Dec 6, 2013
Lockdown, USA: Lessons From the Boston Marathon Manhunt
Posted on May 9, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Yet, in the immediate aftermath of the marathon bombing, shock and collective dislocation left little room to think about the context in which the bombing took place or the implications of a lockdown strategy that hints at the broader danger of exchanging security for freedom. Any attempt to suggest that the overly militarized response to the bombings was less about protecting people than legitimating the ever expanding reach of military operations to solve domestic problems was either met with disdain or silence in the dominant media. Even more telling was the politically offensive reaction to such critics and the intensity of a right-wing diatribe that used the Boston marathon bombing as an excuse to further the expansion of the punishing state with its apparatuses of militarization, surveillance, secrecy, and its embrace of lawless states of exception. Equally repulsive was how the Boston bombing produced an ample amount of nativist paranoia about immigrants and the quest for an “enemy combatant” behind every door.
In the midst of the emotional fervor that followed the bloody Boston marathon bombings, various pundits decried any talk about a possible militarized overreaction to the event and the hint that such tactics pointed to the dangers of a police state. One critic in a moment of emotive local hysteria referred to such critics as “outrage junkies,” claimed they were “masturbating in public,” and insisted he was washing his hands of what he termed “bad rubbish.” This particular line of thought with its discursive infantilism and echoes of nationalistic jingoism ominously hinted that what happened in Boston could only register legitimately as a deeply felt emotional event, one that was desecrated by trying to understand it within a broader historical and political context.
Another register of bad faith was evident in the comments of right-wing pundits, broadcasting elites, and squeamish liberals who amped up the frenzied media spectacle surrounding the marathon bombing. Many of them suggested, without apology, that the country should be grateful for an increase in invasive searches, the suspension of constitutional rights, the embrace of total surveillance, and the ongoing normalization of the security state and Islamophobia. One frightening offshoot of the Boston marathon bombing was the authoritarian tirade unleashed among a range of government officials that indicated how close dissent is to being treated as a crime and how under siege public space is by the forces of manufactured terrorism. For example, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) used the attacks in an effort to undo immigration reform, no longer concealing his disdain for immigrants, especially Muslims and Mexicans. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued that President Obama should not only deny Tsarnaev his constitutional rights by refusing to read him his Miranda Rights, but also hold him as “an enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.” As one commentator pointed out, “This is pretty breathtaking. Graham is suggesting that an American citizen, captured on American soil, should be deprived of basic constitutional rights.” Graham is simply arguing what many Americans have experienced since the tragic attack of September 11, 2001. The boundaries between the military and civilian life have been abolished just as the boundaries between the “innocent and quality, between suspects and non-suspects” have become increasingly blurred. The international claim of solidarity that took place in the aftermath of September 11th, in which a number of countries insisted that “We are all Americans”, has given way in American society to the zombie-like notion that “We are all potentially enemy combatants”. There is more at stake here than hyped-up security or the rise of the surveillance state, there is a militarizing logic of war and authoritarianism that can translate into the death of democracy.
Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.) reasserted his long standing racism by repeatedly arguing that the greatest threat of terrorism faced by the U.S. “is coming from the Muslim community” and that it might be time for state and federal authorities to spy on all Muslims. According to King, “Police have to be in the community, they have to build up as many sources as they can, and they have to realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community and increase surveillance there,” adding that “we can’t be bound by political correctness.” King seems to think that dismissing the rhetoric of political correctness provides a rationale for translating into policy his Islamophobia and the national hallucination it feeds. Of course, King and others are simply channeling the racism of the cartoonish Ann Coulter who actually suggested that all “unauthorized immigrants in the United States might be terrorists.” This nativist paranoia is not new and has a long and disgraceful legacy in American history.
The lockdown and ongoing search for those responsible for the Boston marathon bombings was an eminently political event because it amplified the dreadful potential and real consequences of the never-ending war on terror and the anti-democratic processes it has produced at all levels of government along with an increasing diminishment of civil liberties. The script has become familiar and includes the authorized use of state sponsored torture, the unchecked power of the president to conduct targeted assassinations, the use of warrantless searches, extraordinary renditions, secret courts, and the continuing monitoring of targeted citizens. Another consequence of the war on terror and the increasing use of military drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan is that many innocent children and adults are being killed and, as Noam Chomsky points, such attacks are terrorizing villagers, turning them into enemies of the United States-something that years of jihadi propaganda had failed to accomplish…. There was no direct way to prevent the Boston murders. There are some easy ways to prevent likely future ones: by not inciting them.”
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