Issue 256 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review

Stop this war

The power to wage war forever?

US writer and activist Mike Davis describes the mood there today
Hands on their hearts, they're going to start bombing
Hands on their hearts, they're going to start bombing

On Long Island, where I temporarily live, the entire landscape is creped in aggressive red, white and blue. It is impossible to walk five feet without encountering a flag or a 'God Bless America' placard. In this land of pious chauvinism and fundamentalist self certainty, it is equally difficult to find a suburb, village or school where someone-vaguely fitting the popular stereotypes of the terrorist 'other'-has not been a victim of hate. In my area, for example, an immigrant-owned store was fire-bombed.

The ferocity of bigotry seems to increase as a square of distance from the actual disaster epicentre in multicultural Manhattan. The national press has reported only a tiny fraction of the beatings, assaults, burnings of mosques, broken windows, death threats, boycotted businesses and public humiliations that comprise this informal American Kristallnacht. At least three murders are being investigated as hate crimes, including the killing of a Sikh in Arizona by a self described '100 percent American patriot'.

Bush's homilies about 'tolerance', then, are necessary damage control and international PR, while Washington, in fact, gears up not only to rain death on the mud huts of the Taliban, but to scourge dissent and difference at home. Like a greedy child on Santa's lap, the administration has besieged Congress with a wishlist of 'panoptical' powers that includes unprecedented surveillance over the internet, compulsory DNA testing of suspect aliens, and access to financial and academic records, as well as the right to detain legal immigrants for 'indefinite' periods. It is also likely, according to the New York Times, that 'racial profiling'--the discriminatory targeting of specific groups for selective stop, search and interrogation--'may be authorised by judges more definitively than ever before'.

In the current Orwellian discourse of Washington, 'good' Muslim-Americans are praised for their patriotism, while immigrants as a whole, even exchange students, are placed under stark categorical suspicion. One of the first casualties of 11 September, for example, was the proposed amnesty for millions of undocumented Mexican immigrants discussed at the recent US-Mexico summit. This reform no longer has a heartbeat of life, and, in a typically vicious attempt to outbid the Republicans, California's senior Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, has called for a moratorium on the admission of foreign students to US universities and technical institutes.

Meanwhile from his primetime pulpit on Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, Bill O'Reilly has ceaselessly reminded listeners that 'defence against terrorism is nonsense until we stop illegal immigration'. Likewise Paul Craig Roberts--formerly a supply-side astrologer to Ronald Reagan--has warned in his syndicated column that a 'foolish immigration policy and unconstitutional racial quotas have allowed terrorists to establish "Fifth Columns" through our own territory'.

Dark warnings of a 'fifth column' also emanate from the New Republic, Tony Blair's favorite mouthpiece of respectable centrist opinion in Washington. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks its editor, Peter Beinart, listened in on some of the nervous chit-chat being exchanged on the internet by anti-globalisation activists. When one person plaintively asked, 'Can we draw one tiny element of goodness from this?' and another hestitantly responded, 'Maybe this was what was needed to make a change for the better?' Beinart pounced on their conversation as a moral equivalent of the outbursts of joy on the West Bank which American television has shown incessantly.

According to Beinart, anti-globalisation protest is, 'in part, a movement motivated by hatred of the United States. Now, after what has happened this week, it must choose.' Specifically the New Republic (which also featured a tirade by publisher Marty Peretz against 'soft on terrorism' network news anchor Peter Jennings) demanded that activists cancel long-planned protests in Washington as proof of their patriotism. Otherwise, he warned thuggishly, the movement 'will, in the eyes of the nation, have joined the terrorists in a united front. This nation is now at war. And in such an environment, domestic political dissent is immoral without a prior statement of national solidarity, a choosing of sides.'

It is important to emphasise that this is not a fatwa from some obscure corner of the Bible Belt, but the voice of ultra-respectable 'third way' punditry. As in the late 1940s, when the Democrats opened the gates to McCarthyism, the left should be braced for witch-hunting from the centre. Of course, we have seen only an inkling of what's inside the Pandora's Box that the Democrats opened by voting Bush the power to wage war forever, wherever, and against whomever.

There is no reason to believe, for example, that Washington's new crusaders against terrorism see themselves constrained to 'rid evil'and 'end states' exclusively in the Middle East. The blank cheque that Congress wrote to Bush, and which Nato recklessly endorsed, is probably negotiable anywhere the Pentagon or CIA discerns a fundamental US interest at stake. Thus 'Plan Colombia'--the barely disguised US campaign against the Colombian guerrilla movements--has presumably been folded into the larger War Against Terrorism. Equally the IRA, Eta and the Tamil Tigers, as well as their US supporters, could theoretically fall within the new dispensation.

Washington, of course, is ridiculously overstretching itself in both reality and rhetoric. But if there is one lesson that should never be forgotten from previous eras of imperial hubris, it is the likelihood that defeat and frustration in the wilds of the Hindu Kush will translate, in the short run at least, into an increasingly violent backlash against anti-imperialism at home.

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