Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Winning Bunco Game: the War on Terror

Long piece by Glenn Greenwald in Salon blasts the phoney terrorism-expert business, as much a sham as the threat of terrorism itself. Essentially, he argues that it's all a big shell game, and like everything else in America if it makes huge amounts of money, it will be sustained at any cost in common sense or any other good reason it should go away.
Many of the benefits from keeping Terrorism fear levels high are obvious. Private corporations suck up massive amounts of Homeland Security cash as long as that fear persists, while government officials in the National Security and Surveillance State can claim unlimited powers, and operate with unlimited secrecy and no accountability. In sum, the private and public entities that shape government policy and drive political discourse profit far too much in numerous ways to allow rational considerations of the Terror threat.
 A third interest group that profits mightily from the war on terror is a whole tribe of self-defined terrorism experts. Much of the piece argues that the inherent self-interest of this tribe in keeping the terror lamp constantly blazing is behind our collective insanity on the subject and our inability to deal rationally with what is by any rational calculation a minor threat and hardly the globe-spanning threat to civilization it has become in our minds.

Here are the final two paragraphs of the piece, which spells out the baleful effects of what a word that cannot even be defined has meant to our country. Let's face it, friends, the war on terror is going to outlive all of us. "Terrorism" apparently has a life even more resilient to our trillions of dollars trying to eradicate it than even communism, which in my youth and beyond, seemed eternal.
There is no term more potent in our political discourse and legal landscape than “Terrorism.” It shuts down every rational thought process and political debate the minute it is uttered. It justifies torture (we have to get information from the Terrorists); due-process-free-assassinations even of our own citizens (Obama has to kill the Terrorists); and rampant secrecy (the Government can’t disclose what it’s doing or have courts rule on its legality because the Terrorists will learn of it), and it sends people to prison for decades (material supporters of Terrorism).

It is a telling paradox indeed that this central, all-justifying word is simultaneously the most meaningless and therefore the most manipulated. It is, as I have noted before, a word that simultaneously means nothing yet justifies everything. Indeed, that’s the point: it is such a useful concept precisely because it’s so malleable, because it means whatever those with power to shape discourse want it to mean. And no faction has helped this process along as much as the group of self-proclaimed “terrorism experts” that has attached itself to think tanks, academia, and media outlets. They enable pure political propaganda to masquerade as objective fact, shining brightly with the veneer of scholarly rigor. The industry itself is a fraud, as are those who profit from and within it.
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