May 9, 2011

What kind of country are we, anyway?

A rant...

Not long after 9-11, in a message to the American people, then Attorney General John Ashcroft stated, “Our single objective is to prevent terrorist attacks by taking suspected terrorists off the street. Let the terrorists among us be warned: If you overstay your visa – even by one day – we will arrest you. If you violate a local law, you will be put in jail and kept in custody as long as possible. We will use every available statute. We will seek every prosecutorial advantage.”

Thus was the first clue we had of the soon to become evident zero-tolerance policies that would lead to the seeking out and apprehending anyone suspected of being terrorists. 

The effects were quickly evident. America was fear-stricken by events only days old, and the public stood by numbly and watched as television images of bearded young Muslims in kufis became the fodder for this "get tough on terrorism" policy, and we watched as they were hustled away by security agents for interrogation. The implication was that all of these young men were terrorists. The reality is that most were not, and were later released. You didn't see that part on the television.

If there had ever been any doubt, it was now clear. The 9-11 attacks and our government’s reaction afterward confirmed to the people that Muslims were the very antithesis of the American way of life. That image has persisted to this day, and if anything the ultra-scrutiny and demonization of these communities has become the nom de guerre of the extreme rightist in our society. Muslims have become the new Irish; the new Catholic. Witness such blogs as Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs, which even as I scribe this missive posts another shrill rant "proving" without doubt that the rag-heads are our avowed enemy.

It has now been over ten years, and the purveyors of fear and ignorance have succeeded in transforming our way of life into a sham of what we once enjoyed. They’ve done a damn good job too. The hasty passage of the expansive PATRIOT Act, authored by the right but supported by almost every stripe of politician, has sucked the very life out of what once was American freedom. This was one of those heat-of-the-moment things that has proven damn difficult to reverse.

Sacrificing our liberties in futile efforts to assuage our fears has given way to permitting our government wholly unfettered discretion in their drive to preserve national security, even at the expense of American civil liberties. Our nation has become all but a police state, where legalized, intrusive surveillance is lawfully permitted to enter into almost every aspect of our lives. They could be in your bedroom right now. Would you ever know it?

Airports are the most visibly symbolic of these intrusions. Full body scanners greet us at most airports, reveling our naked silhouettes to unseen “security” personnel working for something slightly above minimum wage. Enhanced pat-downs and legalized fondling of our privates strip us of any final shred of privacy and dignity. 

A mirriad of agencies spend billions of dollars gathering intelligence on each of us for entry into super-secret (we hope) databases and collected by our government the way kids once collected baseball cards.

Our financial lives and political slants are available to any agency wanting them by way of warrant-less National Security Letters, without any evidence of actual or intended criminal activity. Under the auspices of protecting national security our police departments spend more time mapping communities based on their religious beliefs and ethnic origins than on their crime fighting missions. It has become "Us vs. Them, and we don't even know if we are us or them.

The fear of “homegrown terrorists” is fanned by reprehensible rhetoric coming out of statehouses, our U.S. Congress and talk radio. Politicians and pundits have made the bigoted discourse against American Muslims acceptable, to the point that some "patriots" in this country would willingly deny Islam the constitutional protections afforded their own religions.

All of this is done in the name of prevention, which on the surface seems reasonable. Only fools would argue our collective interests to stop terrorism before it occurs... but at what point does the suspicion become so egregious that the government should be permitted to investigate the American public as individuals... or to surreptitiously intrude into our personal lives? 

When do our Constitutional rights come into play? At what point do we declare some selected speech to be so anti-American as to be worthy of the violation of rights? Because some religious practices have become unpopular, is that sufficient reason to draw the bright spotlight of heightened, secretive scrutiny? Or worse yet… loss of liberty?

At what point does legitimate counterterrorism become political and/or religious persecution? At what point does the casual intrusion into our lives become so onerous that the American public finally stands up and shouts a collective "ENOUGH."

Once we figure out the answer to that question we will have determined exactly what kind of country we want to live in – a just, free society which remains true to our Founding Fathers’ vision… or a paranoid, constantly fearful society willing to sacrifice our freedoms, the rule of law, and the fundamental principles of fairness and equality for all. 



Ambulance Driver said...

We disagree on a lot of things politically, but on this I agree with you 100%.

Anonymous said...

And I agree, too. Fine rant!
For the record, "ENOUGH!"

Your Bro said...

Very well written. I don't think any of the major pundits, including George Will (right-wing but very erudite), could have written such an eloquent and spot-on "rant". For the record, I share your concerns, to the max, and decry what our country has, and is, becoming. Not only that, but the commercial side of the country is working to take much of our privacy away from us as well - Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. On my last airport trip, I got the enhanced pat-down, and on the way back, the electronic strip search. And, we are all more likely to die of a heart attack, car accident, diabetes, pneumonia, industrial accident, cop shooting, etc. than any terrorist attack. Is all this loss of privacy, billions of our tax dollars, soldiers and others killed in senseless wars worth it? Hell no!!!