Democratic Underground

The American Front
December 12, 2001
by Kevin Raybould

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The War on Terrorism (or America's New War, or American Fighting Back, or whatever media label catches your fancy) is going well, we are assured. Looking at the situation in Afghanistan, it is easy to agree. The Taliban have been removed from power, denying al-Queda at least one safe haven. The Northern Alliance have generally behaved themselves, and the interim agreement on a transitional government includes all the correct language of inclusion, tolerance and good will.

If the reality on the ground approaches the idealism of the agreement, Afghanistan is poised for a much happier chapter in it's often bloody history. So far, despite the tendency of George W Bush to speak in B movie clichés offensive to the Muslim world, a cataclysmic war of cultures has not materialized. The Bush administration has even taken some tentative steps toward really neutralizing terrorist funding, and the secrecy laws that protect tax cheats as well as terrorists.

There are problems, of course. The Palestinian-Israel conflict is threatening to spiral completely out of control. The Bush administration is still unwilling to take on the Gulf States - most notably Saudi Arabia - that fan fundamentalist rage against the West to divert attention from their own repression and corruption. Top members of al-Queda and the Taliban remain on the loose. Vocal members of the Bush administration are agitating for a war with Iraq to "finish the job" - despite obvious displeasure with the idea in the Middle East and Europe.

Then there is the issue of the American front.

The Bush Administration pushed through a law dismantling several important levels of judicial oversight of the Justice Department. Not satisfied, the Administration then went on to arbitrarily, and without Congressional or Judicial approval, destroy the concept of attorney client privilege, destroy the concept of a fair trial for foreigners, and to attempt to limit domestic dissent through the use the FBI.

Commentators on both the Left and the Right have been quick to condemn these abuses of the Constitution. The discussions, however, have tended to concentrate on the affect these decisions will have on Americans, or on the willingness of Europeans to cooperate in certain aspects of this conflict. A greater danger may lie in the reaction of the non Western world to the Bush Administration's disregard for the Constitution.

Terrorists feed off the desperation and hopelessness of the world's dissatisfied - whether they be the poorest of the poor, whose only contact with the West is the government troops sent to protect some multinational's interests, or the well to do and privileged who recoil at the worse aspects of Western commercial society overwhelming their traditional beliefs.

The only sure way to eliminate terrorism is to eliminate hopelessness and desperation wherever it is found. This is not a war of armies and spies (although both will be needed at times). It is a war of ideas. The terrorist says to the world: "If you do as we say, if you turn your life over to us, then we will tell you what God wants you to do. We will study his writings, and, because we are devout and close to His heart, we will know what he wishes from you. If you do these things, your life will be full, and your children will live secure and safe in the arms of God's chosen people." It is a tempting an powerful idea, one not easily refuted.

Fortunately, we have an idea of our own, one even more powerful, one that has been chosen by people all over the world, wherever the choice was possible: "All men are created equal. We will not tell you how to live, we will not force you and yours to bend to what we tell you God wants you to do. We will set you free to find your happiness how and where you will. We will allow your voice to be heard, and we will count your opinion. And we will not place the whims of the government over the rights that allow you and yours to pursue your happiness."

That idea is our greatest asset, but for it to be effective, we must try to live by it precepts. George W. Bush and John Ashcroft do not appear to understand this reality. Each of the actions to combat terrorism in America are in direct conflict with American ideals. The ability of the state to listen in on every conversation between a lawyer and her clients, the ability to tap a person's communications based upon "suspicion," not proof, and the ability of the state to hold people indefinitely, without guarantee of communication with the outside world are the tools of despots and police states. Military tribunals held in secret without appeal or due process are not the hallmark of a society based on law and the rights of the individual. Worse, the tribunals apply only to foreigners, not to Americans.

The Bush Administration is shouting to the world that our idea is a lie, that it applies only to the children of privilege and power. In this time of crisis, they have abandoned the principles that are elevate us above the terrorists. It is now munch easier to portray our idea as a sham, window dressing for a commercial juggernaut that will destroy a cherished way of life and replace it with nothing but McDonalds, MTV and repression.

Instead of offering a dream of transformation and renewal, the Bush Administration has made it possible for the terrorists to deride our alternative as a nightmare of greed, homogenization, and serfdom.

This is a war of ideas. Every action taken here at home resonates abroad. The Bush Administration disdain for the Constitution is not just an erosion of American civil liberties - it is a disturbing weakening of the very idea that is our best - our only - weapon against terrorism.