Monday, August 09, 2010

How to Become A Foreigner

We'd like to think that the investigations and prosecutions in the so-called War on Terror are as efficient as we see on NCIS or other TV dramas, and if there are corners cut it's justified by how bad the bad guys are. But even figuring in recent examples of what look like very good results of investigations into groups planning terrorist acts, a review in the NY Times of a new book reminds us that the abuses of the Bush years aren't necessarily over.

The case is made in this book by A. Kumar that the same sort of xenophobia currently rampant in U.S. politics also is present in the ham-handed approach to enforcing terrorism laws. It's the same profile of foreign poor, swept up in the careless need of the rich to protect themselves.

Mr. Kumar writes about many such men in this book, most of whom aren’t terrorists at all but bunglers and fools who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were, quite arguably, the hapless victims of entrapment. Mr. Kumar doesn’t deny that there are bad men in the fundamentalist Islamic world, men worthy of the American military’s attention. The problem is that we seem to be filling prisons with very minor characters.

He describes one man, imprisoned at Guantánamo, who was a cook’s assistant for Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Mr. Kumar quotes one observer’s bitterly funny observation: “O.K. We have the assistant cook. Where is Mr. Big? Where is the cook?”

It goes beyond individual injustices, as corrosive as they are. Despite the hope engendered by the election of Barack Obama, international anger with the U.S. is again increasing, due in part to the pattern of injustice, and the attitudes behind them, as well as other notable and obvious manifestations of xenophobia, and particularly a sudden spike in anti-Muslim prejudice that seems to be responding to no particular new event, but to a mood fostered for political gain in a time of economic anxiety.

Yet the underlying message of this is more universal: the non-rich don't count. Even if the success of politics and policies based on this apparently growing assumption are based on some of the non-rich identifying with this proposition, without looking at themselves. The way to become a foreigner is to not be rich, and therefore unprotected against the whims of circumstance.

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