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March 7, 2019

After terrorism


March 7, 2019

Since the 9/11 attacks, the terrorism narrative spanned at least three Presidents. In 2004, President George W Bush used the words terrorism/terrorist 16 times (but did not mention immigration) in his acceptance speech for a second term of office. Under his guidance, the United States authorized use of military force, started two wars, engaged in torture in secret places, killed more civilians, passed the Patriot Act – (H R 3162) – Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism – and initiated massive warrantless electronic surveillance of US citizens.

A new administration did not fundamentally alter this approach. President Obama sought to delegitimize torture and dialed back civilian surveillance, while expanding military missions against terrorists. More than 500 drone strikes have been carried out in at least 6 countries against avowed enemy agents as well as numerous civilians. Notwithstanding efforts to promote hope and tolerance rather than fear, and reduce gun violence, the Obama administration set records for immigrant detention and deportation, while still supporting those seeking amnesty.

President Trump promoted the politics of fear and based much of his presidential campaign on demonizing immigrants and religious minorities, and expanded drone warfare to include targets that are no longer a “continuing, imminent threat”. He cleverly connected terrorism support with immigrants, with the false claim that Muslims rejoiced during the 9/11 attacks: “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. . .And I watched in Jersey City, NJ, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering”. This was a prelude to his draconian anti-immigrant campaign against Latinos crossing the southern border, who he described as rapists, drug-dealers, and murderers. Partly inspired by the terrorism narrative to “do whatever it takes to keep us safe”, Trump received nearly 63 million votes.

Harsher immigrant policies followed, including efforts to curtail immigration from several Muslim countries, as well as caging Latino immigrant children who were separated at the border from their asylum-seeking parents. In just two years the Trump Administration has pledged a Nationalist agenda, shutdown the government in order to obtain funding for a border barrier, broken treaties, increased military expenditures, withdrawn and ridiculed global bodies, including the United Nations, NATO, the International Court of Criminal Justice, and the Paris Climate Accords. His error-laden speech to the country prior to the mid-term elections referred to immigrants 6 times, but nothing about terrorism even though in prior weeks he insisted that there were Middle Eastern terrorists and gang members among the toddlers heading to our border.

Domestically, the terrorism narrative has contributed to reduced civility and more social control, including a massive surveillance system, police monitoring of civilians, and governmental sting operations. Viewing terrorism as a general condition expands prevention efforts.

This article has been excerpted from ‘After Terrorism’.


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