Public sphere shrinks under assault from the enemy within
By NEVE GORDON
I am against the war, the perpetual war on terrorism as well as the war against Iraq. I am against empire, the control of nearly 40 percent of the worlds resources secured by the deployment of air, naval and ground forces in over 800 bases across the globe. And I am against deception, the claim that U.S. foreign policy is aimed at ensuring freedom, justice and democracy around the world, when in fact its overseas agenda is driven by corporate greed, power and domination.
With the Bush administration determined -- rhetoric aside -- to oust Saddam Hussein and gain control of oil resources in Iraq, in what will most likely become an extremely bloody conquest, and the Democratic party rambling along without even a murmur of protest, it is high time that ordinary citizens speak out clearly and stridently against Bushs insane imperialistic aspirations.
My claim is straightforward: In the name of fighting terrorism and spreading democracy around the globe -- which is outright propaganda considering the embrace of Pakistans new dictator -- the Bush administration is undermining democratic processes and institutions within the United States. Put differently, Bush is exploiting both grief and fear to ruin the very essence of democratic life.
Lets look at the facts. In order to fund his wars, Bush is insisting on a $48 billion increase to the current $335 billion military budget, thus designating 53 percent of government discretionary spending on the military budget, which is already over 23 times the combined military spending of countries identified by the Pentagon as likely adversaries: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
Meanwhile, only 9 percent of the budget will go toward education and social services, and 6 percent to health. All this at a time when almost 17 percent of children in the United States live in poverty, 44 million people have no health insurance, and 85 percent of public schools need repair. Incidentally, the cost of one B-2 bomber would be enough to repair over 1,000 aging school buildings.
The intolerance toward the plight of the poor is accompanied by a rapid increase in the authoritarian elements of state power. Not enough can be said on the ongoing attack on civil liberties, which began when the U.S. Patriot Act anti-terror bill was passed in October of last year. Due process has been suspended in many areas of the criminal justice system, including the right to speedy trial, freedom from arbitrary police searches, prohibition against indefinite incarceration and incognito detentions. Surveillance authority has been widely broadened, whether through wiretapping or through the federal governments sweeping new powers to investigate electronic communications, personal and financial records, computer hard drives and other individual documents.
In order to justify its foreign policy goals, the administration has been demonizing all perceived enemies and in this way has helped awaken local xenophobic tendencies. Not surprisingly, this jingoistic tactic has had far-reaching ramifications for Arabs and Muslims inside the United States as well.
Bushs Manichean worldview alongside his attack on civil liberties and utter lack of compassion toward the poor is done in the name of some distorted notion of patriotism. Anyone who so much as questions the rationality of the policies is immediately shut up and ostracized. All of which amounts to a drastic diminution of what political philosopher Hannah Arendt called the public sphere.
Democracy is, after all, dependent on a plurality of views, on the opportunity of people to express their opinions, debate issues and persuade each other. Without a decent education, access to health, basic civil liberties and an atmosphere of tolerance toward the other, the public sphere -- which is necessary in order to express ones views -- shrinks.
Accordingly, I am against the war not only because it will help Bush underwrite the most egregious acts of violence, which will only increase hatred toward the United States and international terrorism, but also because Bushs wars undercut basic democratic practices inside the country. One year after the hideous terrorist attacks, U.S. democracy is under assault. The enemy, though, is not Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein; the enemy is within.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. He holds dual citizenship. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2002