Monday, February 8, 2010

But Terrorism is different!

As usual, Glenn Greenwald makes a very good point:
If I had the power to have one statement of fact be universally recognized in our political discussions, it would be this one:
The fact that the Government labels Person X a "Terrorist" is not proof that Person X is, in fact, a Terrorist.
. . .
A very long time ago, I would be baffled when I'd read about things like the Salem witch hunts. How could so many people be collectively worked up into that level of irrational frenzy, where they cheered for people's torturous death as "witches" without any real due process or meaningful evidence? But all one has to do is look at our current Terrorism debates and it's easy to see how things like that happen. It's just pure mob mentality: an authority figure appears and affixes a demonizing Other label to someone's forehead, and the adoring crowd -- frothing-at-the-mouth and feeding on each other's hatred, fears and desire to be lead -- demands "justice." I imagine that if one could travel back in time to the Salem era in order to speak with some of those gathered outside an accused witch's home, screaming for her to be burned, the conversation would go something like this:

Mob Participant: Hang the Witch!!! Kill her!!!

Far Left Civil Liberties Extremist-Purist ("FLCLE-P"): How do you know she's a witch?

Mob Participant: Didn't you just hear the government official say so?

FLCLE-P: But don't you want to see real evidence before you assume that's true and call for her death?

Mob Participant: You just heard the evidence! The magistrate said she's a witch!

FLCLE-P: But shouldn't there be a real trial first, with tangible evidence and due process protections, to see if the accusation is actually true?

Mob Participant: A "real" trial? She's a witch! She's trying to curse us and kill us all. She got more than what she deserved. Witches don't have rights!!!

Return to Question 1.

That's essentially how I hear our debates over Terrorism, and how I've heard them for quite some time. And it's how I hear them more loudly now than ever before. And with those deeply confused premises now locked into place on a bipartisan basis ("no trials are needed to determine if someone is a Terrorist because Terrorists don't have rights"), imagine how much louder that will get if there is another successful terrorist attack in the U.S. But in fairness to the 17th Century Puritans, at least the Salem witches received pretenses of due process and even trials (albeit with coerced confessions and speculative hearsay). Even when it comes to our fellow citizens, we don't even bother with those. For us, the mere accusation by our leaders is sufficient: Kill that American Terrorist with a drone!

Our discourse is so absurd on these issues that radical ideas like "following the American justice system" have been equated with varying degrees of treason.


  1. like sarah palin said, she's just so sick of seeing the creation of, and adherence to, laws. lawfulness has run wild in this country, with segments of the population insisting that we be ruled by them! simply an outrage.