March 20, 2006

The politics of fear bites back

If there is anything that shows how cynical and manipulative the politics of fear have become, it is the controversy of the Dubai-based company Dubai Ports World taking over management of some US ports. As everyone knows, that company has now said that because of the huge negative reaction, they are handing over that operation to a US-based entity, although the details of that transfer have not been released.

This is an example of the chickens coming home to roost for this administration. To understand this, we have to go back to the events of 9/11. One way to view that disaster was to see it as a criminal act for which the perpetrators had to be sought ad brought to justice, like Timothy McVeigh was for the Oklahoma City bombing.

But that would not have served the purposes of the neoconservatives who needed a grand enemy in order to pursue their vision of global conquest. Treating it as a criminal matter in which the international law enforcement agencies would be involved, would not enable them to go on their preferred route of global conquest. In wars, innocent people die and in order to get the public to accept this, one needs an undifferentiated enemy so that anyone who gets killed can be seen as somehow deserving of it, if only by virtue of sharing some characteristics with those who actually carried out the crimes.

So a global enemy had to be manufactured and portrayed as this vast shadowy conspiracy seeking to undermine and then overthrow America, so that the only appropriate response was to go to war. This war was initially marketed to the public as the "global war on terror." Attempts were made last year to change the brand name to the "struggle against violent extremism," perhaps because the acronym SAVE tested better in market research than GWOT. But that change seems to have been nixed by President Bush perhaps because, as Jon Stewart said, Bush likes to think of himself as a "war president" and not a "struggling president." The latest attempt at a brand name change is to call it "the long war". This change has been proposed just this year and we'll have to see if it takes root.

In this war, the undifferentiated enemy necessarily had to be Muslims and Arabs because the middle east was the target. But despite lip service to the notion that not all Muslims and Arabs were being targeted, the rhetoric of the war on terror and the need to try and link al Qaida to Iraq, inevitably led to that particular group of people being demonized.

Wars and warmongers have little use for subtleties. The fact is that much of the Muslim world is cosmopolitan, modern, linked integrally into the world trade system, and have thriving economies, as was the case with Iraq before the first Gulf war in 1991 and the subsequent imposition of sanctions.

But the Dubai Ports World deal has exposed the essential fraudulence of the so-called war on terror. The general public has been conditioned to think of Muslims and Arabs as malevolent beings and potential terrorists and thus there inevitably was a huge outcry at allowing such people access to American ports. And the White House and congressional Republicans and Democrats are responding hypocritically to this reaction.

This administration used a bludgeon against those who argued that acts of terrorism required a nuanced approach, accusing them of not being tough enough or not understanding the dangers the country faced from this vast global enemy coming out of the middle east. Now the same administration is aggrieved that people are not taking a nuanced approach to its dealings with the Arab world.

William Greider, writing in The Nation magazine, ridicules conservative columnist David Brooks for saying that the adverse reaction to the ports deal was an example of political hysteria because the "experts" tell [Brooks] there is no security risk involved. Greider writes:

Of course, he is correct. But what a killjoy. This is a fun flap, the kind that brings us together. Republicans and Democrats are frothing in unison, instead of polarizing incivilities. Together, they are all thumping righteously on the poor President. I expect he will fold or at least retreat tactically by ordering further investigation. The issue is indeed trivial. But Bush cannot escape the basic contradiction, because this dilemma is fundamental to his presidency.

A conservative blaming hysteria is hysterical, when you think about it, and a bit late. Hysteria launched Bush's invasion of Iraq. It created that monstrosity called Homeland Security and pumped up defense spending by more than 40 percent. Hysteria has been used to realign US foreign policy for permanent imperial war-making, whenever and wherever we find something frightening afoot in the world. Hysteria will justify the "long war" now fondly embraced by Field Marshal Rumsfeld.
. . .
Bush was the principal author, along with his straight-shooting Vice President, and now he is hoisted by his own fear-mongering propaganda. The basic hysteria was invented from risks of terrorism, enlarged ridiculously by the President's open-ended claim that we are endangered everywhere and anywhere (he decides where). Anyone who resists that proposition is a coward or, worse, a subversive. We are enticed to believe we are fighting a new cold war. But are we? People are entitled to ask. Bush picked at their emotional wounds after 9/11 and encouraged them to imagine endless versions of even-larger danger. What if someone shipped a nuke into New York Harbor? Or poured anthrax in the drinking water? OK, a lot of Americans got scared, even people who ought to know better.

So why is the fearmonger-in-chief being so casual about this Dubai business?

Because at some level of consciousness even George Bush knows the inflated fears are bogus. So do a lot of the politicians merrily throwing spears at him. He taught them how to play this game, invented the tactics and reorganized political competition as a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, endless opportunities to waste public money. Very few dare to challenge the mindset. Thousands have died for it.

It is interesting how even local people have picked up on how to play this game and use this hysteria to advance their own interests. In Cleveland, two companies that own commercial office space downtown are protesting a third because that company has been more successful than they at getting tenants to fill their office buildings. The complaint? The successful company is (gasp!) owned by an arm of the Kuwaiti government! Oh, the horror!

The Plain Dealer reports:

UPDATE: I have received an email from one of the people mentioned in the Plain Dealer article disputing the characterization of his views in the article. At his request, I have removed the passage.

What's next in this anti-Muslim and anti-Arab crusade? Muslims not allowed to buy property in certain areas? Not allowed to get bank loans? Not allowed to park in handicapped spots?

How low can we go?

POST SCRIPT: Biblical inerrancy

Some time ago I wrote about Biblical inerrancy and discussed Bart Ehrman's recent book Misquoting Jesus. Jon Stewart has an interesting interview with the author.


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