All of us sat glued to our TVs on September 11, watching the two World Trade Center towers collapse and the Pentagon burst into flames. As newscast after newscast broadcast and then re-broadcast graphic images of destruction and chaos, glimpses of what was to become a trend in the American media flashed across the screen: banners reading, ‘Attack on America’ and ‘United We Stand,’ underscored Tom Brokaw announcing – before the President declared it – that America was at war, purposely inciting a sense of ultra-nationalism that is still strong one year later.
Where and what is America on the one year anniversary of September 11? Some people claim that the country has changed forever. Others argue that things are still the same: nationalism in America is nothing new, nor is the way the American government has chosen to use it. Think back to the war in Vietnam: terrorism has replaced communism as our public enemy number one. Communism, they said, represented a threat to our national security and freedom. Sound familiar? But what really happened in Vietnam? When it was all over, statistics revealed that a disproportionate number of working class and people of colour died in an effort to protect the interests of the American government and its corporate sponsors.
This time however, the attack took place on our own soil and we have the pictures to prove it. It’s tragic that 3,000 people died, some of whom were working class and had nothing to do with the corporate and political interests of the two main targets. This time we didn’t need anyone to tell us why we were threatened, we just needed someone to blame. But the real issue goes beyond the ‘threat’ that terrorists from Afghanistan pose to America. Besides the need to maintain a line of control in the Middle East to protect our oil interests, as time goes on, it becomes more apparent that the real war on terrorism is a tool to manipulate the American public. Susan Sontag, a novelist and social commentator immediately identified this current in the American media. In the New Yorker issue dedicated to the events of September 11, she wrote, ‘The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public.’ It’s no coincidence that George Bush’s approval rating sky-rocketed after September 11. The American public immediately forgot about the controversy surrounding the election results and threw their unquestioning support behind the president. Nobody challenged George when he declared war in Afghanistan and began to re-establish control of the Middle East. In Israel the threat of ‘terrorism,’ reinforced by America’s backing, now allows the Israeli military to commit war crimes outlawed by international treaties in the name of national security.
Within our own borders, people of Middle Eastern descent replaced African-Americans as the most persecuted people of colour. Immediately after the attacks several people who appeared to be Muslims were shot and killed by vigilantes. A few weeks later, a pilot for a major airline refused to leave the terminal until a group of people of Middle Eastern descent got off the airplane.
The list goes on. The Immigration and Naturalization Service detained and continues to detain hundreds of people who they suspect are involved in terrorist activities, holding them without charges and denying them access to council, all based on secret information that was withheld from the accused. According to an article written in the Detroit Free Press, Peter Kirsanow, a member of the US Civil Rights Commission even went so far as to suggest that the American public might demand Internment Camps for Arab Americans if Arab terrorists struck again in the United States. ‘[If there is another attack], and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about Civil Rights,’ Peter said.
And now, one year later, George has partially won his battle with Congress to create a department of Homeland Security, which along with legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act, pose a serious threat to the civil liberties of all Americans. With midterm elections and control of the Senate on the line, it’s no surprise to see the media helping the Bush administration recreate a nebula of evil in Iraq. The war must go on. Be it in Eurasia, Afghanistan, East Asia or Iraq.