Meditations on White Privilege and Racial Injustice

Update I & II (below):

In the months leading up to last week’s elections, there were multiple occasions when white liberals deployed the charge of racial and gender “privilege” against other whites. Such accusations were lobbed against those who argued that over the last four years, the Democratic Administration had pursued policies that resulted in serious physical, social, and economic harms against men and women of color in the United States and internationally.

The damage wrought upon minorities under a 9-11 regime began with the Bush Administration, which intensified the scrutiny of all Muslims. In many cases, being a Muslim male became a criminal act. That criminality has been continued and expanded under the Obama Administration. More generally, the active destruction and criminalization of Black and brown men and women can be seen in numerous policies promoted over the last four years.

The U.S. government’s message that poor and vulnerable populations of color are worth little, or even expendable, has been amplified.  It is not too extreme to suggest that the right to live has been greatly mitigated for poor, and vulnerable black and brown peoples. And that is in the U.S.; internationally, the Obama Administration has amplified its focus in assault on brown and black populations of various countries, between drone wars, invasions, and other wars.

Yet, the response to commentators—at least those who are white or male–who have precisely criticized POTUS/Dems on their assaults on the civil and human rights violations of Black, brown, and Muslim folks has been to accuse them of white or male “privilege.” This is a bewildering accusation, especially as it has been lobbed by other white men and women (Black and brown critics of the POTUS/Dems’ racial politics have been largely ignored by those same detractors).

Stated simply, we are not talking about white privilege here. The term “white privilege” is increasingly used for the public moral shaming of whites whose politics other whites disagree with. Not for that reason alone, white privilege is becoming an increasingly ineffective term. White “privilege” relies on its relative politeness to obfuscate the most urgent concern in post 9-11 United States: the state-led power that facilitates the emaciation of vulnerable populations.  By state-led power, I refer to directives, laws, bills, and executive/congressional endorsements of policies that authorize the neglect, indifference, or active harm or persecution of US “minorities” and dark foreign nationals in the US and in nations with whom the US is at odds.

We have ample evidence of this: the expansion of the drug war and more frequent prosecutions of petty drug possessions (despite state—approved medical marijuana laws)[*];  FBIled entrapment of Muslim men for terrorist acts; counterterrorism prosecutions in which the defense is required to do its work with its hands tied (through the absence of known charges, evidence or Constitutional guidelines).  As well, the conditions of incarceration have been shocking for Muslim men imprisoned in the United States for dissenting speech acts (which is about the only provable “crime” in many cases): solitary confinement, Special Administrative Measures which restrict the ability to pray or pray in Arabic, visiting time with family, having fresh air. The list goes on.

Under the Obama Administration, we have seen the institutionalized expansion of unchecked executive power to determine which US citizens, children, and foreign nationals to kill (NDAA), to arrest for protest (H.R. 347), to arrest and cross-check with FBI databases for visa violations (Secure Communities). We now take for granted preventive detention, kill lists, and centralized surveillance in the form of Fusion Centers.

Certainly, there is cultural, “ironic,” aesthetic, media racism–but the most immediate and dire racism is that involved in the violation of the political and legal rights of human beings. Of U.S. and foreign nationals.  When white men point these out, they are using their privilege to highlight those harms to other populations. The attention that they draw to the assaults inflicted upon black and brown bodies doesn’t make them racist. It makes them the allies of black and brown folks who are being injured. It makes them my allies insofar as the harms done to black and brown women and men are among my most urgent concerns.

In fact, many of us, white and brown and black have different kinds and degrees of privilege. But after the 2008 elections and the last four years of a Black president, it is far from clear that we have a more racially progressive society. While a certain visual racial harmony is actively promoted in television and media in the form of interracial friendships, relationships, and children, it obscures the material injustice that is waged below the surface.

Racial or gender progressivism cannot—should not– be assessed from symbolic gestures such as the invitation to cocktails and dinner at the White House, or the public performance of a marriage, or the camera-mediated emotions of public figures.  They may be comforting, but they do not—should not–detract from attention to the damage that state-led policies are imposing on black, white, brown human bodies or psyches.

The racial injustice that must be urgently challenged falls along the grid of human rights violations, that is, the violations to one’s human dignity and well-being. Violations of basic human rights—those which are not articulated in the US constitution, but which nevertheless follow from a shared understanding of humanity—can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). Some argue that the UNDHR is more of a normative—moral—framework, than a political framework. In other words, the idea behind the UNDHR is that, while a number of these rights appear to be similar to those articulated in the US Constitution (for good reason: they were co-authored by Eleanor Roosevelt, spouse of FDR), they are considered to apply to human beings regardless of a person’s national affiliation, and they speak to a positive understanding of rights which emphasizes social and psychic well-being.

I understand the myriad arguments about the unenforceability of the UNDHR. The formidable Ms. A(rendt) was dubious of the capacity to invoke human rights when human beings are forced outside a political system—when they become stateless. My concern, however, is that we must shift our deeply American—myopic, culturally narcissistic, exceptionalist–worldview to consider a different normative model for racial and human justice: one that attends to the well-being or flourishing, of human beings.

Racism and whiteness, as we’ve seen throughout this election and after, often go together. But whiteness can also be used to highlight and criticize the civil and human rights violations that are imposed on vulnerable Black and brown populations, without deserving the term “racism,” or “privilege.” In post 9-11 United States, those who engage in the latter—by allying themselves with darker vulnerable populations–often reap few benefits by speaking out against state-led racism, xenophobia, and material racial and gender injustice.


[*] Will the Feds continue this policy even after 2 successful state measures to legalize marijuana in WA and CO?

Update I: Perhaps an answer to my question above: A petition to insist on states’ rights to legalize, regulate, and tax pot and booze.

Update II: I should note that this essay doesn’t preclude the fact that, even as allies, white progressives have been susceptible to not seeing the racial complexities of imperialism–as we can all be. For example, as in the cases of Syrian and Iran, it is possible to be against the assaults on human beings and also against direct military intervention. The following posts explore these complexities in nuanced ways:
1. Guest blogger Prof. Omar Dahi on Syria.
2. Raha Iranian Feminist Collective essay on the moral and political complexities of a progressive response to Iran.
3. A letter also by Raha on this blog which articulates beautifully a similar point.

Protecting Women and Children: France, Drones and Disingenuous Justifications

Formerly Titled: Protecting the Honor of Women and Children: Allons-y!

Update I [below]

Any day now, I expect that the US will do the right thing and invade France–or at least send stealth drones–to manage the Gallic descent into degradation and chaos. The French judicial system just today has acquitted 6 of 10 men who gang-raped two teens repeatedly; it gave the remaining 4 men fewer than 3-year sentences. It gets worse: because of time already served, only one man was returned to prison. The two women were in their teens, and were raped for years by “scores” of men. I can’t summarize it. Here is the description in today’s Guardian:

The alleged Fontenay-sous-Bois attacks took place between 1999 and 2001. One night returning from a cinema, aged 16, Nina, described as a tomboy who was good at school, said she was grabbed by a local group of youths, taken to basement cellars in the flats, raped and subjected to a series of brutal sex attacks by scores of local boys. The extremely violent, prolonged sex attacks by large groups of boys continued daily, in car-parks, stairwells, apartments, cellars and the empty playground of a local nursery school. She said there would be “at least 25” youths present during attacks in which she screamed, protested, cried and vomited. One witness described 50 boys “queuing” to attack her.

Threatened that her flat would be burned down if she spoke out, she was afraid to tell her mother, who noticed she was washing eight to 10 times a day.

The women kept quiet for years about the attacks until 2005, when Nina was left unconscious by one final brutal beating following years of abuse and finally told a female police officer. Psychiatric experts had agreed that both women were the victims of rape.

We know that the French have long had a history of devaluing women and their testimony regarding rape and sexual assault. Remember the French’s response to the allegations of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sexual assaults? Scores of French denizens, including philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, rushed to defend him. They couldn’t believe that such a celebrated figure, the head of the IMF no less, could ever have done such a thing–despite the detailed accounts of Tristan Banon, the French journalist and god-daughter of DSK’s second wife, who described having to fend off the advances of the “rutting chimpanzee.” The Guardian’s account seems to confirm the same French’s attitude towards the gang-rape charges.

Clothilde Lepetit, a lawyer for one of the women, now in her 20’s, described the trials as “a judicial shipwreck. Here is another excerpt from the same article:

Another lawyer for the women, Laure Heinich, asked: “What sentence makes sense when one hears that gang-rapists are given a three years suspended sentence?” The case, which has gripped the country, has highlighted the problems in historic rape investigations where material evidence is lacking and much rests on the women’s word. Lawyers for the women said they felt the women’s testimony had not been respected during the trial.

Amid surprise at the verdict in France, the justice minister, Christiane Taubira, said there could be grounds to appeal. “Personally, I’m shocked by gang-rapes, by every form of aggression against women and I think we have to create conditions so that the facts are established and those guilty can be effectively identified.”

The women’s minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, said the case had shown that better education on sex and sexuality was needed in schools.

Sounds like the descriptions we hear of Pakistan. Vallaud-Belkacem is wrong: we need more than better education on sex and sexuality in France. We know that the French adore democracy, reason, and political freedom, because Ayaan Hirsi Ali has told us so. From the outrage gleaned, it makes sense that the rape trials were shams and that democracy is missing in France.

And where democracy and civilization are missing, we must be consistent in our stance against terror and anti-women actions. After all, we brought our beloved troops into the clash of civilizations between the Middle East and the freedom-loving “Developed World.” We needed to help replace the sovereign authority and sham judicial system of Iraq—and our troops did it! They not only toppled Iraqi oppression, they won their hearts and minds. Now it only makes sense—I’m sure Niall Ferguson would agree—that we must reintroduce democracy to the former light of the western model of fraternité, liberté, egalité—in the form of an invasion, or at the very least, drones.

Why am I so sure? Because we have heard from various elements that the vicious attack by the Taliban on the 14 year old Pakistani girl indeed confirms–justifies the POTUS’ decision to continue a (no-longer-stealthy) drone war. As Paul Whitefield of the Los Angeles Times sagely points out:

And this isn’t the horrible “honor killings” or acid attacks or whatever that we read about. This is a group attempting to kill a young girl to make a political statement.

How do you deal with such people? Sadly, I say you have to fight fire with fire.

Gibson’s right. People are cowering in terror in their homes in Pakistan, fearful of U.S. drones. But there are many kinds of terror, and in Pakistan, too much of it is home-grown.

So at this point, those terrible, deadly drones help Americans — and girls like Malala Yousafzai — sleep at night, knowing that they keep the Taliban from doing the same.

Paul Whitefield seems pretty content to discard due process and instead depend upon the razor sharp intel (and unverifiable for national security purposes) that justifies countless assassinations of foreign and U.S. nationals, interrogations (cf Maher Arar, Omar Khadr, Adnan Latif), torture, renditions, the declaration of wars on terror in “any” parts of the world where the United States sees that lives of women are at stake. He echoes Former First Lady Laura Bush’s sentiments, who informed us under her spouse’s Administration that we needed to invade Afghanistan because women were suffering under the Taliban. I take solace in the concern of American women-feminists—looking out for their oppressed counterparts—and I look forward to their consistent and applied pressure on their spouses to do the right thing in France. So I’m expecting Whitefield and other feminists to champion and endorse an invasion of France along with Cleveland, Texas (see below), and elsewhere where women can’t expect to sleep safely at night—or during the day.

Irony aside—let me say clearly that what happened to Malala Yousafszai, the 14 year-old outspoken activist shot by the Taliban in Pakistan is unjust, outrageous and shocking. According to mainstream media, it has—and should have–sparked outrage in Pakistan. In the United States, the widespread attention to the shooting is notable in the near eclipse of attention to the violence targeted against women all over the U.S., Canada, and other “first world” Western nations. I can’t help but wonder about the outrage—especially in contrast to the continued gang-rape of the two French teens, the gang-rape of the 11 year old in Cleveland, Texas by 20, TWENTY, men—a rape by the way that induced the denizens of Cleveland, TX to lay blame upon the victim for being promiscuous, for dressing too provocatively (and we think the Taliban are the only bass-ackwards group out there?). It makes me physically ill to consider the way an entire town flanked to protect the 20 men involved in raping her. I’m waiting for U.S. Armed Forces to invade Cleveland, Texas, or maybe send some drones in to bring some civility to those adults.

It makes me equally physically ill to hear the smug, righteous screams of Americans who exploit the horrific Taliban attack on Malala Yousafszai to justify the deaths of 2000-3000 men.

[An aside: these are the numbers that we have if we take seriously the report that “only” 1/6th to 1/3rd of the victims who’ve died from drone attacks since 2004 were civilians. And that’s before we try to reconcile that statement with the “Living Under Drones” Stanford/NYU report released in the last month that

All reporting of government accounts of “militant” deaths should include acknowledgment that the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants,” absent exonerating evidence. Media accounts relying on anonymous government sources should also highlight the fact of their single-source information and of the past record of false government reports.

Avid followers of the drone “debates” will be familiar with American Security Fellow Joshua Foust’s criticism of the report—including the charge of “bias” of small sample size of interviewees, and nonrandom interviewees, i.e. concluding that the report did not try objectively to count who really was a civilian victim and who was not. They might also be familiar with Kevin Gosztola’s and others’ ensuing challenges and exchanges to Foust as well as Gosztola’s challenge to Reuters reporter Myra MacDonald. The fairly obvious and definitive point of rebuttal was that it’s a bit hard for dead civilians to prove their innocence. And by extension, that the numbers are most likely severely deflated. Apologies to those of you who found that statement a bit obvious.]

The retroactive justification of an eight-year systemic drone war on Pakistan (ramped up 400% under the present Democratic POTUS) with a country with whom we are not officially at war–is heinous and morally despicable. It reminds me of the various right-wing charges of moral equivocation in 2002 as critics of the war on Terror suggested that the U.S. historical presence as an empire might have had something to do with the attacks upon the Twin Towers. How ironic that the apologists for the drones in Pakistan are engaging in a similar, morally problematic game of retroactive justification and moral equivocation.

If we really care about protecting the safety and security of women and children then presumably, those same defenders of drones will rise up to demand that we send in the National Guard and Active forces to France, Sweden, the UK, and the rest of Europe-where children have been captured, tortured, raped. If we really care about protecting the safety and security of dissenters and activists, then presumably, those same defenders of drones will rise up to demand the release of Julian Assange, Bradly Manning, Tarek Mehanna, and hundreds of others who have insisted that they want a life. Those same defenders will demand a repeal of Section 1031 of NDAA 2012, FISA, H.R. 347, and countless other erosions upon free speech, whistleblowing, and dissent in the U.S. [I am preparing for the onslaught of detractors who will call me batshit crazy for insisting upon a dose of skepticism with respect to assurances by the U.S.—or any government—about actions taken to protect its citizens that require secrecy and confidentiality. See every post I’ve ever written in the last year on PATRIOT Act, NDAA, FISA, H.R. 347, etc. Despite those seductive assurances, shockingly, I still tend to feel that I’m owed an accounting for the state’s actions in form of legal procedure. Must be PMS.]

I’m waiting, Paul Whitefield, Joshua Foust, Myra MacDonald, and others—to join forces to protect the safety of women, children, and activists around the world. Anyone? Hello? Hello?

Update:

Sadia Toor has an excellent article, “Imperialist Feminism Redux,” in Dialectical Anthropology. There, she argues seriously & clearly against the imperialist mentality that justifies drones, wars, invasions, i.e. what I am satirizing in this piece. Thanks to @avelokiteshvara for the lead.

White Privilege, the Dems, and the Rhetoric of “Care”

To read some of the exchanges over the last week in the blogosphere, apparently “white privilege” means that one doesn’t attend to race and class issues at home, but instead privileges “foreign policy” and “national security” issues. This implies that there is privilege in worrying about the bodies and violations to foreign nationals over the bodies of brown and black Americans. Ok, let me grant that assumption for a second.  Still, I wonder why issues such as warrantless wiretapping, surveillance, unlawful (and supposedly “lawful,” warrantless) detention of US Muslim men of South Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds, the nullification of judicial review, the assassination of not just 1, but multiple, US citizens, the incarceration of U.S. citizens (black and brown), should be deprioritized by American voters. Are these not issues that should be of concern especially to folks who are unencumbered by an excess of “white privilege”?

Still granting the assumption that worrying about foreign issues involves undue privilege: I wonder, after considering some of the policies that the present Administration has supported and backed (from NDAA 2012, Expansion and Renewal of FISA, Expansion of prisons, expansion of DHS deportations of migrants; expansion of detention centers), in which ways have U.S people of color and poor  people benefited under the present Democratic Administration? There may be some, such as college loans forgiveness, and the absence of a concerted attack on reproductive rights. But there are certainly anti-choice Dems, such as Harry Reid, who have managed to stifle somewhat. I would hardly call Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to revoke access to OTC contraception a big win for pro-choice folks.

According to a number of progressive economists, the top 20% has remained pretty unaffected by the present Democratic Administration, and I’m betting that includes some of the folks lobbing around the “white privilege” accusation.  Could it not be the case that one is exemplifying white privilege by deciding that one should be loyal to the Administration and the Democratic Party in the face of a range of demonstrable discriminations against certain kinds of minority populations? In the face of violations to certain kinds of brown and black bodies? Does such a loyalty not imply that those who are in a position to make choices are simply refusing to see the world that they themselves have made, by insisting on a repeated loyalty to the Democratic Party, despite the years of abusive behavior on the part of the Dems? Charles Mills calls this “the epistemology of ignorance,” namely that state of the world in which whites refuse to see the world that they themselves have made.

According to a report by the Pew Research Center, “Median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and by 53% among black households during the financial crisis, compared with a fall of just 16% among white households.”

Presumably, the President so cared about the devastating impact to US populations of color that he was going to support California Attorney General Kamala Harris to get as much from the banks as she could, right? POTUS’ response was to pressure Harris to accept a ridiculous settlement with the 5 BIG BANKS of $25 billion dollars, which cashes out either to $750 or $840—yes, you read that right– per household for families who lost their houses due to subprime mortgages.

Again, according to the Pew report:

“A disproportionate share of Hispanics live in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which were in the vanguard of the housing real estate market bubble of the 1990s and early 2000s but that have since been among the states experiencing the steepest declines in housing values.”

Take a look at those quotes again. This is not a “white privilege” issue. It affects U.S. minorities more so than whites. Clearly, the Big Banks must have “cared” about those homeowners, too, right? They must just have been broke, to pay so little. Right. According to today’s Bloomberg, “Even as U.S. unemployment has remained above 8 percent for 43 months, the country’s biggest banks are making almost as much as they ever have.” Namely, a combined $63 billion in profits.  The original rescue was signed by Bush, but what exactly did O require in terms of accountability from the banks? Anyone?

As I mentioned in my last post, the privilege of deciding that the lives of others are easy to sacrifice, the privilege of deciding that certain civil rights are more important than human rights violations will backfire—This is nationalist privilege—American privilege, to be exact. And it has already backfired.  We are seeing the backlash in all kinds of cases—cases like that of Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, Sami Al-Arian, and hundreds of others.

Ultimately, I don’t care who Democrats vote for because I accept the argument that “the structure is broken.”  If it’s broken, voting for the Democrats yet again isn’t going to fix it. Instead, it’s going to amplify the message that Democratic voters have sent for the last 20 years: Please, screw us again. Abandon your constituents for yet another 4 years. And we’ll reward you as you move even further to the right after every term—we’ll send you the message that “we like it, we love it, and we want more of it.” It’s a state-of-emergency politics: It’s an emergency, so we have to vote for the “lesser evil” of 2 states. And the cycle will continue.

If voting for the incumbent accords with your conscience, then by all means do so. If you, like me–despise the Democratic record on wars, drones, murders, assassinations, detention, torture, solitary confinement of foreign nationals without charges (and that includes migrants of various nationalities—since solitary confinement is used more and more widely), but still feel that this vote matters, voting for POTUS is a better option to other options, do what you need to do.

But don’t bake me a dungpie and tell me it’s my birthday. Just tell the truth. Tell the truth about the Democrats’ record on civil liberties issues, on NDAA 2012, on H.R. 347, on S.Comm, on detention policies, on migration policies, on deportation policies. Don’t tell me that the Democrats “care” more, or that “Obama’s heart is in the right place,” or “he would have done more if we didn’t have a GOP-led Congress (um—again, how did that stop the Dems from getting things done in the first two years under Obama?), or that he’s pro-union, or that innocent civilians aren’t getting killed, or that the Affordable Care Act involved actual health care reform, or that Obama’s not interested in cutting Social Security, or that the Dems “care” about civil liberties or human rights violations.

And by the way, how does one know whether Obama or the Dems “care”? Just because they say so? If POTUS is willing to lie about not wanting the U.S. government to be able to kill Americans (thanks, Sen. Carl Levin), then why wouldn’t he lie about whether he “cares” for you, me, or black and brown folk?

Why don’t the same folks who insist that we must vote for the Dems believe that the Republicans “care” just as much? Because of their track record, I hear. Ok, that’s my standard for the Democrats, too. For those who insist that POTUS/Dems cares about poor black and brown folks, I’ve explored the track record on “care” all over this site. For some examples, see here and here and here.

A friend whose political insights I respect tremendously suggested that she was voting for the incumbent precisely because there are racists who will vote against him because he’s black. I can respect that.  Others suggest that they’re voting Dem to “prevent GOP access to power.” Okay, I can live with that—but I don’t buy that this will increase the likelihood that poor folks, folks of color in the US and internationally will be less vulnerable to having social safety nets or economic structures decimated by Democrats.

Just do what you need to do, but stop insisting that folks who reject the false dichotomy between the lives of U.S. folks of color, black and brown, and the lives of international folks of color are “conservatives,” or libertarians.

And the day after the election, for those of you who feel like you had to vote for the Democrats as the least crappy option among crappy options, please, let’s start pursuing the viability of a third party. We need to change the conversation, we need to hold the Democrats accountable for abandoning voters, poor folks, black and brown folks—in the US and elsewhere. Only the threat of not being re-elected, of losing “winnable votes” will bring them around.

John Knefel: Adnan Latif Wrote to his Lawyer About Why He Wanted to End His Life

This article is reblogged from Alternet.org. It is a must-read and sheds more light on the needless and groundless circumstances that led Latif to give up all hope on his ever leaving Guantanamo Bay.I will refrain from calling this a tragedy: a tragedy is thought to be inevitable. Latif’s incarceration and suicide were anything but. What happened to Latif is a travesty. And there is plenty of blame to be assigned: to the past and current Presidential Administrations; the Supreme Court, and the U.S. Military, for starters.

What happened to Latif is still happening: and not only to Guantanamo detainees. Incarceration without due process rights, under unjust circumstances or false evidence is a regular event that happens to thousands of minorities–men and women–everyday in the United States: in U.S. prisons and detention facilities that hold migrants and refugees. More on this in a future post.

Dead Gitmo Prisoner’s Tragic Letter About Why He Gave Up on Life

by John Knefel

September 13, 2012  |

Adnan Latif was found dead in his cell on September 10th, 2012, just a day before the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. He was 32. Latif, a Yemeni citizen, had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade, despite a 2010 court ruling that ordered the Obama administration to “take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps to facilitate Latif’s release forthwith,” due to lack of evidence that he had committed any crime. He suffered at the hands of the US government in ways that most people can’t begin to comprehend, and his death should be a reminder that the national shame that is Guantanamo Bay lives on and now enjoys bipartisan support.

Reexamining a letter  he wrote to his lawyer David Remes in December of 2010 shows the depths of his despair near the end of his life. His letter begins simply. The first paragraph is just one devastating sentence: “Do whatever you wish to do, the issue is over.” He then goes on to describe Guantanamo as, “a prison that does not know humanity, and does not know [sic] except the language of power, oppression, and humiliation for whoever enters it.”

“Anybody who is able to die,” Latif writes, “will be able to achieve happiness for himself, he has no hope except that.”

He continues:

“The requirement…is to leave this life which is no longer anymore [sic] called a life, instead it itself has become death and renewable torture. Ending it is a mercy and happiness for this soul. I will not allow any more of this and I will end it.”

Latif attempted suicide in 2009 by slitting his wrists, and his attorney, David Remes, has said that he tried to kill himself on other occasions as well.

A car accident in 1994 left Latif with a head injury, which he was attempting to get treated in Afghanistan when he was captured near the border by Pakistani authorities. In January, 2002, he was sent to Guantanamo, with the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first detainees. According to the ACLU, Latif was cleared to be released in 2004, 2007, 2009, and again in 2010 by US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy. The Obama DOJ appealed the 2010 decision, in part because of a policy of not transferring detainees to Yemen, and so Latif remained in custody – not because of what he had done (which was nothing), but because of where he was born. The decision to appeal his release wasn’t a holdover from the Bush era. That was an affirmative decision made by the Obama administration, and any supporters who hoped Obama would close Guantanamo Bay should understand that fact.

Latif is far from the only prisoner still held at Guantanamo despite being okayed for release. “Over half of the people left in Gitmo have been cleared for years,” said Cori Crider, Legal Director at Reprieve in charge of managing litigation on secret prisons,who has represented clients detained at Guantanamo. Crider went on to say that although conditions at the prison are better than they were in 2002, indefinite detention is enough to break people.  “That young man, who was, say, twenty when he is seized, is thirty. He sees his life slipping away from him with no sign of release. Hopelessness takes lives at Gitmo now.”

There are, unsurprisingly, international legal ramifications to Latif’s death as well. “When a Government deprives a person of their liberty and keeps them in detention, it exercises almost complete control over that person’s security and well-being. Because of this control, if a person dies in custody, there is a presumption under international law of government responsibility,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, Former Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. “Thus, for any death in custody, the government must accept legal responsibility, or affirmatively demonstrate that it was not responsible for the death.” The understandable reaction that this is merely another example in an already disgracefully long list of international crimes committed since 9/11 only underscores how radical and warped US national security and foreign policy has become.

“A world power failed to safeguard peace and human rights and from saving me. I will do whatever I am able to do to rid myself of the imposed death on me at any moment of this prison.”

Adnan Latif’s letter is in full below. (Click to read a larger version)

Fear and Loathing of and by Brown People: Let’s Remember Our Histories

Yesterday, I received this message on a list of family friends and relatives who would self-identify as Indian. The email, which was in 24 point font, replete with a (different) picture of Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, who supposedly said these things, and an emblem of the United States flag, waving, at the bottom of the missive.

BRAVO!

W O W ! She Did It Again!!!Australia says NO — This will be the second Time Julia Gillard has done this!

She sure isn’t backing down on her hard line stance and one has to appreciate her belief in the rights of her native countrymen.


A breath of fresh air to see someone lead. Australian Prime Minister does it again!!


The whole world needs a leader like this!

Prime Minister Julia Gillard – Australia


Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia, as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks.


Separately, Gillard angered some Australian Muslims on Wednesday by saying she supported spy agencies monitoring the nation’s mosques. Quote: ‘IMMIGRANTS, NOT AUSTRALIANS, MUST ADAPT… Take It Or Leave It. I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali , we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of Australians.’


‘This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom.’


‘We speak mainly ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society, learn the language!’


‘Most Australians believe in God. This is not some Christian, right wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because God is part of our culture.’


‘We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why. All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us.’


‘This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian beliefs, or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, ‘THE RIGHT TO LEAVE’.’


‘If you aren’t happy here then LEAVE. We didn’t force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country YOU accepted.’


NOTE:
IF we circulate this amongst ourselves in Canada & USA , WE will find the courage to start speaking and voicing the same truths.

If you agree please SEND THIS ON
and ON, to as many people as you know…

I have received many of these emails before, but for the sake of keeping peace, I have ignored them. But in the last 11 days, there have been eight (8) attacks on religious centers: 1 on the gurdwara in Oak Creek and 7 on mosques around the United States. I am unable to ignore this email.

I am reminded of the admonition made by Rinku Sen in the aftermath of the Oak Creek gurdwara shootings. Sen urged her white friends to “make a fuss, cause a family crisis, become unpopular, speak up” in the face of such statements about foreigners. And even though Sen addressed this to her white friends, I think the same message applies to folks like myself. And like Samita Mukhopadhyay, whose poignant column about her mother’s response to the Oak Creek shootings, I hope we can find the right response.

I grew up in this country surrounded mostly by whites, and very few South Asians. Maybe it explains something, maybe nothing. But it means that I often see the world through the eyes of someone who was bullied and teased mercilessly—for what? At the time, I thought it was because I was so ugly, with my long coconut-oiled hair, thick-framed glasses, unfashionable Sears polo shirts and ill-fitting purple pants—because that’s what they made fun of. I thought it was because my mother didn’t know better than to wear a sari and dot on her forehead, and a nose ring in public—because that’s what they made fun of. I thought it was because my mother refused to let me go to classmates’ houses after school until first coming home so that she could see that I was safe. I thought it was because I deserved it.

It wasn’t until a decade later, when recounting these stories to a grad-school roommate who tilted her head and looked at me quizzically and asked, “You do realize that you were the target of racism, right?” that I realized those stories for what they were.

The above speech can not be attributed to Julia Gillard. It is a chain letter that has been circulating for two years. Whether she harbors similar sentiments, even under the Labor Party, I’ll write about in a future post. But let’s pretend, for a short moment, that there really was someone, akin to the Australian Prime Minister—we’ll call her the Ghost Minister–who said this:

This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom.

Which culture might the Ghost Minister be referring to? Would it be the culture of prisoners and convicts who were sent to Australia to live out their penance far away from the “civilized shores of England?” Would it be the culture that assumed that Australia was “terra nullius,” an empty land, even though it was inhabited by many indigenous tribes, who were conquered and quarantined by the whites who were shunned by their own English countrymen?

Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia

Does the Ghost Minister know what Sharia Law is? It is not the fundamentalist law publicized by the fear-mongering media and Christian fundamentalists (who would like their own fundamentalist laws imposed upon all of us, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs). As Yale professor of Religious Studies Eliyahu Stern tells us in the New York Times that the efforts to outlaw Sharia Law in the United States

would curtail Muslims from settling disputes over dietary laws and marriage through religious arbitration, while others would go even further in stigmatizing Islamic life.
 

South Asian Hindus have long understood what it means to have a foreign state authority curtail their practices, since they remember when British colonial authorities imposed restrictions on whether women could wear saris without blouses in public, or which religious practices are acceptable.

Similarly, Sharia law reflects precepts that have to do with daily life. How would vegetarian Hindus understand a mandate that they MUST eat meat to supplement the protein in their diets–except as a disciplining and show of state power (and as I write this, I’m reminded of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s restrictions on sodas larger than 16 ounces)?

In France, several months ago, Marine Le Pen, the right-wing candidate for President, started a huge public furor by charging that French public schools, which served lunch daily, were serving Halal meat! Egads! Halal meat is meat that has been produced under Islamic dietary strictures that symbolize hygiene and purity.

Then President Sarko, in a fight to keep his seat, initially refused to be baited, but ultimately rose to Le Pen’s challenge by vowing to look into the matter and ridding the schools of Halal meat. Let us suppose the charge was true (it was never proven to be so). Why, then, did the French state—or at least scions of authority such as LePen and Sarko care? Were they concerned that ingesting halal meat would suddenly produce hordes of young white French Muslims spouting the Qu’ran? Hardly. Perhaps as animal rights activists have suggested, it is a crueler method of slaughtering animals for meat, since it bans the stunning of animals before slaughter, and it bothered Sarko and Le Pen. Sarkozy and Le Pen: Animal-rights activists? I think not.

Rather, it was because Muslim-baiting has become a popular pastime in France, along with virulent xenophobia and anti-immigration jousting. And Sarko lost anyway (only to be succeeded by Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate and a supposedly kinder, lefter guy who’s turning out to be pretty authoritarian himself). Let that be a lesson to…the American voter.

Why would it be acceptable to impose dietary or marriage restrictions on Muslims’ religious laws? These are private matters every bit as much as Hindu religious law is. Unlike the misperception in the bill passed in the Tennessee General Assembly, Sharia law is not something that Muslims want to impose on the larger public. Nor is Sharia Law “a set of rules that promote ‘the destruction of the national existence of the United States,’” as Stern states. He continues:

This is exactly wrong. The crusade against Shariah undermines American democracy, ignores our country’s successful history of religious tolerance and assimilation, and creates a dangerous divide between America and its fastest-growing religious minority.
 
The suggestion that Shariah threatens American security is disturbingly reminiscent of the accusation, in 19th-century Europe, that Jewish religious law was seditious. In 1807, Napoleon convened an assembly of rabbinic authorities to address the question of whether Jewish law prevented Jews from being loyal citizens of the republic. (They said that it did not.)
 

To be fair, the misperception of Sharia Law is widespread. At dinner some months ago with otherwise erudite white American friends, I found myself having to rebuff their kneejerk scorn of Sharia by sharing a story that I heard at a philosophy conference some years ago. It was told by a young white Canadian lawyer who represented a Muslim woman in her divorce proceedings. As the lawyer pointed out Canadian courts, like American courts, only recognize written contracts. This fact made it difficult for her client to obtain compensation as promised by her ex-husband’s family, because it was an oral promise cemented by an imam, and therefore unenforceable in a Canadian court. By convincing the Canadian court to recognize Sharia, her client was able to obtain what was due her.

Sadakat Kadri, author of a book that explores both the hard-line and more flexible interpretations of Sharia, speculates upon the mad fear of Sharia Law in the United States:

It’s crazy, basically. It’s this idea that Shariah is some kind of movement to take over the United States or a conspiracy to overturn American freedoms. That isn’t what Shariah is. There are certainly hard-line interpretations of Islamic law. But these measures don’t even claim to restrict themselves to that. They claim to prevent the courts from taking any account at all of the Shariah, which potentially means that a court can’t, for example, take account of someone’s will. If someone says they want to be buried according to Muslim rituals laid down in the Shariah, a court would theoretically not be able to take account of that. And, of course, it’s possible to say, ‘That’s not what the law’s aimed at. The law’s aimed at something very different.’ But as everyone should know by now, liberties begin to erode when you have laws that are too widely drawn.
 

According to Dwight Garner, who has a review of Kadri’s book in this past Sunday’s New York Times:

In [Kadri’s] reading of the Shariah, he finds rationality and flexibility. His argument is with recent hard-liners who, he writes, “have turned Islamic penal history on its head.”
He is furious that fundamentalists “have associated the Shariah in many people’s minds with some of the deadliest legal systems on the planet.” He calls them traditionalists who ignore tradition. He is disgusted that warped opinions “are mouthed today to validate murder after murder in Islam’s name.
 

It is the misperceptions of Muslims, Sharia, and the outrageous framing of all Muslims as reflecting zealotry and fundamentalism that lead to events like seven mosque attacks in the United States in last 10 days– in the immediate aftermath of the shootings at the gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

To my fellow Indians: Does any of this remind you about the stories of British colonialism in India? Do you remember your mothers’ and grandmothers’ stories of how the British whipped, mutilated, and maimed Indians for not obeying their orders? Does anyone remember the Lahore Lynchings of 1915, a mass spectacle designed by the British colonial authority to warn Indians against further thought of self-rule? Although 24 Indians were scheduled to hang that day, the sentences of 17 were commuted— 7 men were still killed as a warning to others who wanted self-rule.

You must remember the mass hatred incited by India’s political elites, pitting Muslims against Hindus and Hindus against Muslims—I’m sure—because through my mother’s stories and the histories I’ve read—I do, and I wasn’t even there.

I remember my mother’s stories of being turned away from job interviews in the United States because she wore a sari thinking it was the most formal outfit she could wear for such a serious occasion. I remember her pink polyester suit, bought for subsequent interviews, because she felt it would be disrespectful to show her legs at work.

I remember my mother’s humiliation at having insults hurled at her in the 1980’s by ignorant young and old white men who proudly called themselves “Dotbusters.” These racist men told her to “go back to her country,” even though she had lived faithfully by the laws of the United States for twenty-five years.

Don’t you remember similar stories of hate directed against your mothers, sisters, grandmothers and aunts? The British, the Australians, the Americans, The French—and many others engaged in similar acts of savagery condoned by their own governments. Did our mothers and fathers and families deserve this? Certainly mine did not.

Many whites may not see Muslims as deserving of respect and civility. But you can bet that they don’t see me or my family (or yours) as deserving respect and civility either. They don’t care whether you are Muslim or not. They see you, a Hindu, and “them” (Muslims) as one and the same: a brown person who doesn’t speak English (even if you do), or who speaks English with an accent (if you don’t).

I know the stories of Sikhs men who immigrated to California in the early 1900’s. They were harassed, beaten, arrested, and deported, because they were subject to hatred by whites and fear that they were taking away jobs and lowering wages. I have been told of the harassment that Indians were subject to by the British for wanting Self-rule. And I know that the hate-filled curses that were directed against Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims had little to do with whether they “deserved” it, and everything to do with the American and British fear and loathing of Indians.

The Ghost Minister wants everyone to speak English, and not “Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language.” This message has been delivered before, and there is plenty of literature out there to refute it, so I won’t do it here. Suffice it to say that not speaking the language of the land inconveniences no one—except perhaps, the migrant. But it engenders hostility aplenty for reasons that have little to do with the difficulties of language: because it reminds the speaker that he too is merely a traveler on this land, which was taken away from the indigenous, from others, so that he too could grow up on this soil and profess his anger at those who want to live alongside him without succumbing to his norms, his religion, his practices—without succumbing to his demands.

Joining whites in a campaign of racism against Muslims will not garner us, as South Asians, as Indians, as Hindus, respect by those same whites. What I know is that that hatred against Muslims is not warranted. Every single religious group, whether Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, or Jews, has a wing of believers who are militant or radical. But the few don’t speak for the rest of their group, the many who are peace-loving and moderate. By joining in the hatred against another minority group, we betray the innocent, and increase the general hostility towards all minority groups, including our own.

It’s time to stand up to the ignorant bullies, whether American, British, or Australian, or French, or German. It turns out that the above remarks cannot be attributed to Julia Gillard. Still, I don’t doubt that they have been uttered aloud in many places in the world by whites, whose ancestors have been in that country for fewer than 200 years. And I don’t doubt that they will be used again—if not against Muslims, then against you and against me. Isn’t it time to stop standing with racists to harass others who, but for their turbans, beards, hijabs–but for their background—are just like us?

Race, Murder, and Mayhem in America: Considering the Links

Glenn Greenwald is right to be skeptical of any direct causal links between the horrific events such as the Sikh Temple Massacre or the Joplin Mosque and US foreign policy. As he pointed out yesterday,

there are usually a diverse array of complex motives (psychological, emotional, ideological, religious) that drive individuals to engage in violence of this sort, and an equally diverse list of complex causes (legislative, political, cultural) as to why our society fosters and enables it.

And to be fair, most white men who have grown up in the shadow of 9-11 do not shoot up theaters and temples or burn down mosques. But I want to try to be clearer about the links that I’m trying to argue for:

Dylan Rodrigues, a scholar in Ethnic Studies at UC Riverside and author of a great book on Black Radicals in prison, has argued that we need to pay attention to the parallels between the massive numbers of Black and Latino men who are in prison, and our tendencies to incarcerate Muslim men in Guantanamo, or Abu Ghraib. These parallels can alert us to a certain carceral mentality that is mirrored in a country’s international and domestic policies. A number of philosophers and sociologists have argued along similar lines, including Michel Foucault, Angela Davis, and Loiç Wacquant.

Similarly, in my last post and a number of others, that is what I’ve tried to argue that we need to consider: when Dharun Ravi sets up a camera to spy on his gay roommate’s trysts, or Wade Michael Page shoots up a Sikh temple, when US soldiers rape Iraqi women, urinate on dead bodies, and shoot civilians in cold blood in Iraq, we need to move beyond the level of shock and start thinking about the larger political and legal and cultural mentalities in which these events happen.

In particular, we live in a country in which the federal office that oversees the strict regulation of immigrants, visitors, and—yes—citizens, guards the homefront through border security, pre-emptive policing of people’s social, political and financial activity, their emails and phone calls, i.e., “counterterrorism.” That office, ceremoniously renamed the Department of Homeland Security six months after September 11, 2001, is an ostentatious chest-beating symbol of waging a war on “threats to national security.”

In the name of Homeland Security—a hallowed reference to Nazi Germany’s urge to purify their own “heimat”–we have seen the prevalence of United States’ domestic and foreign policies: state-led surveillance of its own people, of the decision to harass foreigners until they leave, i.e., “self-deportation,” of Muslim communities, to incarcerate Muslim men without habeas corpus or a serious legal defense, to outlaw political protest, to give the U.S. president full authority to assassinate and incarcerate “terrorists,” and to the fact of state-led mass destruction in the form of drones, rockets, bombs, chemical warfare and guns?

Why then, talk about white supremactists as if they are loners or part of private gangs? Shouldn’t we remember the US’ emphasis on the Homeland when we watch these shootings and mosque-burnings? When we see images of war and strife in the Middle East? Is it such a strange leap to think of US domestic and foreign policy as part of white supremacist, racial contract, as political philosopher Charles Mills argues (read his book for more on this; it’s clearly written, even for non-philosophers)?

As Greenwald says:

A country which venerates its military above all other institutions, which demands that its soldiers be spoken of only with religious-like worship, and which continuously indoctrinates its population to believe that endless violence against numerous countries is necessary and just — all by instilling intense fear of the minorities who are the target of that endless violence — will be a country filled with citizens convinced of the virtues and nobility of aggression. (the links are in his original piece).

He’s right. I think there’s something else going on as well. At the risk of stating the ridiculously obvious, we live in a country (and still at a time) that has a very difficult time with race politics: And it’s not merely about racial antagonisms having to do with Muslims or Sikhs or Hindus or Sri Lankans or Pakistanis or South Asians and Arabs generally. It has to do with racial hostilities that are legislated against Latinos and Blacks (and by this term, I include all folks who are the victim of anti-black racism, not just African Americans)—and Americans turning a blind eye to these hostilities that are waged against black and brown folks, while expecting white men to act out the scripts of entitlement: declaring and waging war, AND deploying black and brown and working-class whites to war. Americans cheer when whites, blacks, and browns act out their scripts within the confines of state-led policies and laws—and are shocked when whites, blacks, and browns act out their scripts outside of those institutions and laws.

Again, Charles Mills calls this the epistemology of ignorance, that is when whites and elites are completely baffled by—and claim NOT to understand– the very same world that they (through slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, mass criminalization through anti-terror and drug laws)—produced. Mills coined this term, the epistemology of ignorance, hand in hand with the racial contract back in 1997. Can you imagine the furor he caused then?

I agree with Mills—mostly.

As importantly it has to do with the very difficult time we have in calling our political leaders to account whether they are white or non-white; but at the present moment, we are having an especially difficult time calling our current President, who is black, into account—especially for those of us who are politically progressive and constructively race-conscious. The tensions that lie in this political dilemma—during this election year—are enormous. But it doesn’t make us racially or politically progressive to turn a blind eye to the President’s racially destructive policies: like deporting 400,000 migrants a year; like tearing apart families through forced deportation; destroying childhoods through indefinite detention and deportation of their parents without judicial review.

So, taking a page out of Mills’ book, I would suggest that another term that better describes what’s happening today: the epistemology of indifference. White and elites understand perfectly well the world that they have produced. And those liberals AND progressives who vote for them—despite this knowledge—are guilty of the epistemology of indifference: they know and they don’t care. At least, they don’t care enough to reject the false choices handed to them by the Democratic Party.

It doesn’t make us racially or politically progressive to turn a blind eye to the President’s imperially expansive policies. It makes us callous, indifferent, and frankly, part of the problem. Calling him to account doesn’t necessarily make one a racist, unless you are calling him to account because he is black. Similarly, not calling him to account because he’s black is also problematic.

Race in America is an enormously tricky terrain to navigate carefully, justly, ethically. But it needs to be addressed alongside our policies of violence, of invasion, of mass murders in the name of a Secure Homeland, and in ways that don’t celebrate OR vilify single individuals. Rather, we need to clearly, firmly, effectively call those politicians and appointees to account: by voting with our feet to find leaders who share their moral principles, and reject officially sanctioned mass-murders and wars, instead of promoting them as solutions to the racial fears and xenophobia of Americans.

Mosques, Temples, and Theaters: We Need to Change the Script

Yesterday, less than 48 hours after the shootings in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was burned to the ground. It was the second time that someone had tried to burn the mosque down in a month, and the third time that the mosque has had a fire on its property.  A suspect hasn’t been found.    The FBI suspects arson. The mosque is completely gone. It was burned during the month of Ramadan. Gee. The third fire on its property, and the second in less than a month. The third time. Arson? Really, you think?

I only happened to come across this news as I was perusing some comments regarding the Sikh Temple shooting. There has been virtually no reporting on it. Let me look into my political crystal ball:  A mosque gets burned to the ground, after two previous attempts: The perpetrator will be a white, angry young man, possibly part of a crowd of young angry white men.  I will predict a “white supremacist organization.”

Am I a genius? Maybe.  After all, some of us in the South Asian community understood well before the media confirmed it: the shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin was the work of a white supremacist whose name, Wade Michael Page, would only be released hours later And some of us in the progressive pundosphere anticipated well before most details came out about the Aurora, Colorado shootings by James Holmes, that he would be characterized as a quiet, loner type. And at least some of us understood in the hours after the shooting at the United States Army Base in Fort Hood, Texas, that the shooter, because he wasn’t white and because he was remotely “Arab”—and even though he was a soldier and an Army psychiatrist–that his actions would be characterized as those of a “terrorist.”

Why did we know? It’s not that we were psychic or we had a direct line to God. Rather, we have become accustomed to the scripts that American law enforcement, the FBI, and the media run in the aftermath of (too) many mass shootings:

A group of Sikhs shot by a white man? A white supremacist. A group of (mostly) white Americans shot by a white man in the Midwest? In a theater? A loner. In a high school by two white boys/men? Troubled loners. By a man of East Asian origin on a college campus? A deranged loner. An Army base shot up by a Palestinian-American (US Army psychiatrist)? A terrorist (by definition deranged and ideologically zealous). A black man is repeatedly run over by two white boys in a truck? So strange; racism is gone. We have a black president. A black boy gets shot by a white man? Random and probably deserved. Black men on death row for crimes they didn’t commit? Justice prevails. So say the governors who allow them to be executed, and so follow our media.

These scripts are pulled out so neatly, one marvels at the level of organization that allow them to be read out so easily. And yet, like most scripts, they are edited to provide a clear, easy-to-follow narrative that appeals to the audience’s most intimately held beliefs. Those beliefs are drawn out, and impressed again to memorize what our irrational sides fear: those white guys are loners; those young white/Asian men are troubled and deranged loners. Those brown men are terrorists. Those black men are hoodlums and gangmembers.

The Oak Creek Police held a press conference after the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where they declared that the shooting was an act of domestic terrorism. How did they define an act of domestic terrorism, a reporter asked. The Chief of Police declared that it was an act of terrorism done within the confines of the country, by a person who was not from another country. In fact, domestic terrorism does not exclude acts committed by foreign nationals according to Sec. 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act, one of the first and overarching bills that was passed to combat terrorism after September 11, 2001.

Though his definition was incorrect, his answer was illuminating—because it reflected the fiction that Americans have been trained, through these repeating scripts, to believe: most evil against Americans is committed by foreign (and usually Muslim) men, and most Americans are white.

But part of the newsworthiness of the shooting was that another massacre (and so soon after Aurora) was occurring, but this time against “foreigners.” And so the media became obsessively focused on the non-Muslim brownness of the victims. Perhaps a bit far-fetched.  But how else can we explain the obsessive focus on the “Sikh-ness” of the victims? Or the questions about whether Sikhs as a group have enemies (Didn’t the victims of Aurora, Colorado have enemies?) Or whether “anti-Semitic” acts have been committed against Sikhs in the past? Yes. This was asked by a Fox News broadcaster.

When the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting happened the week before, there was no discussion of the “whiteness” or the “Americanness” the victims, even though every one who died was white and American.  In fact, the focus was on how “normal,” how kind, how loving, how smart they were in their roles as children, soldiers, parents, and students. Aren’t the temple-goers also “normal,” kind, and loving? They are a religious people, like so many Americans. Many of them are Americans, like the victims in Aurora, Colorado.

James Holmes, the shooter in Aurora, was also white and American. And so media turned to its usual, Ted Kaczynski script: genius, troubled, loner.  In the case of Oak, Creek, the shooter was white, but since the victims were brown, the shooter had to have been a white supremacist. According to Chauncey DeVega, even white supremacists were hoping he wasn’t one of them.

And now that a mosque has been burned to the ground, we barely hear anything about it. That’s part of the script, too: A mosque? Muslims? Not that interesting. After all, how can Muslims be peace-loving? Don’t they want to kill Americans? They attacked America.

Like most scripts, these are fictional.  But unlike most movies and novels, the FBI and the media outlets that draw on these scripts claim to be reporting the truth. And to move from novelistic narratives to more accurate, documentarian narratives, it is necessary to confront the ideological truths that underlie the mass epidemic of violence that America is confronting. Yes, better gun control can help to manage the violence. Page’s gun was the same type used in Aurora, and in the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last year. It was a 9 mm semiautomatic, and it was legal. And it would have been legal even under President Clinton’s 1994 Assault Weapon ban. But the Joplin mosque was burned down. I doubt that banning matches will solve the problem at hand.

Other truths must also be confronted. In large part, the shooters and arsonists who are behind many, if not most of these events in America, are white men.  In large part, these men have either come of age in the shadow of September 11. They have watched the media, heard Department of Homeland Security officials, and followed as mostly white male (and some female) politicians have given the anxious go ahead to wage an enormous war against Muslims abroad (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) or at home (in the form of the War on Terror).  Several of them have served in a military that follows the orders of two U.S. Presidential administrations by training their men to shoot, invade, drop rockets from helicopters, and drones controlled remotely from Syracuse, NY and other air force bases in the United States.

These white men have learned their lessons well, whether in the military or from hours of media news: the frustrations of a scared (white) America can be dealt with waging a war using guns, bombs, chemicals, and drones.  They have learned that it is ok to kill those who you believe to be behind threats to your comfort. They have internalized the message that those you fear can be addressed without words, without dialogue, but with violence, with power, with coercion. They have learned that some religions are automatically evil and that those who adhere to those religions must be destroyed.  And these white men reflect an ideology of violence that has permeated America in the name of the War on Terror. Sadly, that ideology, perpetuated by our white men and women in power, carried out by American soldiers, and endorsed by a lapdog media, isn’t fading away. It’s becoming bigger, stronger, and more murderous.

These men are not mad or crazy.  They are the well-trained students of American foreign and domestic policies. They have learned well the United States’ message: that violence and mayhem are the answer.  We need to change the scripts, and confront the fallout of a decade of the War on Terror—and other excuses for state-led violence quickly, before the chickens come home to roost.

Illegality and Idiocy: Only One Can Be Solved for Sure

Yesterday, the New York Times published a roundtable “Room for Debate” on whether it is wise for undocumented persons should “come out.” Now, I thought that it was the NYT who decided to apply the term “coming out” to undocumented persons, and was prepared to lambast their self-serving idiocy yet again. But, apparently that honor goes to some law faculty who used the term. Still, one wonders why the NYT would load the decks against undocumented migrants by associating with them a term that symbolizes the singular moment when LGBT folks publicly registered their sexuality. “Coming out” to others about being gay, or bi, or trans is a unique moment, and to “borrow” it for another charged issue sets up the field against undocumented migrants. This is not a neutral way to introduce the issue.

So why does the messy vitriol and rich, creamy idiocy of Americans continue to surprise me? Probably because I’m an overwhelming optimist and think that if people are given information that counters what they think they know, they will somehow change their minds. First mistake of the day, and I haven’t had my coffee yet.

I try never to read the comments sections of incendiary issues like these, but it’s a bit like finding porn on the tube: so lurid, and yet so hard to stop watching. The comments section attached to this roundtable read as if they were written by the gay (and straight) and liberal (if their self-identification is to be believed) Daughters of the American Revolution and the Minutemen:

(I’m paraphrasing) I’m gay, but I’m against illegals…I’m gay, but there was nothing I could do to change that. Illegals, on the other hand, could….the children of illegals know they’re doing something wrongThe Constitution is…get ready, wait for it…for CITIZENS. WTF?

So…umm, Black Slaves were doing something wrong by being slaves? Women who wanted the right to vote were evil beings, because the Constitution didn’t count them as citizens? Even the very same GLBT (again, if their self-id is correct) folks railing about “illegals” on the pages of our very own version of Pravda have so conveniently forgotten that their very presence was considered criminal until—well even now, in some states, their sexuality is STILL criminal.

Really, watching so-called liberals who have been the target of legal persecution now cloak themselves in self-serving double-standards is like watching Wolf Blitzer pretend to be a hard-hitting investigative reporter: grotesque and fascinating all at once. I keep forgetting that being liberal is not even closely connected to being progressive. Mistake #2. And let’s stop pretending shall we? Gay, lesbian, trans, or straight, these commenters are not just railing about undocumented migrants, they are simply anti-immigrant. No, just stop protesting. Let’s engage in a thought experiment, shall we?

They should stop cutting in line. They should apply legally, like the millions of others who did. Please. Suppose, by some miracle, the gods magically turned the members of Congress into un-selfserving, moral beings, and that they passed a law that opened up the borders to all migrants who wanted to enter, you’d stop bitching? Really? You’d suddenly turn around and say…”Well, I’m so glad that Latinos can now migrate here legally. It’s wonderful to see the rich additions of so many Mexican migrants to our country.” Please, just stop hiding behind the veil of legality; just say it: By passing the buck to Congress, you’re indicating that you’re pretty happy with the status quo.

I keep forgetting that being a target of persecution doesn’t make one free of hypocrisy. Mistake #3. Just look at Israel’s policies toward occupied Palestine, or genocidal tendencies of the religious dissenters who founded the American colonies toward the Native Americans. Gay and straight liberal denizens who object to “illegals” (sure, we’ll pretend that it’s just about undocumented migrants for a minute), could use some history lessons, not to mention lessons in conceptual logic. To paraphrase that famous moral thinker, Forrest Gump, legal is as legal does.

Here are some interesting facts about legality:

Laws are made by human beings (originally this meant white men with power; now men and women– white or otherwise, straight or gay–with power). That means laws are based on the (unreliable and varying) emotions of men and women in power (In philosophy, we like to pretend that this is called “rational thinking). And that means laws are almost always self-serving, designed to protect those with privilege (and that includes you, my LGBT anti-immigrant neighbors). Recall

The Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo, which annexed parts or all of California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, and several other states from Mexico.

The Black Codes, which made it illegal for Black Americans to be found without an employer (this is the original anti-loitering law, fyi), among other things. These are some pretty heinous laws criminalizing ex-slaves.

Bowers v. Hardwick, which ruled that a Georgia sodomy law was constitutional). Umm, btw, sodomy is still illegal—if you’re gay—in Kansas, Texas, Montana, and Oklahoma. And illegal for everyone in the rest of these states.

The boundary between legality and illegality changes constantly, as we know. It is true that we’ve had continuous prohibitions against migrants since the mid-1700’s. But those restrictions have ebbed and flowed—often because of the victory of racist fears rather than because of any real danger: The Chinese were the target of exclusion laws in 1882, after the US had finished exploiting them to build the TransPacific railroad. Japanese laborers were excluded in 1906 for similar reasons. In 1901, Samuel Gompers, the president of AFL and still today the hero of many unions, championed the restriction of all Asian migrants in order to strengthen support for white workers. Similar restrictions were applied to other Asian, African, and Hispanic groups throughout the 20th century. No, I’m not putting up links to all of these examples. Read some history, or take an Ethnic Studies class. Unless you’re in Arizona, because ignorance is legally championed out there. Whoo-hoo.

Among the comments from folks self-identifying as gay and opposed to undocumented migrants in this country was a remark about how one can’t help being gay. As we know, this logic has been debated for decades (including by feminists and various celebrities who identify as gay or bi).

Regardless, let’s talk about what is natural, since that’s really what it means to insist that one doesn’t have a choice of being gay or straight. It’s pretty natural for human beings to have a survival instinct, or at least to avoid being killed (do I really need to provide evidence for this? Just watch any Youtube footage of tourists being attacked by sharks.  Or WikiLeaks footage of Iraqi civilians running for cover as bombs are dropped on them). Given the US’s imposition of NAFTA and various nefarious drug interdiction and money-lending policies on Mexico, and the subsequent decimation of its internal safety-net and infrastructure, it seems pretty natural to do whatever is necessary to keep oneself and one’s family alive. Is it any wonder then, that despite the remarkable, ludicrous attempts by the US to build a border, to assign hundreds (thousands?) of Border Patrol agents, to make life insufferable for border-crossers, that Latinos—or folks of any descent who are suffering poverty, persecution, war, drug wars–are willing to risk life and limb in an effort to ensure the survival of themselves and their families, let alone live decently?

Now, I agree that “coming out” is an inappropriate term to appropriate for the question of whether undocumented migrants should publicize their status, but let’s not have that detract us from the question at hand, namely whether taking such a risk will be beneficial, and perhaps, enable people to sympathize with them.  That is a genuine question, but one that needs to be decided by folks who are in the precarious position (and sympathetic lawyers).

In the meantime, let’s stop pretending that because migrants have entered this country at this particular moment, they’re somehow committing a grand moral travesty. They are doing what any of us would want to do, if faced with the choice between certain death or immiseration or an alternative somewhat less worse. “Illegality”—criminalizing people–is a matter of the moral preferences and whims of the privileged, not of human beings trying to survive. So, please stop insulting me with your insistence that we have to abide by the “rule of law.” Laws can be changed. Idiocy, on the other hand—well, I’m not so sure.

Guest Column by Marcellus Andrews: “About What is Coming Down the Road”

Today’s column is by one of Translation Exercises guest bloggers, Marcellus Andrews, who recently appeared on Up with Chris Hayes this past Saturday. Andrews raised some important questions of capital markets, plutocracy, dubious economic policies of the Oama Administration, and those of Mitt Romney.

In this column, Andrews continues to force us to address some serious questions about what the last few years portend.  Read on and do comment on his points. A friendly request: please keep your comments on the topics at hand, and refrain from directing us to your website or other personal essays.

About What is Coming Down the Road

Prof. Marcellus Andrews, Barnard College, Columbia

With today’s unemployment report (June 1, 2012) — not good, though not as bad as the next few, I think — Obama is finished, and we can look forward (if that is the word) to a Romney presidency with a neo-fascist (sorry, Republican) House and Senate.  In a way, Romney’s win will be Obama’s own fault — he tried to form a national unity government to deal with a national emergency when the other side just wanted to kick his niggah behind.  He pursued a “conservative” economic policy approach in the specific sense of policies that could and have staved off complete collapse but that were also too small to really revive the system, because he was unwilling (or given the right-wing of his own party, unable) to push through the kind of structural reforms linked to sensible expenditure plans that could not just end the depression but begin the reconstruction of this country.  So, here we are, facing a Romney regime that is likely to be extremely bad news for lots of people, especially the working class white people who vote for him.

I have some thoughts on what this means for so-called “minority” American now that everyone realizes that the majority of babies and now the under 5’s are black, brown, yellow and mixed-up chillun.  The Romney years will be decisive for the future of what I will call the real “Colored” American majority (I think that old, nasty word should be revived as an alternative to “multicultural” and even “multi-racial”).  The austerity program that is destroying the British economy — savage budget cuts that are gutting the social safety net and ending redistributive economic policy, abandoning poor and working people to the untender ways of radical predatory capitalism combined with equally savage tax cuts for the wealthy, all with the assistance of the so-called Liberal Democrats — is just the UK version of the Ryan budget.  The Ryan program will be implemented here under Romney and will destroy the futures of young Colored America.  Policies aimed at promoting human development, particularly the capabilities of Colored young people at or near the bottom of society — nutrition, education, basic health care, basic public health, basic housing, even public safety — will be gutted in favor of reverse Robin Hood approaches that increase the well-being of the rich, and the old and white.  In essence, the Romney program, when you really look at it — to the extent that it has been announced — deliberately under-invests in the children of Colored America in favor of incumbent old white America.

I think it is time for Colored America to recognize that American conservatism seeks nothing less that the crippling of the our future, and that Obama’s failure — again, in trying to build a coalition government when the conservative program was nothing less than the restoration of white power, the modern version of the Redeemer governments in the post-Reconstruction South — signals the end of any prospects for conciliation in this country.  I also think that it is time for Colored America — of all colors, including those whites who seek to live in a decent place — to think carefully about how we build a good society when our white nationalist enemies control the White House, Congress, Wall Street, the Federal courts and too many states.

I think the Romney government will be a savage thing that lays waste to the economic lives of so many of our of children, perhaps at the cost of many premature deaths.  We have to think practically about how to educate our kids, how to keep them happy, healthy and safe, and how to keep ourselves fit and build some sort of prosperity, when our Redeemer foes implement their program. We have to think about how to raise and allocate resources to support human development when the states and Federal government deliberately crush opportunity for our children; we have to find ways to build a durable and effective political and cultural resistance to the attacks that white conservatism makes on our lives and liberties via the Supreme Court and state courts, where the rule of law is transformed into yet more iron cages to trap and limit our freedom; we have to build institutions — everything from schools to newspapers and ways to disseminate vital information to museums to forums for art in all its forms, both brick and mortar institutions and the virtual gatherings in cyberspace — that can escape the reach of white restorationism while feeding our souls (example: I see Arizona attacking Chicano intellectual and cultural life with Klan style glee and know that these attacks will widen, deepen and gain force under a Romney presidency).

I guess I am saying that I think it is high time for us to see this election, and, frankly, the trials and failures of Obama, as the opening phase in a low-level civil war about race and the future of the United States.  This “War About Race” is not a racial war in the usual sense — with whites on one side and everybody else on the other; no Turner Diaries craziness.  Instead, this “War About Race” is a fight between a dying but still rich and powerful old white republic that will never accept the plain fact that the future of the United States is Colored and so will instead deliberately create an economic partition between itself and that Other, disgusting America defined by either not-being-white or by being the wrong kind of white — whites who have rejected racism in personal and family life. So how do we go about preventing conservatism from killing the future of Colored America and thereby preserving, protecting and defending the future of the United States from the racial animosity of the white Right?  This, I think, is the most important question of our time, because the white Right is coming back into power and, if we are honest, seeks to cripple us.

So here’s my question: Am I a bit premature in thinking that the white Right is just the modern version of the Redeemers?  Am I wrong to think that white conservatism will pursue a program of economic partition along racial lines as part of a white unity program in the same way that Southern elites managed to create white unity?

Amherst, MA Opts out of ICE’s Secure Communities Program

This post inaugurates my return to the blogosphere.  Many topics to discuss, coming soon: VAWA, the unsung heroes surrounding Chen Guancheng’s achievements, Tarek Mehanna’s conviction.

I spoke at Amherst Town Meeting last night in support of passing Article 29* to the Town Warrant of Amherst, MA. Article 29 resolves not to participate in federal law enforcement programs relating to immigration enforcement, in particular, the Secure Communities program.  S.Comm, as it’s known, is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiative, which directs local and state authorities to run the fingerprints of anyone with whom they come in contact in the course of their duties (to check on a complaint of theft, domestic abuse, a report of strange activity). They are directed to do so in order to check on the visa status of the complainant, the informer, the suspect–and then to inform the FBI, (who will then inform ICE), and to detain them for 48 hours (or long enough for ICE to move and transport them to detention facilities–where the chance to defend, challenge or ask for support is eliminated). ICE claims 2 things in its explanation: 1. “Absent special circumstances or aggravating factors, it is against ICE policy to initiate removal proceedings against an individual known to be the immediate victim or witness to a crime.”  2.  They direct ICE officers to “use discretion.” Discretion, as we know, is a dangerous thing. Discretion can be used to protect, or it can be used to enhance and aggravate an already ambiguous and incendiary circumstance.

As you may know, there is no automatic judicial review for anyone who is perceived to be an “illegal” migrant–nor even for those who are U.S. citizens (3500 citizens have already been deported). This means that any brush with local authorities for yellow, brown, or black people–regardless of citizenship status OR innocence–eliminates the ability to challenge the authorities’ decision to detain, move you to unknown territory, or let your family know, or arrange to have someone care for your children. Among other restrictions.

As of May 15, 2012, despite the explicit refusal of Massachusetts, Illinois, and New York to opt out of S.Comm, the federal government has insisted that S.Comm must be enforced. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, despite his initial resolution, has conceded to the demands of the Department of Homeland Security.

S.Comm, contrary to the claims of Janet Napolitano and ICE, will not make the Homeland a more secure place. The statistics given by reliable sources suggest that 79% of people deported under Secure Communities had no criminal records or had been picked up for low-level offenses, like traffic violations and juvenile mischief. Of the approximately 47,000 people deported in that period only about 20 percent had been charged with or convicted of serious “Level 1” crimes, like assault and drug dealing. 3500 of the persons deported under S.Comm were US citizens.

The national average of Secure Communities deportees with no criminal records was about 26 percent, but that figure also varied wildly around the country. It was 54 percent in Maricopa County, Ariz., whose sheriff is notorious for staging indiscriminate immigration raids. In Travis County, Tex., it was 82 percent. Here is what Secure Communities program will do: its purpose is to enable a a greater scope of action to arrest, detain, and direct the movements of migrants and non-whites (by holding them for ICE to scoop them up and take them to holding facilities, lose their children in the foster system, leave them without access to lawyers, family, or community). S.Comm enables greater police authority with little, if any, accountability, checks or balances on municipal, state, or federal.authorities when it comes to the treatment of people of color–citizens, residents, migrants:  It is one in which at any moment one is at the mercy of an authority—not because she has done something wrong, but because she is facing an authority.

S.Comm brings the rest of the nation much closer to the racial profiling laws of Alabama and Arizona, contrary to the claims of Eric Holder and Obama Administration in the Supreme Court’s review of SB 1070 several weeks ago.  Here are some features as they pertain to the S.Comm program:

*It does not ask for habeas corpus, or the charges of wrongdoing that are to be leveled against migrants.

*It does not ask for judicial review of the crimes in question before starting, finishing deportation proceedings.

*It does not recognize due process, or human rights protections.

Those 3 things belong to states that are based on political rights, on human rights, on constitutions, but they have been eliminated for folks of color and migrants in Arizona and Alabama racial profiling laws.

As I said last night, S.Comm is not designed to make us feel secure. It is designed to make those of us who are visibly “not of here,” fear any interactions with the law. It is designed to make those of us who appear to be “of here” to mistakenly believe that undocumented migrants are automatically criminals—that not filing paperwork or moving without filing paperwork (an illegal act) is somehow akin to a crime. That driving without a license deserves a cross-check with ICE, rather than just being charged with driving without a license and summoned to court to explain/defend oneself or deal with the traditional penalties that go with such a charge.  S.Comm is designed to deceive citizens into believing that poverty, crime, and unemployment are caused by migrants, undocumented or otherwise, and that by removing those migrants, the Federal Government is doing something about it by forcing local and state police authorities to report and cross-check the suspects—really—the yellow and brown and black suspects whom they’ve arrested.

Amherst Town Meeting voted morally–and nearly unanimously–to insist that Amherst Police Department cooperate minimally if at all “with federal law enforcement programs relating to immigration enforcement…” Here is the last paragraph of the resolution.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Town of Amherst and its officials and employees, to the extent permissible by law, shall not participate in federal law enforcement programs relating to immigration enforcement, including but not limited to, Secure Communities, and cooperative agreements with the federal government under which town personnel participate in the enforcement of immigration laws, such as those authorized by Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Should the Commonwealth of Massachusetts enter into an agreement or Memorandum of Agreement regarding Secure Communities, the Town of Amherst shall opt out if legally and practically permissible. To the extent permissible by law, immigration detainer requests will not be honored by the Amherst Police Department. Municipal employees of the Town of Amherst, including law enforcement employees, shall not monitor, stop, detain, question, interrogate, or search a person for the purpose of determining that individual’s immigration status. Officers shall not inquire about the immigration status of any crime victim, witness, or suspect, unless such information is directly relevant to the investigation, nor shall they refer such information to federal immigration enforcement authorities unless that information developed is directly relevant. The use of a criminal investigation or arrest shall not be used as a basis to ascertain information about an individual’s immigration status unless directly relevant to the offenses charged.
 

Remember that little legal document–the U.S. Constitution–which acknowledges that we human beings—whether people, or police, or judges, or politicians—can be fallible? It does so by establishing a procedure by which charges need to proven procedurally, and rights are accorded in order to safeguard against kneejerk assumptions about guilt and criminality. We can make mistakes and accuse people wrongly of crimes. That’s why rights—protections of the accused, judicial review: a hearing in front of a judge, and constitutional protections—those things that make us feel a little safer from the caprices and arbitrary dislikes of human beings—are so important.

The way to Safer Communities—not Secure Communities—but Safer Communities is to build trust. The way many of us build trust is to communicate, to talk, to know that our neighbors and we all think of our towns as communities, to know that we are on the same side.Trust is established when a migrant knows that by approaching someone to report a crime, or asking for help because some injustice was committed (like a rape, an assault, a theft), she will not be thrown in jail, or put in arbitrary detention where officials can treat her badly as they like with impunity, because there is no accountability, no review, no checks.

S. Comm has been imposed on us by the Department of Homeland Security, urged by the Obama Administration—groups that are supposed to represent us (fyi) and supposedly disagree with AZ’s SB 1070, GA’s HB 87, and AL’s HB 56, even though the intent is similar. It is a program that urges us to turn in neighbors who don’t quite look like us, who seem to be “different”, who seem to be from “away.” It is not a program that represents us. It is a program that urges us to turn on one another so that politicians can capitalize on fear and xenophobia to be continually re-elected to office.  Secure Communities, in fact, will lead to insecure, unsafe, antagonistic, violent, and hostile communities.  They will render them a virtual police state; certainly, this won’t be the case for all of us. However, for migrants, legal and illegal, S.Comm will enhance fear and distrust.

Bravo, Town of Amherst!

____________________

*Full text of Article 29, as passed by Amherst Town Meeting on May 21, 2012:

WHEREAS the Town of Amherst has been enriched and built by generations of immigrants; and,
WHEREAS the program called “Secure Communities” (SComm), run by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, harms our communities by mandating the sharing of local law enforcement reporting with the Department of Homeland Security on individuals they detain or arrest, thus involving local law enforcement in federal immigration policy; and,
WHEREAS SComm is an unfunded mandate, meaning that the burden of incarceration, detention, and care for detained people falls upon the budget of local law enforcement and upon the Town of Amherst; and,
WHEREAS SComm rejects a community policing model, which is based upon trust between law enforcement and the population it is meant to protect and serve, and has already been shown to increase distrust and fear of local authorities, making many immigrants afraid to be witnesses and report crimes against themselves and others; and,
WHEREAS SComm violates the Town of Amherst Bylaws, including the Human Rights Bylaw (STM- November 8, 1999, Art. 16), as SComm explicitly promotes discrimination on the basis of nation of origin and implicitly promotes discrimination on the basis of race, color, and socio-economic status; and,
WHEREAS the Code of Federal Regulations, 28 C.F.R. §20.21(c)(3), provides that “[s]tates and local governments will determine the purposes for which dissemination of criminal history record information is authorized by State law, executive order, local ordinance, court rule, decision or order”; then
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Town of Amherst and its officials and employees, to the extent permissible by law, shall not participate in federal law enforcement programs relating to immigration enforcement, including but not limited to, Secure Communities, and cooperative agreements with the federal government under which town personnel participate in the enforcement of immigration laws, such as those authorized by Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Should the Commonwealth of Massachusetts enter into an agreement or Memorandum of Agreement regarding Secure Communities, the Town of Amherst shall opt out if legally and practically permissible. To the extent permissible by law, immigration detainer requests will not be honored by the Amherst Police Department. Municipal employees of the Town of Amherst, including law enforcement employees, shall not monitor, stop, detain, question, interrogate, or search a person for the purpose of determining that individual’s immigration status. Officers shall not inquire about the immigration status of any crime victim, witness, or suspect, unless such information is directly relevant to the investigation, nor shall they refer such information to federal immigration enforcement authorities unless that information developed is directly relevant. The use of a criminal investigation or arrest shall not be used as a basis to ascertain information about an individual’s immigration status unless directly relevant to the offenses charged.”

Dharun Ravi, Hate, and Race: Reflections, Part 2

My thoughts continue to turn to the Dharun Ravi case. An important question has emerged on Twitter sites and other blogs, namely that of race. It is a difficult issue to unravel. One wants to avoid the danger of pitting race against sexuality in a faux competition about which is the more urgent category. I can’t help but wonder—not only about the “brown” question, but about the implications of his court conviction for that question. For Ravi, whose family migrated when he was younger, his conviction leads to the possibility that he will be deported (he has already had to surrender his passport, although this may have been because of the fear that he might have tried to flee the country before his trial). But few news pieces have mentioned the race question.

It is a barely known fact that hate crimes charges, once thought to be important for the prosecution of crimes against vulnerable populations, are extremely destructive  because they are used most viciously against vulnerable populations. Pooja Gehi, of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project has pointed out that hate crimes convictions affect more populations of color than white or non-minority populations, and that for this reason, they are opposed to the use of hate crimes charges for convictions. Again, I write this not to exculpate Dharun Ravi, but to ask the question about the implication of such an extreme charge against a young man of color. There is no doubt that the Ravi’s actions were extremely hurtful and painful for Tyler Clementi. Still, it is important to note that Ravi was not charged in his death.

Let’s be clear here: the grounds for prosecution in a hate crime are ambiguous. One must prove that the actions were based on the prejudice against the identity of the victim, i.e. that someone was killed, maimed, intimidated because s/he was gay, black, transgendered. But it is, in many ways, an incoherent logic. It is not often possible to distinguish violent aggression from prejudiced aggression. It is not often possible to distinguish hatred of the victim based on her particular features from general identity categories. After all, most crimes are based on the identity of the victim. Most rapes are perpetrated against victims known by the perpetrator; many convicted murderers knew their victims. So, the thing that distinguishes a hate crime from an “ordinary” crime is the category of vulnerability that the victim fits into.

But as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project points out:

Our penalties are harsher and sentences longer than they are anywhere else on the planet, and hate crime laws with sentencing enhancements make them harsher and longer. By supporting longer periods of incarceration and putting a more threatening weapon in the state’s hands, this kind of legislation places an enormous amount of faith in our deeply flawed, transphobic, and racist criminal legal system. The application of this increased power and extended punishment is entirely at to the discretion of a system riddled with prejudice, institutional bias, economic motives, and corruption.
 

I draw on SLRP’s statement to point to the ways in which hate crimes charges are dubious grounds to prosecute Ravi or to find justice for Clementi, particularly at a moment when spying is part and parcel of the air that we breathe. Should Ravi have known better than to spy? Yes. Was what he did hurtful? Yes. Is it a “hate crime”? I’m not sure. Ravi’s actions might be better described as violating privacy, as bullying or intimidation. But to describe his actions as violating privacy raises the question of how what he did is different from the milieu that the state advocates. To describe his actions as bullying prompts the question of how to charge him (there are, as far as I know, few laws on the books against bullying). To describe his actions as intimidation might not have obtained as harsh of a sentencing as “hate crimes legislation” will. Were they homophobic?  Most likely. But I’m not sure that the link between homophobia and “hate crime” is an obvious, simple, or correct one.

I am also troubled by the implications that such a conviction has: The court could potentially deport him back to India, a country where he has family but few friends and virtually no ties. There is something perverse about deporting someone who has spent most of his life in the United States, as if it were his country of birth. The harsh penalties for migrants who make errors that are post-facto considered crimes is remarkable, but perhaps not surprising in this age of xenophobia. Had he been a US citizen, Ravi might have had to serve prison time (and perhaps he still will), but he would be—presumably—released eventually to a community that knew him and would support him. Clementi’s state of mind may have been fragile, and yet some of his actions were surprising—even after discovering that he was spied on by Ravi, and after asking for a room change, he asked for privacy in their shared room again, and he again invited his friend back to spend time in their shared room, even though he was already aware of Ravi’s predisposition to spy on him. It may be precisely these questionable actions that influenced the prosecution not to attempt to charge Ravi in Clementi’s death.

Now, having considered the harshness of the penalty for Ravi’s actons, I also want to point out one detail that must be emphasized: from most descriptions of Ravi, he is part of that class of human beings that we would categorize as assholes. They are narcissistic, shallow, thoughtless, unconcerned about others and ungenerous, often mean and nasty, among other characteristics. Ravi’s actions were…assholish. But were it a crime to be an asshole, our prisons should be even more jam-packed with white, wealthy folks: bankers, presidents, legal advisers, and former secretaries of defense, of state, attorneys general. This is not to say that our prisons should not already be holding these folks, after convictions of many crimes (just refer back to many, any, of my columns). But being an asshole is not equivalent to having committed a crime.

In fact, as I have argued less explicitly, this is precisely what the political and legal culture of the last decade has engendered, through an emphasis on technologies such as Facebook, MySpace, email–and an emphasis on the ubiquity of surveillance—electronic surveillance, and the combination of the two in the form of Reality TV: from Survivor-like shows, to reality TV shows that fetishize idiocy and stupidity (I don’t even know the names of them, but I believe “The Bachelor” and its female heterosexual equivalent, and the “wife-swapping” show are among them), and then the celebrity versions of “The Real World,” with Whitney Houston et al., The Osbournes, the Bachelor celebrity-style with Flayva Flav, as well as the show with the English “Supernanny” and now another with an African-American nanny). Needless to say, these shows glorify and valorize the cultivation of assholish traits for our viewing pleasure–and most importantly–for corporate profit.

But as importantly, they also perpetuate racism, homophobia, patriarchy, indentured servitude and Aunt Jemimah stereotypes, and prostitution in all but name. (WIFE-SWAPPING?) Seriously. Western liberal feminists point to Muslims as having questionable marital practices. So what does it mean that millions of viewers tune in to watch—-American, Christian or Jewish–families swap their wives and mothers? And that heterosexual couples–men and their wives–APPLY to be on these shows?

So it is that I wonder about the cultural and political acceptance of surveillance on corporate television shows, and the sheer rage and indignance against personal incidents of surveillance, as in the Ravi case. It is interesting–and perplexing– to come back to the dichotomy between those don’t want to be surveilled (interpreted as those who have something to hide) and those who are ok with having their all their moves monitored).

In France, where I write this column, street corners, the hallways of hotels, the lobbies and libraries of schools—all have surveillance cameras, electronic keys to monitor when you enter and exit your room, monitors that show whether your room lights were left on, etc. And France, too, has its own version of intimidation of North Africans, Muslims, and migrants in general. After the latest dust-up about whether France’s public schools were serving halal meat to unsuspecting non-Muslims (Egads! We all should be so lucky), a charge made by France’s right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, President Sarko–in his ongoing attempts to abscond with Marine Le Pen’s right-wing proprietorship–promised to arrest anyone who visits fundamentalist Islamic sermons on the internet, limit immigration by half, and cut benefits for legal immigrants.

Surveillance then has become part and parcel of the air we breathe. It is rapidly normalized. At what point then, do we decide that one man’s actions are a hate crime, while another’s are an act of leadership? Perhaps we need to take seriously the Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s point that hate crimes are a category that are deployed against folks of color more than against white folks. Hate crimes are suspiciously like other legal categories, like “terrorism,” that the state creates and deploys only against certain targets. As I argue ad nauseam in my book, the state—the “law”–does so to manage its own population, to control and domesticate its residents by criminalizing them for engaging in those very same practices that it (the state) uses to terrorize the segments of its own constituency.

NYPD, Islamophobia, and Federal Law: Spying and Lying as an American Way of Life

Over the last few months, the Associated Press has released multiple reports that detail the infiltration of Muslim student groups, mosques, and community centers by the New York Police Department over the last few years. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has denied the surveillance and infiltration of Muslim communities in NY or elsewhere, but clearly he has been lying. As we see from the numerous AP reports have been released, the NYPD’s spying program ranged over multiple states and countries. The NYPD spied on Muslim communities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut–in mosques, on mosques, community centers, student associations, grocery stores and in neighborhoods with large numbers of Muslim families and residents. We also know that the NYPD has infiltrated Muslim student groups at Yale, Penn, Rutgers, City College, among others. On Monday of this week, Yale’s president, Richard Levin, to his infinite credit, wrote a statement that condemned and disavowed any knowledge of the NYPD on Yale’s campus. I’m waiting for similar disavowals by the presidents of these other campuses (apparently there are several). Otherwise, their silence would leave me to wonder how eager they were to collaborate in helping the NYPD to spy on their students.

Democracy Now and Colorlines have both reported in detail about the outrage of such actions on the part of NYPD. As part of a pattern of explicitly Islamaphobic practices on the part of the NYPD, we also heard about the Third Jihad, a racist training film (funded by the Clarion Fund, the same organization that attracted Sheldon Adelson, a big supporter of Newt Gingrich’s campaign) that insisted that even “normal” Muslims had deep terrorist undersides. A clip of NYPD Commissioner Kelly was included in the film, although he disavowed participating in the film and insisted that the clip was taken from elsewhere. Later, it turns out, he lied again: in fact, he was interviewed for it 5 years ago. Until that lie was revealed, Kelly refused to disavow or apologize for his part in the film; yet now he finds it “objectionable. Another lie: Kelly also denied that film was part of NYPD orientation, despite the fact that it was shown to 1500 police officers.

The prevarications and Islamaphobic policies–and illegal and unconstitutional activities– on the part of the NYPD continue. AP has reported that in 2002, then CIA director George Tenet sent an ex-CIA officer, Lawrence Sanchez, to help coordinate the management of intelligence within the NYPD, violating its own practice of not crossing over into domestic spying. Sanchez, who left over one year ago, appears to have been replaced by an unnamed agent, still part of the CIA, who has helped to coordinate the various surveillance and infiltration activities. The CIA has vacillated between denying knowledge of the coordination between itself and the NYPD, and acknowledging it. Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the involvement of the NYPD in spying on local communities with Bloomberg insisting that the spying program was “legal.”  According to AP, “Kelly, the police commissioner, has vigorously defended the NYPD’s relationship with the CIA. Testifying before the City Council in October, Kelly said the collaboration was authorized under the 1981 presidential order, known as No. 12333.” This order, signed by President Reagan, authorized the coordination of various federal agencies, from the NSC, CIA, FBI, the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Energy, and numerous other federal agencies to engage in intelligence gathering and collaboration in the interests of national security.

Order 12333 is a fascinating document, not least because of the constraints around intelligence gathering that are articulated there: According to section 2. 4 of this order, the NYPD violates the constraints of the first paragraph, namely the prohibition from engaging in “electronic surveillance, unconsented physical search, mail surveillance, physical surveillance, or monitoring devices unless they are in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General.”

Here’s the clause itself:

Collection Techniques. Agencies within the Intelligence Community shall use the least intrusive collection techniques feasible within the United States or directed against United States persons abroad. Agencies are not authorized to use such techniques as electronic surveillance, unconsented physical search, mail surveillance, physical surveillance, or monitoring devices unless they are in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General. Such procedures shall protect constitutional and other legal rights and limit use of such information to lawful governmental purposes. These procedures shall not authorize:

(a) The CIA to engage in electronic surveillance within the United States except for the purpose of training, testing, or conducting countermeasures to hostile electronic surveillance;

(b) Unconsented physical searches in the United States by agencies other than the FBI, except for:

(1) Searches by counterintelligence elements of the military services directed against military personnel within the United States or abroad for intelligence purposes, when authorized by a military commander empowered to approve physical searches for law enforcement purposes, based upon a finding of probable cause to believe that such persons are acting as agents of foreign powers; and

(2) Searches by CIA of personal property of non-United States persons lawfully in its possession.

(c) Physical surveillance of a United States person in the United States by agencies other than the FBI, except for:

(1) Physical surveillance of present or former employees, present or former intelligence agency contractors or their present of former employees, or applicants for any such employment or contracting; and

(2) Physical surveillance of a military person employed by a nonintelligence element of a military service.

(d) Physical surveillance of a United States person abroad to collect foreign intelligence, except to obtain significant information that cannot reasonably be acquired by other means.

 

The story gets murkier. According to Order 12333, the CIA cannot loan equipment, knowledge or personnel without the explicit permission of CIA counsel. Apparently, in this case, the permission of that counsel, Scott Muller, was never given.  Moreover, the leeway to surveil intrusively is permitted to the CIA and FBI, not to the NYPD.  And yet, the NYPD was–is still?–engaged in most, if not, every single one of these techniques: from physical surveillance (e.g., through the presence of undercover police officers in mosques and on the street to collect license plate numbers), to monitoring devices (by mounting cameras on street corners across the street from mosques, ). The NYPD defends its ability to surveil by insisting that mounting cameras on street corners is “public” surveillance.

It appears that it is possible for the CIA to assist the NYPD in intelligent-gathering for the purposes of “for the purpose of protecting the employees, information, property and facilities of any agency within the Intelligence Community.”  Yet, given that Sec. 2.4 paragraph pertains first and foremost to the CIA as the chief intelligence gathering agency (which presumably places it above the NYPD in terms of jurisdiction), this clause requires the US Attorney General to be notified. I wonder whether the US Attorney General Eric Holder was informed of the activities of the NYPD. Holder appears to be reluctant to clarify his relationship to NYPD’s spying program.  Is it correct to assume that Holder approved of these activities? If he wasn’t consulted by the CIA or the NYPD, why not?

We know that Mayor Corey Booker has suddenly tried to distance himself from the scandal by insisting that he didn’t know the activities that the NYPD was engaged in. Still, he acknowledges that he was approached by the NYPD to engage in activities that involved policing communities in his own jurisdiction. And he gave them permission to enter and engage in extra-municipal activities that involved his own constituents. Nice.

Were other mayors and governors of NY, NJ, CT and PA informed? NJ Gov. Chris Christie has denied being approached (or atleast he doesn’t “recall” being approached). Were the Attorneys General? I haven’t read or heard any or disavowals from any of the following current or former Governors or Attorney Generals of NY, NJ, PA, or CT:

NY Attorneys General: Eric Schneiderman (current), Andrew Cuomo (current governor), or Eliot Spitzer

NJ Attorney General: Jeffrey Chiesa (current), Paula Dow or Anne Milgram

PA Attorneys General: Linda Kelly (current), William Ryan, or Tom Corbett (current governor)

CT Attorneys General: George Jepson (current) or Richard Blumenthal (or current Gov. Daniel Malloy)

Does this mean that they approved the presence of the NYPD in their states to infiltrate Muslim student associations, community centers, stores, mosques? Moreover, Section 2.6 of Order 12333 authorizes various Intelligence agencies to cooperate with law enforcement for the purposes of tracking “clandestine…or terrorist” activities by “foreign” elements. [By the way, here is the definition of the Intelligence Community. You will notice they’re all federal, and not municipal law enforcement agencies like the NYPD.] This clause says nothing about authorizing municipal law enforcement to engage in extra-state spying or tracking of civilians. Moreover, clause 2.12 insists that “[n]o agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.”

NYPD then, was not only not authorized by this Order to participate in tracking activities, but it was also violating this order’s initial clause. Kelly’s defense appears to be either a prevarication or–at the very least–incorrect. Given his record of duplicitous behavior, I’m leaning toward the former. Section 2. 7 of the Order does say that funding sources or contracts for federal activities are not required to be revealed, which is certainly consistent with the AP’s revelation that taxpayer money was not used for this unique special project on the part of the NYPD. At least $1.6b came from the feds. I believe AP reported that other monies for the spying program came from an unnamed non-profit organization, whose name and funds will not be revealed–but I can’t find the source. The Daily Beast reports that the nonprofit Police Foundation abundantly funded Kelly’s program to send NYPD personnel overseas.As Judith Miller reports, “For several years, the foundation has helped finance most of the NYPD’s $1.5-million-a-year International Liaison Program, in which 11 NYPD detectives are embedded in police departments overseas to explore potential New York ramifications of terrorist activity abroad [it gets even better: American Airlines last year proudly announced that it would participate in the project of helping the NYPD surveil and monitor overseas activity by funding the airfare for detectives to places like “Tel Aviv, London, Amman, Singapore, Santo Domingo, Toronto, Montreal, Paris, Lyons and Madrid,” to carry out surveillance activities that the Police Fund happily underwrites].

Of course, spying is now part and parcel of American life: we saw this with the expansion of 2008 FISA, which approved warrantless wiretapping and surveillance, as well as with the recent passage of the NDAA, signed into law by POTUS on New Year’s Eve 2011. As we know, Wall Street has used millions of dollars–at least $150m— to create its own local spy network in downtown, with the help and cooperation of the NYPD as well. I wonder if NDAA will be applied retroactively to help exculpate the NYPD, AG Holder, Bloomberg and all the other charlatans involved in these egregious violations of human liberties and constitutional law.

It sounds like the NYPD Police Commissioner and a number of Mayors, Governors, and Attorney Generals need to be interrogated for their knowledge or involvement in these activities…and perhaps we need to get start calling for some firings, and at the very least, we need some regime changes in the US at the national, state, and municipal levels.

Guest Post: Race, Conservatism and Economic Panic

The intense interest that folks have taken in this blog for the last few weeks has convinced me that people want to hear from a variety of progressive voices. To that end, today’s post is by economist Marcellus Andrews,* from whose writing I always learn and whose critical voice gives me hope.  Here are his thoughts on the economic future of US society during this year of the presidential election.

Race, Conservatism and Economic Panic

Marcellus Andrews
Department of Economics, Barnard College

The Republican presidential primary has been an entertaining, if ultimately baffling carnival from the perspective of an economist.  What we are witnessing is the collapse of conservatism as the governing principle of public life in the United States. It is collapsing under the pressure of economic panic – the collapse of the housing market, high and sustained long-term unemployment, falling real wages for most American workers, and the greatest degree of economic inequality in a century, among others.  This panic — born of the self-destruction of the Reagan program that led directly to the Lesser Depression of 2007-2009 and its aftermath has inspired the return of the racist and xenophobic politics of the 1990’s associated with the Republican capture of Congress [Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has provided a superb, if depressing, analysis of how the Reagan program led directly to the crisis in a number of places, including his regular column, Unconventional Economic Wisdom].  Newt Gingrich’s heated rhetoric  about Obama as the “food stamp” president are the sullen insults of a failed political movement that has disgraced itself and ruined the nation.  Though Gingrich, with Bill Clinton’s help, ended “welfare as we know it” in the 1990’s, the political reflex of blaming the black and poor for the nation’s woes is always a sure way to win the votes of a portion of the Republican electorate, as demonstrated this past weekend in the South Carolina primary.

The collapse of the Reagan program means that the older white population of the US, which owns most of the nation’s wealth and forms the core of the Republican Party, has benefited from policies that threaten to cripple the American future.  But rather than think seriously about how to rebuild middle class capitalism in America – albeit along conservative lines – the Right has opted to double down on Reaganism and revisit all the old racist rants. Thomas Byrne Edsall’s reporting on the racial conflicts at the heart of conservative economic policy in his books Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights and Taxes on American Politics and most recently The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics demonstrate why this nasty but frequently unacknowledged fight over the racial distribution of income, wealth and opportunity across color lines could prevent the reform of American capitalism.  Edsall’s deep point – that all modern economic policy invariably involves the redistribution of economic resources and opportunity across color lines – is the key to understanding the otherwise irrational political economy of contemporary conservatism.

The next model of middle class American capitalism requires conservatives to abandon the quest to restore the Old White Republic as population trends transform the US into a genuine “rainbow” society without a racial majority. The people of this country know that the era of small government not only led to the financial crisis and crash, but that the government rescue of finance proves, beyond any doubt, the utility and necessity for a large role for very big and intrusive government on modern economic life.  Logic and evidence suggest that the important debate we face in this country is not whether the state should play a big role in economic life but what that role should be, for whose benefit, at what cost to whom.

The answer to that question is really very clear: government should pursue policies that maximize the economic wellbeing of the working majority by combining regulation, smart and progressive taxation and well thought through investments in the health, education and development of the citizens to promote genuine equal opportunity for all.  The substantive fight between left and right in this country should be over the nature of the mixed economy, not over whether we need a mixed economy.  What types of taxes do we need and how much should the total tax take rise to reduce our debt, pay for better schools, fixing our infrastructure and financing guaranteed health care for all?  How do we share the burden of higher taxes and changing priorities in ways that are both fair and efficient?  What is the balance between the needs of the young and the old in an economy that has save and invest more while consuming and borrowing less, all the while becoming smarter and fairer?

The American middle class has been and always will be the end point of government social engineering that insures that economic opportunity is available to all on the basis of effort and ambition, without regard to a family’s wealth, race, ethnicity, region or religion. Most middle class Americans are nowhere near rich enough to detach themselves from public goods or the many subtle middle class subsidies that form the basis of our odd welfare state.   Mass homeownership, the opportunity to attend college and guaranteed retirement benefits are all the result of government social engineering.  The entitlements so zealously and rightly defended by older whites against budget cuts – Social Security and Medicare – are financed by young workers who pay for the health care and retirement benefits of retirees.  Economic arithmetic tells us that the only way these benefits can exist is if workers produce so much that they can satisfy their own needs as consumers and parents while paying taxes for themselves and their children to attend good schools, buy homes, rely on decent roads and bridges, and pay the retirement benefits of their aging parents.

Basic arithmetic puts modern conservatism in a terrible bind given its racial commitments.  The Census Bureau estimates that the majority of children born in the United States from now on are more likely to be raised in black, Latino or Asian or interracial families than non-Latino white families.  In time, these children will be the talent pool from which the future labor force and military will emerge. The strategy of inequality  — low taxes, big budget deficits, a strangled and incompetent public sector — will insure that American workers are poorly educated, that the nation’s infrastructure remains broken and therefore that the nation’s intellectual and economic prowess as well as its productivity and competitiveness slips relative to the rest of the world. The pretense that our nation can restore its long-term economic health by savage cuts in education, public investment and the health of the young is economic folly. If the modern Right gets its way, the ever more diverse American labor force will be deprived of the skills and tools to join the ranks of the world’s most productive workers making the US an ever less prosperous and competent society.

Where is the rationalist business class that sees the need to repair the American economy and the social fabric in ways that extend markets and opportunity across all lines?  Where is the conservative reformer who sees the need to quietly engineer a divorce between racism and conservatism in favor of a robust, post-racial capitalism? Of course, those among us who hope for a just and decent society will work for a post-capitalist as well as post-racial society, but one would want practical business people to see that their alliance with racial conservatives is a losing proposition.



*Marcellus Andrews teaches economics at Barnard College, Columbia University, and is the author of The Political Economy of Hope and Fear. Andrews’ current book projects include Realism, Violence and Economic Order: Economic Analysis and the Problem of Justice and Economic Policy and the Decent Society.

The Power of Arrogance: the US and the Terrorism Card

Besides marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay, Wednesday was notable for the murder of an Iranian nuclear scientist, Mustafa Ahmadi-Roshan.  The NYT reported that, “The campaign, which experts believe is being carried out mainly by Israel, apparently claimed its latest victim on Wednesday when a bomb killed a 32-year-old nuclear scientist in Tehran’s morning rush hour.”

“Mainly by Israel.” Who else would help Israel…but the US, its closest ally?  Before I go on, just want to note here that the NYT reported it, which means that it is a fact that Israel (and a good probability that the US) murdered an Iranian national.  Why?  Because if the NYT is reporting it, it must have been confirmed by US and Israeli government officials.  We know that the NYT’s model of reportage, despite their claims to publish All the News That is Fit to Print, is more Pravda than Colorlines. We also know the NYT reports only what the US state approves for reporting (remember this? Scroll down to paragraph #9).

[NB: Here is a terrific sardonic analysis by Jay Rosen which I read after writing this post, which refers to a query of NYT readers by its Public Blog editor about whether the media should prioritize truth-telling! And here I worried that readers would decide I was a conspiracy theorist. I can’t even make this stuff up.]

Glenn Greenwald asks why, when a Saudi official is targeted for murder by Iranian agents, the US denounces that action as terrorism, but when the US and Israel are found to have collaborated on murdering an Iranian nuclear scientist, it’s called a covert or a targeted killing by most major media outlets.  Greenwald offered ample evidence of the double standards of the mainstream media (MSM) by pointing to clips from ABC News, AP, CNN, Washington Post, Council of Foreign Relations, and the US’ very own office of obfuscation, the Department of Justice, all of whom point to Iran’s actions in terms of terrorism, but find the Israeli/US hit to be merely a covert or targeted killing.

Why the double standard? The obvious, if too simple, answer is because the US has shifted from being an “superpower” to an Empire. And we know that Empires call the shots when they please, as they please, and how they please. And as importantly, Empires can choose which strategy they want to take: Shall “we” engage in direct brute violence and just kill folks en masse and openly (such as the German genocide of the Herero Tribe in Namibia)? Or should “we” codify our violence through the rule of law (such as the British massacre in Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919), and insist that it follows from the word of God, of Nature, or from an obvious consensus of “right-thinking” peoples in our midst at home and internationally?

Of course, Empires don’t have to choose. That is, after all, what it means to be an Empire. I mean, if Empires chose strategies, that might indicate that they were worried about public perceptions, backlash, or reprimands from other superpowers. As in the instances of Guantanamo, renditions, the National Security Entry –Exit System (NSEERS) (used to round up thousands of Muslim men residing in the states after 9/11), material support statutes which can retroactively name former allies as terrorists or terrorist organizations (PKK), the creation of enemy combatants, warrantless wiretapping, pre-emptive and indefinite detention of foreign nationals (and now, of US nationals)–ALL of these can be done under the aegis of the Rule of Law, while also engaging in overt and direct violence without a direct mandate, approval or review from Congress or the Courts.  We see this charade in the decision to attack Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the assassination of Terrorist #1 Osama Bin Laden, the assassination of Terrorist #2, US national Anwar Al-Awlaki (see the absolute absence of evidence of Awlaki’s terrorist credentials even in response to repeated questioning by ABC News’ Jake Tapper. Tune in at 2:24), and the assassination of Roshan.  Now we hear increasing murmurs of an impending attack on Iran.

Again, I know it’s too trite and obvious to reiterate that these actions are all being done in the name of fighting the “War Against Terror,” but let me do so anyway.  I don’t think Greenwald goes far enough when he says,

the fact that Terrorism has no fixed meaning does not mean it is inconsequential. The opposite is true. Terrorism is one of the most consequential words in our political lexicon. The term designates Supreme, Unmitigated Evil. Once someone is successfully branded a Terrorist, it means that anything and everything can and should be done to them without constraints.

The advantage of being an Empire is that we codify the terms we like to use in ways that can be deployed against dissenters, agitators, or racial threats. And that’s precisely the beauty of the seeming ambiguity of the word “Terrorist.”

The most recent definition of “terrorism” according to US Code, Title 18, § 2331, states that

 
‘international terrorism’ means activities that involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State

and

“appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce” civilian populations, influence government policies, affect government conduct, or “occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.”

If we substitute “Iran” for the United States in the above definition, it seems fairly easy to apply this definition to the assassination of Mustafa Ahmadi-Roshan. The definition of terrorism as a federal crime, as expressed a decade ago in the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, was even less artful. Among other things, a terrorist act included injury or death of US nationals outside US boundaries (Sec 808). This definition might have repositioned the murder of Al-Awlaki in a starkly different light. Coincidentally, the PATRIOT Act doesn’t discuss the killing of US nationals outside the confines of the US….by the US.

Legal exegesis is probably best left to (progressive) lawyers, which I am not, and it’s fairly boring outside of a classroom or courtroom, so I’ll stop. But it seems that the definition of terrorism is a little less ambiguous than Greenwald suggests. As we have come to learn especially vividly in the last year, it’s not a terrorist act if a foreign national is murdered, and especially not if the US is doing the murdering.

In many ways, the Patriot Act is not “new” law. Its path was paved by any number of older laws, such as the the 1917 Espionage Act, Executive Order 9066 (signed by Pres. Roosevelt to authorize the internment of migrants and citizens of Japanese descent), 1978 FISA (defanged in 2008), and 1996 Anti-terrorist Act. The ability to circumvent judicial review for “aliens” is also found in various laws over the last decade and before. That circumvention was, again, paved by numerous older laws. See Daniel Kantstroom’s brilliant book, Deportation Nation, for a comprehensive, if turgid, list and discussion of laws that manage, regulated, and criminalized non-“Americans” since the late 1700’s. Nothing new, perhaps.

Still the Patriot Act, at least for those of us born in the last 50 years, felt like a game-changer in terms of highlighting ways to circumvent Constitutional safeguards under the auspices of “fighting” terror. “Terror” became the legalized name for newly visible racial threats (like Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, South Asians), and of course, we know that the echo chamber called the MSM is very useful in furthering the State’s purposes by helping disseminate its propaganda with images, fear-mongering, heightened hysteria-turned cultural-status quo.

Now, let’s be clear: the notion of racial threats have been long associated with some US populations of color; the legalized names for long-standing racial threats (mostly African American men and women) have been articulated along the lines of violent offenders, murderers, rapists, drug addicts, prostitutes, etc.  So, the notion of constitutional reliability has never been a solid concept for the US black population. Today, the reliability of Constitutional rights evaporates for many more folks, some of whom previously depended on being able to slip into the “good” minority category (Legal scholar Karen Engle has an old but great piece on this).

Another (interesting?) point: the racial threat of terror has been conjoined with the threat of the undocumented. It’s not uncoincidental that the war on migrants has revved up within the discourse of the War on Terror. So, while terror was re-instituted in a legal definition in 2001, the war on the undocumented also dovetails with it through the language of “defending the Homeland” (Seriously? We’re resorting to Nazi terminology?), “our” borders, along with the usual nationalist trash about defending our liberty and way of life, etc. As is always the case with fear-mongering, the law eventually becomes invisible, expressed instead through popular and cultural discourses.

Greenwald’s point remains: Terror is an ambiguous term, but its use is anything but ambiguous: it’s a tool of the US Empire and its allies, deployed against those who go against the mainstream national grain either through their express actions (dissent or protest) or through their racial presence.

It is, as I’ve mentioned before, an Empire State of mind. The state’s response to the Occupy protests around the country stunned many people who had accepted the US line that violence is justly and exclusively directed against those who threaten our way of life. They were surprised to see the authoritarian hand of the state brought out in response to their middle-class college- or  law-school-going children, their professional-class neighbors, and even their grandparents. The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), perhaps coincidentally, now legalizes the arrest of those same college students, professionals, and grandparents without cause. The arrest of your sweet liberal neighbors has been facilitated by the Patriot Act, but also by the expansions of FISA and the widespread collaboration of the telecommunication companies. Revolt, protest, dissent (whether by challenging the banks or by insistently living as an undocumented migrant in order to achieve…what?…political, economic, religious, sexual, security): these have been long-standing terrorist acts, but typically associated with visible racial threats. When your financially secure children, friends, neighbors are being targeted, that should be an important clue that those that the US Empire deems “terrorists” may be scapegoats or targets in a larger ideological struggle over the hearts and minds of Americans.  These random murders and promiscuous state violence are the consequence of unchecked arrogance couple with unrestrained power.

What’s the antidote to Empire? Unchecked arrogance–in the form of uninhibited state power–requires critical scrutiny, oversight and strict (i.e. not Bush-like) judicial accountability. If we have a state that insists that it knows best regardless of public outrage, then it’s time to jump off the righteous “war on terror” bandwagon.

Pollitt’s Perplexity about Pundits on Ron Paul

Revised:

It may be time to stop reading the Nation even earlier than March of this election year. Katha Pollitt engages in a serious distortion of Glenn Greenwald’s position (among others) that we need to pay attention to politicians such as Ron Paul, who are raising questions about President Obama’s continuation of the same policies as GW Bush. Somehow, despite Greenwald’s umpteen ad nauseam disavowals, this point is equated—no, identified –with “support for Ron Paul.” Pollitt also muses on the fact that she hasn’t seen a lot of “leftish white women and people of color” who have supported Paul, but if they do, they are staying pretty quiet about it.

Note, first of all, the old-school-lefty sweeping style of lumping all people of color with “leftish white women.” Women of color can’t have their own category–because they’re too complex and unruly with all their different identity-politic distinctions (y’know: Latina, African-American, Asian, Asian American, South Asian, African, Indigenous, Mestiza, etc.), and so at least “people of color” can address them all in one big sweep. Also, the unwieldiness of mentioning them distinctly will cut into the too-important and limited space of the Nation’s columns.

I can hear the talkback now: Q: What is it with those identity politics anyway? Can “they” just put them aside for the purposes of political solidarity? A: NO. No, “we” can’t. To be fair, that question was not articulated by Pollitt, but by plenty of other libs/progs NEVER in print but often in semi-private and casual conversations. That publicly unspoken question speaks to one of the problems with Pollitt’s post. She may not be speaking for “people of color,” but she’s certainly using “their” collective silence to make a point about the sycophancy of white male pundits in relation to other strange white men.

I wonder why Pollitt needed to point out “people of color” have not supported Ron Paul publicly. Does “their” absence on the Ron Paul platform somehow reaffirm her point about the (white?)“mancrush” for Ron Paul? It may appear to do so, but it’s a strawmancrush. People of color may not have spoken out because they have not reason to support Paul, true. Or they may not articulate support for his anti-war positions because they don’t want to be associated with Paul, given his questionable past positions on race. Or they may fear, as Glenn Greenwald points out repeatedly, that speaking in support of a stance will be CONFLATED with support for the politician. Still, a number of commentators, black and white, have pointed to the troubling policy decisions made or continued under the Obama Administration (and that are only being raised by one political candidate–a libertarian Republican–during this election season). Cornel West has been raising questions about Obama’s policies, as have Paul Krugman and Greenwald. Glenn Loury has recently raised some urgent questions about Ron Paul’s economic proposals to return to the gold standard and eliminating the Fed–EVEN as he points to the fact that Paul is our only anti-war candidate. As Corey Robin points out, a very sad fact for us on the left, because politicians on the left are not raising them.

But HERE FOLKS! I am a brown woman (in case my bio didn’t clue you into that), and I am downright livid at policies passed during the Obama administration (which a number of folks will attest that I anticipated before the 2008 election), which are even worse than expected. I am as livid with progressives who affect a casual? studied? indifference to the Administration’s repeated support for warrantless wiretapping (remember Obama’s vote during the 2008 election season when he took a break in campaigning to return to Washington to vote for the renewal of FISA; for his support of the Justice Department’s withholding of evidence (and even habeas corpus) from detainees on grounds of national security; his commitment to indefinite detention (NDAA was not the first time it’s arisen. We saw his support in the gesture to move Gitmo detainees to a federal prison in Illinois—with only a casual suggestion that they might receive civilian trials—only to watch it die quickly under even modest resistance. Guantanamo is still open with detainees languishing); the expansion of troops into Afghanistan in the first part of his term; the unceasing drone attacks in Pakistan, etc.

Does that mean that I am a fan of Ron Paul? No. Do I admire the fact that he’s articulating an anti-war platform? Yes, but very cautiously and very sadly, given his other questionable positions. As Corey Robin points out, folks who are anti-war have only Paul to look to. And in part, we have only Paul to look to, because of “white leftish women” like Katha Pollitt, who says,

“I, too, would love to see the end of the “war on drugs” and our other wars. I, too, am shocked by the curtailment of civil liberties in pursuit of the “war on terror,” most recently the provision in the NDAA permitting the indefinite detention, without charge, of US citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism. But these are a handful of cherries on a blighted tree.”

Really? Half a million Iraqi civilians dead? Dozens of Pakistani children dead because of drones (or more. We are not allowed to know)? The reproductive systems of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women decimated by decades of US-led chemical warfare ? The curtailment of civil liberties of legal residents (and not merely citizens) in the US? The indefinite detention of tens of thousands of migrants, documented or otherwise? Those migrants include Latinos, South Asians, Arabs, Middle Easterners, Muslims from other parts of the world–detained not just for migrating without papers, but for merely being suspected of terrorism and held without charges, without lawyers, without family knowing, without judicial review–without a way out. These are what an anti-war position would resist. Seriously? Pollitt believes these are cherries on a blighted tree?

Apparently the last time Pollitt checked, women were half the population in the United States. Last time I checked, women were half the population in the parts of the world that the US is decimating. I’m going out on a limb, but I’m guessing that they care about their reproductive systems being trashed. They probably also care about their children dying. I’m wondering what Pollitt thinks about the ripping apart of migrant parents from their children–by deporting at least 46,000 of them* under the Obama Administration? My understanding is that these children all had parents. And apparently those parents cared about them.

This is what Pollitt thinks are trivialities to neglect in the 2012 elections? Pollitt is extremely worried about the world of Ron Paul, in which “there would be no environmental protection, no Social Security, no Medicaid or Medicare, no help for the poor, no public education, no civil rights laws, no anti-discrimination law, no Americans With Disabilities Act, no laws ensuring the safety of food or drugs or consumer products, no workers’ rights.”

How does Pollitt feel about Obama’s initial support of the Tar Sands Pipeline? About helping bailing out Wall Street bankers using the millions of dollars that could have been spent to keep poor folks from losing their houses through robo-signings of foreclosure papers, or helping save the pensions of long time auto workers? About Democrats voting to spend trillions of dollars to send US men and women to war in which they lose their minds, if not also their limbs, and then come home to inadquate medical care, if any, and to perpetual unemployment? Is she really trustful of an FDA that can barely regulate pharmaceutical drugs?

I expect much more of presidents who dismiss their constituencies’ outcries for a return of constitutional safeguards such as habeas corpus, due process, judicial review, congressional approval before engaging in invasions, who want an end to the drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. I expect much more from folks who claim to be progressive and engaged in these outcries during the reign of George II, but have no interest in speaking publicly about the continuation of these same outrages under Obama’s rule (Let’s face it: that’s what it is: a move to increasing autocratic rule, and the most recent signing of NDAA can make no other point).

But like Ross Perot in 1991 (whose third-party candidacy created the space to challenge NAFTA) and Ralph Nader in 2000 (who raised questions about corporate politics and party complicity), the presence of Paul is raising serious questions about some elephants in the room. How do we expect solidarity among folks of color when the cost-benefit analysis is played out by pitting the issues that concern white folks and some US folks of color against issues affecting international populations or other US folks of color, as Pollit does in her column?

Here’s another question: why must I make this claim as a woman of color? As a South Asian woman? As a migrant? Why can’t I make this claim as a US citizen, pure and simple? Why can’t I make this claim simply as a progressive? Somehow that pisses me off. The collective indifference of thousands of progressives, even in OWS, to the minute attention paid to those foreign policies that don’t take an enormous leap of imagination to see the deaths, the bodily and psychic harm, the mutations that result from chemical warfare, that have affected hundreds of thousands of PEOPLE of COLOR. Yes. And I am a “People of color” making this point. For better or worse, Ron Paul is noticing it. I don’t care what his motivations are (again, I AM NOT SUPPORTING HIS CANDIDACY. Glenn: maybe you should have put your alerts in all-caps, like I did). He is raising the questions.

In general, I tend to agree with old-fashioned Southern liberals (Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Jim “armadillo guy” Hightower), etc. Southern libertarians or anything elses, less so. So, I’m not surprised by Paul’s primitive and bass-ackwards views on affirmative action, race, gay rights, women. But then again, I don’t expect much of libertarians, in the same way that I expect little of conservatives or neo-liberals. And I am pleased when they raise an issue to which I am sympathetic.

For other pundits who insist that holding Obama to such difficult standards is racist, since after all Bill Clinton was a neo-liberal white president who engaged in some pretty dubious domestic and foreign policy in the first term and still got re-elected by Democrats: I have news. I was pissed in 1996. And there was the same lesser-of-2-evils guilt tripping that revolved around gathering support for the “centrist” incumbent. The Clinton Administration was the harbinger of some pretty serious human rights violations, as I see it: The 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 1996 Welfare Reform Act (PRWORA), and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsiblity Act (IIRIRA), the “3 Strikes” (1994 Crime Act). All of those are crucial pieces of the road to indefinite detention and the eradication of civil liberties for US people of color. But we had the same guilt-trip in 1996 that we had in 2000, 2004, 2008, and again today: We have to do a cost-benefit analysis to see how “we” (read White Leftish Women and Men, and some segment of “People of Color”) stand to lose more personal benefits if we vote for the “worse” of 2 evils than for the “lesser” of 2 evils. It is always interesting to see how “we” couch the vote for the lesser of 2 evils in terms of how it will help “Other people” (even as it mostly helps us assuage our consciences and ensures that our status quo will not get worse.

Essentially, Pollitt’s column comes down to this: We want solidarity among liberals and progressives—but only on terms determined by WHITE leftish women and a segment of white men and some people of color. So it’s fine to be critical of President Obama and other Democrats. But DON’T suggest that a Republican–a conservative Libertarian–might raise a substantial issue that puts the libs/progs in an awkward spot. Especially NOT during Election Year. We can forgive a Democrat who’s continued a war that has killed and maimed Arabs, Muslims, poor folks of color who are NOT citizens of this mighty White-serving country (and killed and maimed thousands of US soldiers, too), but don’t funk with Pollitt’s reproductive rights. Certainly Obama has not expanded access to reproductive options to women without healthcare. I’m completely in support of the rights of middle- & upper-class white women to have abortions, but I’m also in support of the ability of US poor women & women of color, along with international women of color (poor or otherwise) to have access to reproductive health as well. Drones in Pakistan and chemical warfare in Iraq (yes, I know—Obama has “withdrawn” US troops from there—but only b/c Iraq wouldn’t let the US stay), and remaining in Afghanistan doesn’t exactly enhance access to reproductive rights for women. Nor does it facilitate clean air, water, or an unpolluted environment.

Here’s my other question: Why does this have to turn into a “guilt by association” debate? Why can’t we discuss the questions that are being raised as serious and important questions, rather than referendums on voters’ or pundits’ moral character? I don’t have to like Ron Paul (and why do we need to LIKE our politicians?). I don’t have to have dinner with him. He doesn’t need to be a friend. He is raising the questions that every other liberal and progressive and feminist (yes, including you, Katha) should be raising and forcing the Democrats to address. As Greenwald has pointed out, these issues only become outrage-worthy when the Republicans are spearheading human rights violations, because it gives the libs and progs a lever by which to claim political superiority. The silence on the Democrats’ record of human rights violations is deafening. And they’re more than cherries on a blighted tree. They’re dead bodies on the blighted conscience of Americans.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported 46,000 deportations of migrants. In fact, 46k represents the number of parental deportations of migrants who had US born children, from the six month period of Jan-June 2011, according to journalist Seth Wessler, who reported the original story in Colorlines.

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