Saturday October 06, 2001-- Rajab 18,1422 A.H
Paranoid, self-centred US after attacks
A correspondent's views about the state of American crisis
By Amir Mateen
WASHINGTON: September 11 seems to have changed everything for this country. The new deal struck between the Bush administration and the Congress on Thursday will give security agencies almost Gustapo-like powers. Despite pronouncements by President Bush, this citadel of civil society is fast looking like the brutal communist countries of yesteryears. Overnight, the United States no longer seems the bastion of freedom, equality and civil rights that it was. In the name of 'anti-terrorism bill,' American security and intelligence agencies will have the power to wiretap phones, monitor emails and Internet communication of every country from Indonesia to Canada, and arrest any foreigner for at least seven days without any court authorization. Not that these laws are being carved to store them in statute books.
Life for many people, particularly 'Muslim-looking' Arabs or South Asians, has already become, to say the least, hellish. People were off-loaded just because some passenger said he was not feeling 'comfortable' with the presence of a foreigner-looking passenger in the plane. Others were denied tickets at airport counters or dropped off the trains and buses because they looked suspicious.
This is in addition to the blatant racial profiling being practiced at Immigration Offices and even ordinary public places like cinemas. If one fits into the stereo type image of the latest 'enemy', no matter if you are a Sikh, Hindu or Muslim, you can't avoid being sneered or sometimes jeered at in metro rails, buses and public parks.
No matter what the Americans might say about not curbing their civil rights for the sake of security, the fact is: The collective psyche of this country stands shattered and it's not likely to be restored for a long, long time. Never like before. This was proved by a small isolated event in a far-off Tennessee town on Wednesday that shook the entire country once again.
A passenger on a Greyhound bus slashed the neck of the driver and steered it towards oncoming traffic, killing six people. It virtually shut the whole country as Greyhound, the biggest bus company that carries 25 million passengers a year, closed down its services for six hours. What had the Muslims in America worried was a possible outbreak of racial riots.
As rumours about the bus having bio-weapon and nerve gas aboard hit the news, the entire town and the local hospital were sealed. Initially, the assailant was described as "a Middle-eastern looking guy who spoke with an accent." This spelt disaster for the Muslim community who suddenly feared for their kith who were out in schools and offices. Later, the assailant turned out to be a Croatian. But the incident showed how fragile is the mental state of the Americans at this stage. Any small isolated incident has the potential to turn the great American dream into an overnight chaos.
Already, the voices of dissent in this country are on the defensive. The hawks pervade all over, particularly in the media. Host of late night show, 'Politically Incorrect', Bill Maher was targeted when he suggested that the perpetrators were not so cowards after all. It required guts to do what they did. It caused a media storm when he said that what was not courageous was "when you fire cruise missiles thousands of miles away."
The sponsorship of his popular programme, which is designed for being controversial, was cancelled and his show put off the air. TV Network ABC's renowned anchor Peter Jennings became a target of criticism when he passed a remark construed as a slur against President Bush: "In times of crisis the Americans look towards their President for guidance. Some Presidents provide that guidance, some don't."
This seemingly harmless comment swarmed the ABC offices with thousands of critical letters. Another victim may be the principles that the United States stands for. 'Always for the right cause,' the American is always cajoled into believing, no matter what the world may think of it. The event may have changed world politics, its ripples affecting countries across continents. Never has an event changed the world so much, the foreign policy being no exception.
Bush was on a rampage as far as international agreements and protocols were concerned, scrapping Kyoto Agreement to the ratification of International Court of Criminals. Come September 11, the America has reversed its policy on almost every front. China, which had become an obsession with the American media, is suddenly extinct from news.
On the contrary, Beijing's help is being sought for this shared fight for principles. Suddenly, Washington is paying its UN dues as it needs its help to build the international coalition. Russia's war against Chechnya has become "just" overnight. Somalia does not look as evil as, let's say, a month ago. The human rights violations in Uzbekistan were not so bad after all. Even the cooperation of Iran is being considered.
On top of everything, the claim that the Bush administration was about to accept Palestine as state almost borders on the ridiculous. The biggest change of heart is visible in Pakistan's case. Never mind that it is the same dictatorship that was usurping the rights of its people, hobnobbing with the Chinese in missile build-up, selling nuclear technology to North Korea and harbouring terrorism all over. Undoubtedly, this country has a great tradition of debate and the ability to learn from its mistakes. Something that earned it the proprietary rights of the last hundreds years as 'the American Century.' But at the beginning of what was being prematurely called the American millennium, a handful of perpetrators had been quite successfully able to rob this country of its biggest strength-its freedom of debate, the rule of law and the fight for principles. And yet one does not see this country seeing what is so obviously, as the clichÈ goes-written on the wall.
There is very little effort to study the root causes. Not many seem to be studying the dialectical questions that this tragedy may have raised: Why would so many people give their lives just like that? Is there something more to the simplified interpretation that what is being touted by the American establishment? How could anybody who obviously loved life-- savoured his drinks and dancing-- feel so strongly about such issues? Is there a link with the daily atrocities that Muslims see being committed in Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya. Working as a correspondents in Washington during this crisis, one comes across little dissent.
Even a casual monitoring of American newspaper and TV networks can tell that the country has been taken over by hawks who cannot see beyond their nose. Except for a few forlorn voices, the majority is not shown the other side of the picture. The domestic compulsions of satisfying a lobby that seeks blood, eye for an eye, no matter where they come from. A sizeable section of the nation wants to see action-revenge in the Hollywood style that they are so accustomed to see in Rambo, Terminator etc. President Bush also needs to maintain his ratings at a steady level. Nothing matters more than that. Since the diagnosis seems to be so bad, the treatment is likely to be worse.