This is the second, and concluding, reflection of a two-part essay. This essay is dedicated to the memory of Michael Hastings.
Following the first part of this essay, I want to outline here some thoughts on how the practices of the post-9/11 security state in the US dovetail with the current social forms of American patriotism and paranoia. This convergence represents a remapping of the world within and beyond the borders of the US. The entity responsible for redrawing the world thus is a nexus of US technology firms, military companies, and the state, a partnership of the private and public sectors that is partly visible and partly submerged. The relationship between the imperatives of profit and national security is easy to discern at work here . Less visible are the ways in which hierarchies of racial inequality within the US and America’s homegrown brand of ethnic-racial nationalism feed into and, in turn, are reinforced by the techniques employed by the American state in its Bush-Obama era colonial ventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
The recent revelations about the NSA spying on the private telephone and Internet communications of Americans and others and the reactions of the US media to the controversy capture something essential about this phenomenon. The activities of the NSA have elicited a predictable set of responses from several well-known media pundits, which are characterized by three general qualities: an eagerness to approximate public sentiment on the issue; a rhetoric of hedging and balance, expressed as concern about the need to protect both civil liberties and America; and a dim awareness of the ideological assumptions underlying their arguments. New York Times op-ed columnists Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, and Bill Keller offered ruminations largely in the good German idiom. Another rhetorical strategy, exemplified by Jeff Toobin, David Gregory, and Farhad Manjoo, might be termed arguing-by-takedown-of-Snowden. Andrew Sullivan, with his remarkable ability to anticipate the pulse of the nation, was chill with it, “neither shocked nor outraged.” Sure enough, after a few days of low-to-moderate outrage, 56 percent of Americans “shrugged off” the NSA spying. According to the US media, there was quite a lot of “shrugging off” of the espionage. The Washington Post reported the Taliban shrugging off the news, and the Huffington Post reported that the Internet, likewise, had shrugged off the fact of being spied on.
The most troubling aspect of the controversy, however, may be the consensus among many of America’s respected journalists and bloggers that it is legitimate for the state to monitor certain classes of citizens and non-citizens in this manner. This consensus, in turn, legitimates policies predicated on a number of assumptions about the behavior of people, Americans and non-Americans alike, who might possess a particular faith, bear one of several names, hail from certain countries in the present generation or one, two, or three generations back, or possess a certain amount of melanin in their skin: a logic of evaluation which, it is worth noting, America’s own policies forbid in the sphere of education, employment, or housing.
It seems to have escaped our media pundits that news of NSA’s spying reflected a perversely egalitarian moment of racial, religious, and ethnic profiling. Indeed, America’s outrage–no matter how short-lived and low-key–seemed to stem from precisely the anxiety that all Americans had suffered a descent into temporary subalternity usually reserved for untrustworthy minorities of one kind or another. For just that brief window of time, all Americans were subject, at least in theory, to the kind of interest that Muslim Americans and Arab Americans have drawn since 9/11 as a matter of routine. And till Mike Rogers, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, clarified that the NSA was not listening in on the conversations of US citizens, Americans were also theoretically subject to the scrutiny directed at foreign nationals within and outside the US.
Continue reading South Side Chicago and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border: The Logics of Collective Responsibility and Collective Punishment in the Post-9/11 Security State