Who are the victims of civil liberties assaults and Endless War?
Policies aimed at marginalized, easily demonizable minorities are much easier to shield from political challenge
(Salon.com) -- by Glenn Greenwald --
In The Washington Post yesterday, Law Professor Jonathan Turley has an Op-Ed in which he identifies ten major, ongoing assaults on core civil liberties in the U.S. Many of these abuses were accelerated during the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11, but all have been vigorously continued and/or expanded by President Obama. Turley points out that these powers have long been deemed (by the U.S.) as the hallmark of tyranny, and argues that their seizure by the U.S. Government has seriously called into question America’s status as a free nation: “They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian.” All ten of these powers are ones very familiar to readers here: Assassination of U.S. citizens; Indefinite detention; Arbitrary justice; Warrantless searches; Secret evidence; War crimes; Secret court; Immunity from judicial review; Continual monitoring of citizens; and Extraordinary renditions.
I’ve written volumes on all of those powers over the last several years, but — especially today — I want to focus on one narrow but vital question: who are generally the victims of these civil liberties assaults? The answer is the same as the one for this related question: who are the prime victims of America’s posture of Endless War? Overwhelmingly, the victims are racial, ethnic and religious minorities: specifically, Muslims (both American Muslims and foreign nationals). And that is a major factor in why these abuses flourish: because those who dominate American political debates perceive, more or less accurately, that they are not directly endangered (at least for now) by this assault on core freedoms and Endless War (all civil liberties abuses in fact endanger all citizens, as they inevitably spread beyond their original targets, but they generally become institutionalized precisely because those outside the originally targeted minority groups react with indifference).
To see how central a role this sort of selfish provincialism plays in shaping political priorities, just compare (a) the general indifference to Endless War and the massive civil liberties assaults described by Turley (ones largely confined to Muslims) to (b) the intense outrage and media orgy generated when a much milder form of invasiveness — TSA searches — affected Americans of all backgrounds. The success of Endless War and civil liberties attacks depends on ensuring that the prime victims, at least in the first instance, are marginalized and easily demonizable minorities.
The fundamental interconnectedness between war and civil liberties abuses on the one hand, and the targeting of minorities as part of those policies on the other, is, of course, nothing new. It was most eloquently emphasized in the largely forgotten, deliberately whitewashed 1967 speech about the Vietnam War by Martin Luther King, Jr. (who himself was targeted for years with abusive domestic surveillance by the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover). Dr. King devoted that extraordinary speech generally to the way in which the war in Vietnam was savaging not only the people of that country but also America’s national character. He specifically sought to answer his critics who were objecting that his increasingly strident opposition to the Vietnam War was a distraction from his civil rights work; instead, he insisted, his war opposition and advocacy of civil rights are, in fact, causes that are inextricably linked...
Over the weekend, I recorded a BloggingheadsTV session with The Nation‘s Katha Pollitt in which several of these same themes were discussed; it was a good, civil, constructive discussion, and the video is below. Part of the debate over the last couple weeks among progressives regarding political priorities, the Obama presidency, the Ron Paul candidacy and the like has entailed a litany of accusations — smears — hurled at those of us who insist on the prioritization of issues of war and civil liberties abuses, and who vocally highlight the ways in which the Democratic Party generally and President Obama specifically have been so awful on these matters. Some Democratic loyalists have explicitly argued that contrasting Obama with Ron Paul on these issues is warped because issues of war and civil liberties are, at best, ancillary concerns, while others have gone so far as to claim that only racial and/or gender bias — white male “privilege” — would cause someone to use the Paul candidacy to highlight how odious Obama has been in these areas.
Leaving aside the fact that (as I detail in the discussion with Pollitt), numerous women and people of color have made the same points about the vital benefits of Paul’s candidacy — voices which these accusers tellingly ignore and silence — these accusations are pure projection. Those who were operating from such privilege would not seek to prioritize issues of war and civil liberties; that’s because it isn’t white progressives and their families who are directly harmed by these heinous policies. The opposite is true: it’s very easy, very tempting, for those driven by this type of “privilege” — for non-Muslims in particular– to decide that these issues are not urgent, that Endless War and civil liberties abuses by a President should not be disqualifying or can be tolerated, precisely because these non-Muslim progressive accusers are not acutely affected by them. The kind of “privilege” these accusers raise would cause one to de-prioritize and accept civil liberties abuses, drone slaughter, indefinite detention and the like (i.e, do what they themselves do), not demand that significant attention be paid to them when assessing political choices.
As I noted the other day, it isn’t white males being indefinitely detained, rendered, and having their houses and cars exploded with drones — the victims of those policies are people like Lakhdar Boumediene, or Gulet Mohamed, or Jose Padilla, or Awal Gul, or Sami al-Haj, or Binyam Mohamed, or Murat Kurnaz, or Afghan villagers, or Pakistani families, or Yemeni teenagers. In order to get the full depth of the oppression and injustice of these ongoing War on Terror policies, one has to do things like listen to this amazing — and tragically rare — interview conducted by Chris Hayes this weekend with Boumediene, as the former GITMO detainee explained in Arabic how his life was devastated by indefinite detention. It’s easy to convince yourself that these abuses are not an urgent priority if, like those above-linked accusers, your non-Muslim privilege (to use their accusatory terminology) enables you to be shielded from their harms.
This is the primary point made so brilliantly by Falguni Sheth, the Political Theory and Philosophy Professor, in arguing that white progressives throwing around these accusations are themselves the ones guilty of it by virtue of their willingness to subordinate these issues to partisan gain — in other words, no longer desiring that these abuses be vested with prime political priority now that it’s their Party and their President guilty of them...MORE...LINK