Friday, December 03, 2004

Al Qaeda: The Mouse That Roared

The lastest objective analysis of the Al Qaeda network concludes that it isn't nearly as large and sophisticated as it is portrayed by the media. In fact, it is a sad fact that we know so little about it, and it is so elusive, precisely because it is so small and disorganized.

Yes, they and the terrorist cells they have inspired and trained in the past are still dangerous and still likely to cause harm. But more and more it becomes apparent that, 3 1/2 years after 9/11, it is time to realize that terrorism is primarily an international law enforcement issue. InterPol not the Navy Seals are the model for anti-terrorist work. The all-out worldwide military mobilization against terror this Adminsitration exploits is like swatting a fly with a 40mm HEAP round.

I am weary of the sick joke that terror inspired security procedures have become. The shoe demanding, traveller harrassing, breast fondling mouth-breathers of airport security services have become a standard fare of standups. I'm agog at the stupidity of guards with metal detectors in the municipal buildings of every podunk township busily confiscating nail files and booting up laptops to ensure they don't harbour a bomb. All this while I can still concieve of dozens of ways to cause havoc and death in places without a single guard, lock, camera or sensor.

Yet my soul is stained by the torture rooms in Abu Ghraib and the stink of rotting civilian corpses in the streets of Fallujah keeps me awake at night. This how we respond to terrorism? By becoming the sort of banally evil automatons who follow orders to march into hell and get promotions for doing so? I have nightmares about the next terrorist attack, which will come when no one expects it, where no one expects it, and by means no one anticipated (except perhaps in the PDB, where it will be studiously ignored). But I have come to terms with the fact that no matter how well we guard the doors, or how securely we lock the windows, or how advanced the alarms systems are, the mice will still get in the pantry.

We are living in a creeping police state and constant state of resigned anxiety: the alert level never drops below yellow, and never will. And if it does, that will be the day one of these hate-poisoned bastards will blow up a chemical factory and unleash a Bhopal on America. This is the reality that globalization, development, and technology has brought us: an unending litany of ways we are vulnerable, both to even the least of our enemies and our own worst tendencies.

There are only two possible outcomes of this new, post-9/11, reality. One is that we cope. We learn to apply appropriate counter-measures and precautions, set up sane and effective institutions, make the needed legal changes to address the problem, and get on with life, accepting the no solution is perfect. The other is that we let this latest 'War on' become an all-consuming, self-perpetuating, reality-distorting, political mine-field like the War on Drugs. Suddenly, it dawns on everyone that we have some sociological equivalent of the largest incarcerated population on earth, or that we're often spending more on prisons than on schools, or that entire sectors of our population have had their lives sucked up and spit out perpetuating sick cycles of hatred and greed and fear and exploitation that lie at the heart of every war. And nobody will know the way back. No one can point to the exit. There will be a cancer feeding off of us, growing and metastasizing, and it will have become so familiar that most will think the tumour is just a normal appendage - like the police state that has grown up around the 'Drug War', like the civil rights we've laid down in service to a 'drug-free America'.

The irony is that every time we go 'War on' we think we are fighting an enemy when we are really fighting ourselves. In the 'War on Drugs' that conundrum is obvious, there would be no supply without a demand. The shadow-boxing aspects of the 'War on Terror' aren't so obvious. But one has to ask why the media portrayal of a nigh-on omnipotent, ever-present, lurking and growing Al Qaeda finds such an enthusiastic and voracious audience despite a lack of any evidence? What is it about that terrible evil lurking out there waiting to pounce that is so compelling to us that we swallow it down unhesitatingly, uncritically?

The American psyche has ever embraced enthusiastically the 'other'. The embodiment of evil, corruption, primitive urges, bestial habits, and malign designs. Indians, blacks, jews, asians, hispanics, homosexuals, communists, the have each played and, in some cases, continue to play the 'other'. Now the most compelling enbodiment of the 'other' is a fundamentalist Muslim with a bomb strapped to his chest. But what trait is in us that this 'other' allows us to externalize so that we may ignore our own indulgence in it?

Intolerance. Intolerance of differences in others. Intolerance of other ways of thinking. Intolerance of different beliefs and different values. They are all part and parcel of the Fundamentalist Muslim. A hatred of secularism, which is really just the means to tolerance of other faiths, is a hallmark of both the terrorist enemy and the loudest advocates of making 'war' on him. Intolerance of political opposition leads the terrorist to violence, and leads the Republican to run over musical CDs with a steamroller - yesterday. What might it inspire tomorrow? Intolerance of other cultures and other values leads to English only laws, Prop 200 and other 'anti-immigrant' demonstrations, Freedom Fries, and the perennial appeal to 'American values', 'family values', and 'Christian values' with never the slightest doubt that all Americans, families, or Christians actually share the values or beliefs the panderers are pedling.

What defines the Conservative movement of the last 30 years more than anything? Intolerance. Al Qaeda and their ilk make the perfect enemy of the Conservative because they share the same disease at heart. Conservatives can project their most unattractive feature upon the enemy in the 'War on Terror' and hide their own deformity by denouncing it in others. They can continue to quietly indulge their appetite for inequality, authoritarianism, and hatred of differences so long as they can quote a body count in their wonderful little 'War on'. Assuredly, they cannot afford to allow such a condition to end unless there is a more useful enemy at hand. And that is why America cannot afford to get sucked into a perpetual 'War on Terror'; it distracts from the Conservative movement's most repellent feature. If they are able to institutionalize the 'War on Terror' as the 'War on Drugs' has been, Karl Rove will get his wish, a political realignment and a lock on power for the Republican party. Americans will be given leave en mass to ignore the beams in their own eyes as they damn the mote in Mohammad's, and America will cease to be the nation we know and love.


At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Henry Faulk was a neighbor of mine and a fixture
at progressive meetings in Austin, Tx. He was a great
humorist and teller of old time style stories. History
knows him as the rising star of CBS in the early fifties
who got blacklisted by McCarthy and, with the help of
attorney Louis Nizer and Edward R. Murrow, fought the
blacklist in court and won a large settlement. However,
he was never able to work again nationally except for a
stint on a "Grand 'Ole Opry" television show called
"Hee Haw."

Anyway, he tells a story of the time he and a childhood
friend were told by his mama to go out to the chicken
house and get some eggs. As his friend Snooky lifted
up one hen at eye level, a chicken snake came out from
under and they met eye to eye. Snooky dropped the hen,
jumped back tripped all over himself and young John
Henry getting out of their and wet his pants in the
process. Chicken snakes are not harmful.

There is a tendency in humans to get scared at the image
of danger and to spook ourselves out of our wits. This
Al Qaeda thing has pretty well caused the nation to do
that and the Republicans have seen the usefulness of
keeping that panic going as a political tool instead
of working to bring the nation together as Americans.

Bush probably couldn't have been re-elected had they
not relied on base instincts.

The problem was a long time in the making. I grew up
around the sort of people that Bush has around him.
They were going to Bible study meetings after school
during their college careers talking about how the
nation was heeding a false siren song from Hollywood
and the progressivism of the '60s. During those days
they pledged to dedicate their careers and lives to
turning this around.

Most Progressives meanwhile, myself included, dismissed
these people as stupid. We pursued aims that were less
focused, and more future oriented. A lot of progressives
came to believe that they could afford an attitude that
politics was just too crass to get too concerned about.
Some preferred to promote the idea that voting was not
relevant. Others would get involve in politics but
insist on getting into fractious debates that caused
division and years of nursing grudges.

Thus, the infrastructure of organizing both locally and
nationally and the ability to influence even the
Democratic Party was weakened.

That Bush won the election is alarming and surprising, but
the truth is that this is like standing on a long, straight
train track with a train visible for fifty miles and being
surprised when it hits.

Kerry missed an opportunity to reframe the whole debate
about security and foreign policy.

The Republicans are fire alarm salesmen. They know that
people can be led by their fears.

The problem is not really Al Qaeda. The problem is why
there are people willing to blow themselves up in an
attempt to get attention paid.

By focusing on the burning towers in New York and
staying in a hurry to get a posse and go galloping
off after someone to hang, we stay in a perpetual
Western plot that is no closer to reality than a
Hop-Along Cassidy movie.

The entire nation is in a state that isn't too
far from that depicted in "The Matrix" in that
everything seen through the lens of television
and advertising media creates a consumer
psychology which colors everything. We are all
susceptible to this.

The greater problems are resource sustainability
issues, and a consumer based economy that needs
some kind of fundamental change.

The Democratic leadership doesn't seem to relate
to this in a progressive way. The Republicans
see the future in a more definite way, in terms
of more police to stifle rising dissent and
more gated communities and locks to provide
security against the ever more desperate have-

Progressives need to be engaged in the effort
to envision a future that is real and can be
a pragmatic alternative to the view of the
future offered by the Republicans
and the Oil and extractive special interests.

-Stuart H
just moved to Tsaile from the Seattle area

At 6:10 PM, Blogger stephensedona said...

Extremely thoughtful posts.
I had just reported for jury duty and was told to go home, so I standing in the street about 4 blocks north of the WTC when the first building went down. I watched second fall a few blocks north in the Village.
First I like John Stewart's observation that New Yorkers being closest to the attacks are least likely to support Bush.
Besides the genuine dishonesty going on, CIA and State Dept,not to mention the neccons who inflitrated the DD and the rest have no experience in the kind of movement that Al Qaeda is . From the beginning they have projected metaphors from the way their organaizations are structured onto Al Qaeda.
The actual group that is in any particular organization is very tiny. Attacks from Al Qaeda came only every couple of years. It takes time for them to gear up. For all the arrests and propaganda it's not clear ( based on public information) that there was even a single terrorist cell left in the US. The attack was an act of evil genius almost everyone who played a major role in was dead from day one. They took a lot of losses for a small group.
The movement that Al Qaeda is materializing and brutal arm of is not small. They have made no progress in dealing with it, indeed have probably made the movement as opposed to its opportunistic concretions stronger. And they have sent new recruits there way.
The whole thing is so clueless for all the intense effort and hard work put into it. It has taken these past years to get it even moderately good focus.


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