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On May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama reported that al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was officially dead. Rumors suggest that SEAL Team Six was the end of the line for the man who planned and orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the defeated attack on Washington, DC. The President suggests that this is a turning point in the nearly decade long global war on terror that is no longer called the Global War on Terror, and that this event is long-awaited justice for those innocents killed in what has become known as this generation’s Pearl Harbor moment.

So why don’t I feel like celebrating?

Primarily, because I don’t consider war to be a cheering matter.   When the news broke, there was celebration in the streets, overwhelming chants of “USA, USA, USA” at the White House between rounds of The Star-Spangled Banner, and wave after wave of patriotic and religious praise channeled through networks like Facebook and Twitter. The death of public enemy number one became a reason to frolic and rejoice in the streets because it was justice. But what is justice, and has it been served?

On September 11, 2001, approximately 3,000 people died from all walks of life and spiritual beliefs at the hand of nineteen terrorists. Since then, the highest estimate of casualties has been 1.2 million dead in the fight against terrorism. That number may be conservative – the lowest estimate is just over one million – but will continue to rise as hostilities continue and the delayed health effects of responders to the World Trade Center site start being factored in. On the concept of justice, Wikipedia offers the crowd-sourced definition of a “concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics.” It also states that there are five variations of justice, but I believe the one that President Obama suggested would be that of retributive justice: The proportionate response to crime proven by lawful evidence so that the punishment is justly imposed and considered as morally correct and fully deserved. Go a step further to lex talionis, the law of retaliation, which is a military theory centered on reciprocity being equal to the wrong suffered. Are we expected to believe that the life of one man, Osama bin Laden, is equated to 3,000 innocents at a minimum? How about 1.2 million, including innocent women and children who have euphemistically become known as “collateral damage”? Do the scales balance because a Navy SEAL ended one man’s existence in the names of thousands or millions?

It is well documented that President George W. Bush took to this war based on what he determined was a calling from God. Inherent to the concept of lex talionis is the principle “an eye for an eye”, which appears numerous times in the Bible and other religious texts, and it seems that many of the social celebrations to yesterday’s event focus on one deity or another bestowing blessings upon the American people for exacting lex talionis.

 

Now I lay me down to sleep, one less terrorist this world does keep.
With all my heart I give my thanks, to those in uniform regardless of ranks.
You serve our country and serve it well, with humble hearts your stories tell.
So as I rest my weary eyes, while freedom rings our flag still flies.
You give your all, do what you must; with God we live and God we trust.

–various sources on Facebook

 

Martin Luther King, Jr – paraphrasing Mahatma Ghandi – once said, "Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral.  It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.  The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.  It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding." While this war is not about racial justice, is about justice based on matters of faith. Al-Qaeda did not declare war on the United States because they hate our blue jeans, fast cars, tall towers, or apple pie. Al-Qaeda is based on an extremist interpretation is Islam, and that faith is what drove them to attack us because our diversity of faiths makes us inferior to them. Despite protests to the contrary, this fight is one of religion and whose god has a bigger piece of the pie. It’s not a new battle – the Crusades and the Inquisition show us that – and it has no easy solutions, but I feel that the word racial in Reverend King’s quote can be substituted by religious along with any other form of justice. I’m not so sure that justice has been served in this case, and I certainly do not feel that it is a moment of celebration or victory.

What people don’t seem to understand about this conflict is that we don’t have a distinct enemy to fight against. When Adolf Hitler was declared dead – interestingly, on May 1, 1945 – the Nazi armies surrendered the very next day. This demoralization isn’t the case with al-Qaeda. We’ve taken out significant chunks of their command structure before, and like the mythological hydra, two new heads would grow back in the form of a person to take the place of the fallen and new tactics to avoid making the same mistake again. The fall of Osama bin Laden doesn’t mean that the war is over, nor does it mean that our troops are coming home. In fact, I would venture that al-Qaeda will only become stronger or, at the very least, more cunning in its methods. I agree that we should be happy that one powerful avenue of hatred and violence has been eliminated, but I greatly fear for what darkness lies at the bottom of that Pandora’s Box. What has bin Laden’s death unleashed upon us in retaliation for what the enemy will likely see as another murder perpetrated by the western terror?

Another source of contention has been the disposition of the body. While Muslim death rites are somewhat shrouded in secrecy, it has come to light that the body must be buried within 24 hours to hold with religious tradition. While morbid and disgusting jokes of stuffing the corpse so every American can take a whack at it like some macabre piñata have surfaced, some have taken this as an offense to those killed since 2001. I firmly believe that, no matter the evil perpetrated in life, any person’s death should be respected. If they took our corpses and burned them in effigy or fed them to a pack of wild dogs, we would be livid. People, including those of deep religious and spiritual faith should consider that before calling for desecration of a corpse in the name of revenge.

 

“The rabbis say that, as the Israelites celebrated the death of the Egyptians, so did the angels. But God stilled them and ordered them to stop their rejoicing. ‘But why?’ the angels ask. ‘Look what they did to Your children.’ And God answered, ‘These too are My children!’”
Harry Danziger

 

What I don’t doubt about the death of Osama bin Laden is that it will be a source of morale for a country weary of war. After a decade of gains and losses that effectively cancel each other out, this marks a moment where something substantial has been accomplished. If maintained, this momentum can be harnessed to usher in a new era of support for both politicians and fighting forces. Having been in the uniform, I understand the need for morale boosts in providing purpose for your efforts. But, remember that war is sterile only from the safety of the armchair. War is a bloody, disgusting, destructive mess, and I have yet to meet a veteran who was proud of what he or she had done in theater. They are usually proud of having contributed to peace, but I don’t recall any pride or joy stemming from pulling a trigger, sending a round downrange, and becoming the messenger of death for another human being.

If I have to be proud of killing a terrorist, I have to be proud of every time one of our enemies has died in the name of stopping terrorism. That means I have to be proud of the terrorists who die in allied bombing runs that kill innocents, and that is something I cannot support. War is necessary because politics and diplomacy cannot solve every social or cultural difference in the world, but that doesn’t mean I have to celebrate it or be proud of it. I don’t see anything to celebrate in killing another human being, and I certainly don’t see justice even if you look beyond the "eye for an eye" version Americans seem to crave. I think we need to remember that revenge is indeed a dish best served cold, and this doesn’t make me un-American or unpatriotic or even an enemy sympathizer. Killing Osama bin Laden has not restored the 3,000 lives taken ten years ago, and it certainly has not restored the 1.2 million lost since then. The scales cannot be balanced exclusively by steps such as these, but this is one more step toward a possible peace.

Peace is something I can celebrate.


womprat99: (Default)

I’ve been mulling over this for a while, but a blog post by [livejournal.com profile] elusis  really put me over the top. Her viewpoints near the end of her post really put it into perspective for me.  Do yourself a favor and read it.

I’m not rallying against the Transportation Security Administration’s new guidelines because they offend me personally. Hell, if some TSA agent wants to rub his hands up my legs until he meets “resistance”, more power to him. But there are people out there who find this treatment entirely offensive, whether it be the forced molestation or the government sanctioned nudie pix. For them, I raise the flag and exercise my First Amendment rights.

The TSA was birthed as a result of the September 11 attacks in 2001. Ironically, within the next month or so, Richard Reid attempted to bring down American Airlines Flight 63 using explosives in his shoes. The TSA touted this as a rallying cry, despite the fact that they didn’t stop him. The passengers and flight crew subdued Reid and tied him to his seat while the flight was diverted. Nevertheless, the TSA decided that all air travelers would need to remove their shoes for scanning.

In 2006, terrorists in the United Kingdom used bottles of liquid explosives in an attempt to taking down at least 10 planes. British police stopped that attack, but as news spread, the TSA decided that all liquids and gels were to be banned from carry-on luggage. Shortly afterward, the rules changed to allow three ounces per container inside a transparent sealed bag.

On December 25, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to used plastic explosives hidden in his underwear to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253. Abdulmutallab got as far as setting his leg and the bulkhead on fire before passengers and flight crew subdued him. Once again, the TSA had no hand in stopping him, even though Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano originally claimed that the system worked. She recanted the next day.

Finally, terrorists tried taking down flights by putting explosives in laser toner cartridges and shipping them on passenger flights. Once again, the TSA had no hand in stopping the attack – Saudi officials tipped off the authorities – but they took a predictable step by banning all toner cartridges over sixteen ounces on passenger flights.

Does anyone else notice a trend here?

First, none of these attack vectors is repeated. They are, in fact, escalating in complexity, and reports state that the terrorists are now resorting to smuggling bombs in their body cavities. Second, each of the preventative security measures implemented are purely reactionary blanket policies. At no point has the TSA, an agency designed to keep us safe, actually predicted that terrorists would move to another vector and cut them off. Instead, they close the barn door after the horses are miles away.

Each of these “security precautions” only serves to strip the rights and dignity of travelers at each implementation. From [livejournal.com profile] elusis :

Patricia Calhoun at Westword started reporting on women being singled out for inappropriate groping in 2001, just weeks after 9/11: http://www.westword.com/2001-10-18/news/screen-and-screen-again/

For the next year, I wouldn't fly in anything other than a sports bra. Then the "zealous" screeners at DIA apparently eased off. I started wearing underwires through security again, but not without trepidation.

In 2003 I was almost arrested when I set off the metal detector because I was wearing a garter belt. I was pulled aside for the wand-down, which I didn't object to. I told them they'd get a small positive on the front and back of each thigh from the clips, which they did. The screener then demanded that I go to a "private screening room." "Not until my bags are done being x-rayed," I said, aware that I had a couple thousand dollars worth of technology in my carry-on. "You'll get them afterwards," they told me. I refused to go and asked for the "private screening" in view of my bags, even if that meant in view of other passengers. They threatened to arrest me. I lifted my skirt to show them the garter clips, flashing the entire terminal in the process, and the screener started to grab my arm, but the supervisor waved her off and said "let her go." I grabbed my bags off the conveyor and stalked off.

I have no illusions about what would happen today.

The thing is that nothing about this is new. Private citizens being arbitrarily singled out for intrusive searches and rough treatment by authority figures because of their appearance, their "attitude," or just a momentary need for an endorphin rush by a small-minded bureaucrat? Welcome to the lives of people of color, the phenomenon of Driving While Black, the lives of women, of transpeople, of disabled people.

There are other tales of travelers having their breasts exposed during screenings or being hassled over prostheses.   Insert your own horror story here. Recently the TSA stated that their methods would have stopped the “underwear bomber” and actually turn up some “artfully concealed objects”. Guess what they do with those objects. They sell them on eBay.

Oh, and by the way, those new methods wouldn’t have stopped Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab because they weren’t implemented until after the attack, just like every other security measure, like the equally impotent and overreaching “No Fly List”.

The TSA claims that eighty percent of flyers don’t mind the new security screenings, but they’re not looking at the melanoma survivors, children, or elderly who are subjected to unnecessary radiation by being backscattered. I doubt they’re asking victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault who refuse to fly because being felt up by a stranger will likely trigger a panic attack. Pilots are already refusing the backscatter machines because of the excessive radiation; after all, they get enough radiation from being at high altitude for hours and hours a day.

I agree with [livejournal.com profile] elusis:

When I fly in December, if I'm pulled out for either of the imaging machines, I will adopt the same demeanor and rhetoric I use when a medical person tries to get me to step on a scale: "No, thank you." Polite but firm. "Not today, thanks." I will submit to the "enhanced" pat-down and tolerate having my hair stroked, my labia and breasts touched, my waistband fingered. I will ask to have it done in full view of all other passengers, not in a "private area," and I will ask for a witness, possibly a police officer. And then I will go to my gate and write up my report for the ACLU. And I will adopt this same strategy until the policies change.

After all, even the TSA refuses to address how invasive these “pat-downs” are:

Myth: The TSA pat-down is invasive

Fact: Only passengers who alarm a walk through metal detector or AIT machine or opt out of the AIT receive a pat-down. For this reason, it is designed to be thorough in order to detect any potential threats and keep the traveling public safe. Pat-downs are performed by same-gender officers and all passengers have the right to a private screening with a travel companion at any time.

I don’t believe that the backscatter machines are safe for frequent flyers. Sure, the FDA has approved them, but you can easily find a list of things the FDA approved that were later rejected because they irreparably harmed people. I don’t believe the backscatter machines are incapable of saving images and are incapable of being hacked to make pornographic centerfolds of unwitting travelers. I don’t believe that the TSA is actively frisking their own agents and taking away their camera phones before letting them operate the scanners. I don’t believe the TSA isn’t hiring previous sexual offenders to operate the scanners of perform “pat-downs”. I don’t believe the TSA can say with absolute certainty that less than three ounces of liquids or gels isn’t capable of bringing down an aircraft.

I don’t believe the TSA is capable of keeping me safe on an airplane, pure and simple.

The Boeing 747 carries 550 to 600 people per flight. When I am among those people at 30,000 feet, I assume a certain amount of risk to get to my destination. That plane may crash, accidentally or deliberately, and I may die. Same as with my car or a train, which the Transportation Security Administration has ignored, despite the fact that most building bombings are conducted with vehicles. Furthermore, take it by the numbers: The United States Census reports that in 2007, 14,831 murders were reported nationwide. It also reports that New Orleans, Detroit, and Baltimore had the highest number of reported murders per 10,000 people. So, when do we lock down these cities? More people in a year are killed in these cities than in a year by terrorist activity on planes.

The threat is not severe enough to warrant a police state, which is what the TSA is turning into. Their powers are far too broad without any checks or balances to keep them in line. They claim that by flying, you give up rights at purchase, but I’ve never seen that in the fine print on any ticket I buy.

I am not okay with surrendering civil liberties including the privacy of one’s own body in order to limit the abstract possibility of a terrorist attack. Terrorists operate to paralyze a society with fear, yet they don’t have to work very hard in the United States: We’ve already done that job for them. Our fear has allowed a government agency to strip our liberties to promote their reactionary and impotent agenda of keeping us safe.

But who keeps us safe from the TSA?



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