called the “Mayor’s private palace”; it is called a “community center”—which means that it belongs to those that CH claims to represent: the people.  And yet, the police and the mayor Jean Quan, one of the founders of Asian American studies at UC Berkeley and who used to talk the good talk until her viability was threatened– believe that it is their just work to defend the 5% rather than the 95%, to arrest those who are less than “respectable,” namely because they did not take advantage of their positions in large financial institutions to bilk billions of dollars from pension funds and union savings plans. In fact, Mayor Quan now wants Occupy to disown the Oakland movement, while Oakland City Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente accuses the Oakland protestors of domestic terrorism. What does it say about the moment in which we live that “respectable” citizens are those who steal regularly and legally by making the laws conform to their greed, while those who attempt to live by the rule of law that is laid down upon them by the–1%, the 2%, the 5%–are viewed as “domestic terrorists,”–as if they have violated the sanctity of private individuals rather than challenged the offices and institutions of the status quo?

Authoritarianism is hardly spontaneous. It’s set in motion by a series of events that have been in place way before the vivid moment when one realizes that one is living in the midst of complete surveillance, autocratic power, and the arbitrariness that enables one to be labeled a “terrorist.” The series of laws that I’ve discussed repeatedly–The USA Patriot Act, the 2006 Expansion of FISA which gives immunity to the telecomm industry for turning over private customer phone records, the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the 1996 Immigration Reform Act, the 2006 Military Commissions Act which clarified lawful from unlawful enemy combatants (!), and the latest, but certainly not the last, the NDAA which codifies the 2005 AUMF’s expansion of Presidential powers, giving the President to search for, detain, and yes–kill anyone, including US citizens–on suspicion of terrorism without ever having to show evidence–these have landed us in this surreal, but not unprecedented, moment: One can be named a terrorist for expressing—not a physical violence to one’s neighbors, friends, and countrymen—but a verbal violence—a dissent in the face of a state that demands immediate compliance.  In fact, the White House has said just this to OWS protestors: Anger is an indication of terrorist impulses. And Oakland Council Member Ignacio De La Fuente agreed.

Dissent is the worst form of threat that a disintegrating democracy must face: it must deal not only with the absence of obedience, but the vivid presence of contempt shown to it by person after person after person. None of these persons individually has the power to face down the state by herself; but when she in concert with her classmates, colleagues, friends, and neighbors realizes that the state has demanded all of a person—not only their physical obedience but their psychic commitment as well—then we know two things: 1. We are in the midst of a political vacuum in which the only power that will survive is one that will brook no bars to its existence. And the converse: 2. We will not be allowed to protest without severe damage to our physical and psychic presence.

In the midst of the struggle over power, as we’ve seen over centuries, one thing appears to be constant: Authoritarianism demands a long period of imperialism. And imperialism requires the consolidation of the political interests of the ruling class at home in order to buttress the force of invasions and imperialism abroad.  I am left wondering why the “Left” is as uninterested as it is in our overseas military pursuits during this, an election, year. Why the silence over the raw claim to aggression as evidenced in President Obama’s SOTU speech? A friend suggested that it was because “the Left is confused or uninterested in matters of national security.” I’m unwilling to believe that the Left is confused, but I’m also having trouble believing that the left is uninterested.

But then I read this:  In 1902, J.A. Hobson, an English liberal historian and economist, ruminated on the silence over the imperial battles that the English government was advancing, in India, all over the African continent, and elsewhere.

Although the new Imperialism had been bad business for the nation, it has been good business for certain classes and certain trades within the nation. The vast expenditure on armaments, the costly wars, the grave risks and embarrassments of foreign policy, the checks upon political and social reforms within Great Britain, though fraught with great injury to the nation, have served well the present business interests of certain industries and professions.
It is idle to meddle with politics unless we clearly recognize this central fact and understand what these sectional interests are which are the enemies of national safety and the commonwealth. We must put aside the merely sentimental diagnosis which explains wars or other national blunders by outbursts of patriotic animosity or errors of statecrafts.  (Hobson, Imperialism: A Study, 1902, 46-7)

Yesterday’s column by Glenn Greenwald, on the lies told by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta about the power to assassinate US citizens, was nothing short of miraculous in its expression. It comes at a moment when the “Left” is high about the leaps it is making in combatting class warfare and authoritarianism through Occupy Movements, but remains silent on the one of the most terrifying threats to the liberties of dissenters, and even more terrifying to dissenters who are poor, dark, and unruly in their appearance, sexuality, gender and race.  This is not specifically a moment in which the lives of Muslim men is threatened: that threat has been vividly with us for at least a decade.  This is a moment when the lives of other dissenters will no longer be accommodated: Manning, Assange, Aafia Siddiqui, and yes–Dorli Rainey, veterans like Scott Olsen, and your college-going children and outraged next-door neighbors.

Unfortunately, Greenwald is as effective as if he were shouting at the ocean to turn back the tide, it seems, when he points to the repeated lies enunciated by the Administration in defense of its increasing grabs to central authority: to stalk, to frame, engage in surveillance, to declare who is a terrorist sans evidence, and ultimately, to kill in the name of national security:

But this is one of the towering, unanswerable hypocrisies of Democratic Party politics (Greenwald’s link). The very same faction that pretended for years to be so distraught by Bush’s mere eavesdropping on and detention of accused Terrorists without due process is now perfectly content to have their own President kill accused Terrorists without due process, even when those targeted are their fellow citizens: obviously a far more Draconian and permanent abuse than eavesdropping or detention (identically, the very same faction that objected to Bush’s radical whole-world-is-a-Battlefield theory now must embrace exactly that theory to justify how someone riding in a car, or sitting at home, or sleeping in his bed, in a country where no war is declared, is “on a battlefield” at the time the CIA ends his life).

Here is one of the most remarkable segments of CBS’ Scott Pelley’s interview with the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (I can’t get it to embed but you can click on the link).

Check out this statement by Panetta (even non-analytic philosophers like me get the tautologies):

…[i]f someone is a citizen of the United States and is a terrorist who wants to attack our people, and kill Americans, in my book that person is a terrorist. And the reality is that under our laws that person is a terrorist. And we’re required under a process of law to be able to justify that despite the fact that this person may be a citizen, he is first and foremost a terrorist who threatens our people. And for that reason, we can establish a legal basis by which we can go after that person…Why? Because their goal is to kill our people…

As puzzling to me has been the simultaneous consolidation of progressives in outrage at the true parasites of capitalism and the silence of protest, indignance, or similar outrage at the blatant falsehoods articulated by the members of a Democratic administration such as Panetta, who insists that the assassination of Muslim men who are deemed “terrorists” is a cogent example of due process. As Panetta responded to journalist Scott Pelley’s repeated questioning about the lack of due process, about the absence of evidence for the charges of terrorism that were leveled against US citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki and several others: Due process is seen in the execution of the “legal” power that the President has in assassinating those who are terrorists.


Compare this moment today to the one Hobson describes in 1902:

Indeed, it has become a commonplace of history how Governments use national animosities, foreign wars and the glamour of empire-making, in order to bemuse the popular mind and divert rising sentiment against domestic abuses. The vested interests, which, on our analysis, are shown to be chief prompters of an imperialist policy, play for a double stake, seeking their private commercial and financial gains at the expense the peril of the commonwealth.  They at the same time protect their economic and political supremacy at home against movements of popular reform. (Hobson, 1902, 142)

The threat of the Occupy movements dovetail with the threat of the dissenters against Imperialism, assassinations, indefinite detention, and brute aggression in the face of disobedience to authoritarianism. It may be coincidental that NDAA was passed in the fall, in the wake of a very energetic and visible presence of a cross-section of protestors. NDAA may not in fact expand much in the way of powers that the AUMF didn’t already do. But it is interesting that the need for a renewed military budget (ostensibly what some analysts of NDAA tell us the bill is really about) can be justified in the face of explicit clauses that enable the possibility of holding citizens who “support” enemy groups and opens up the possibility of detaining US Citizens indefinitely as potential terrorists. As usual, the question about how to challenge this arises– when the right to a lawyer and habeas have been eliminated–through the USA PATRIOT Act and by practice and Court opinions for the last decade.


And so, as Occupy activist Maria Lewis points out,

…[T]he idea that reclaiming vacant abandoned buildings is terrorism is very retelling of the city’s priorities and of what the city—what the Oakland Police Department serves and protects. They are more interested in protecting abandoned private property than they are the people. And the idea that opening up a social center is terrorism is very telling of the narrative of the police state.

Very telling, indeed.

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