Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When Islamophobes Attack

It's the latest episode of Shoot the Messenger. The enterprising AP reporters who revealed to the world that the New York City Police Department has been illegally spying on Muslim Americans for years are now being castigated by both smarmy politicians and their own fellow journalists for making the power elites and their hired army look bad. There's a whole new descriptive meant to marginalize people who insist on taking their constitutional rights seriously -- "extreme civil libertarians."

Far from evoking government and media outrage, the revelations -- which include the new shocker that the White House itself has funneled "drug war" money to the NYPD spying apparatus -- have generally inspired reactions ranging from disbelief and denial, thence to a spirited defense of state abuse of power. and finally to the demonization of those who dare to tear away the fabric of government secrecy. Erstwhile "liberals" seem to be generally okay with paramilitary thugs grossly overstepping their Constitutional bounds and geographical jurisdiction to conduct surveillance on an entire group based entirely on its religious beliefs. The hate speech of Islamophobes is no longer all that shocking. Politicians who last year were merely non-committal about the building of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan are now daring to be blatant.

Chief among them is one of the most powerful Democratic leaders in the country: Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. He has mounted a vigorous defense of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and his spy program. Chuck is being championed in the pages of Rupert Murdoch's New York Post as a defender of freedom. It is fine, Schumer says, to single out Muslims for a sweeping surveillance program, as long as you don't single them out on the basis of their religion. Yes. He really did say that. Here are his exact words:
“There is nothing wrong with the NYPD collecting and assessing publicly available information from New York, New Jersey, the other 48 states or around the world in the effort to prevent another terror attack like 9/11. In fact, it is widely understood that the NYPD’s actions have kept us safer. Looking at public information and following leads is perfectly acceptable as long as any one group, in its entirety, is not targeted based only on its religious or ethnic affiliation.”

Schumer's blanket statement that the NYPD spy program "has made us safer" is going unchallenged by the mainstream media. The New York Daily News has published an editorial lauding Schumer and blasting anybody daring to tar and feather the NYPD. The News takes great umbrage, not at state-sponsored civil rights violations, but at the Peabody-award winning Associated Press.
Finally (gushed the News editorial) after weeks of innuendo, half-truths and distortions that have depicted the NYPD as spying on the city’s Muslim communities, an elected official has spoken the truth....There’s no there there, said Sen. Chuck Schumer of reports that the department’s Intelligence Division invasively monitored New Yorkers based on their religious beliefs.....
Excavated endlessly by The Associated Press in a series built on the false premise that to gather preventive information is to violate rights, the division’s work has amounted, for the most part, to checking out facts that are in the public record....
Schumer perceptively divined that which should have been obvious to all of the city’s elected leaders: Checking out information in the public domain tramples on no one’s rights or privacy.
More important, the NYPD needs to have the facts on hand in order to know where to go and to whom to speak in the event that the CIA passes on a tip that a suspected terrorist from, say, Pakistan is somewhere in the city.
Referring to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Schumer said: “I don’t think he has a bigoted bone in his body.”
And here is what the rabidly anti-Muslim Post is saying about Chuck the Hero:

Sen. Chuck Schumer stood tall for the NYPD this week as it took a politically motivated pummeling for gathering intelligence in New Jersey on potential Islamist extremist threats.
That took guts.
Bravo, Chuck.
Yes, it takes a courageous politician to defend the police practice of spying on elementary school children across the river in Newark, NJ, and targeting innocent Americans who suspiciously munch on fried chicken in an ethnic restaurant. But Schumer by no means stands alone. NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who recently sold out to the Obama Administration in the fraudclosure scandal, sees no reason to investigate civil rights scandals either.  Attorney General Eric Holder is certainly not about to rock the boat. After all, when it became known that the CIA was illegally spying on American citizens in tandem with the NYPD, he sat on his hands. Homeland Security, the CIA, the NYPD, the Dept. of Justice, Goldman Sachs.... these are interchangeable terms. They are all part of the same team.

When the AP first started publishing its series of articles on the illegal police spy operation last fall, NJ Rep. Rush Holt asked Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate. Holder ignored the request.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have renewed calls for an investigation in light of possible White House involvement, however oblique, in the spy program. The Obama Administration says there is no oversight of how the money it provided to the police department is used, and is refusing to comment on the controversy.

Not since FDR authorized the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II has ethnic profiling of citizens been undertaken with such monumental overreach. What's next? A Diaspora? Concentration camps? The government compiled data on and spied on Japanese-Americans for years prior to their mass arrests. World War Two ended, but the global War on Terror will continue into the foreseeable future. Will some future president end up apologizing one day for this latest miscarriage of justice as Ronald Reagan did forty years after the second world war?

With Democrats like Chuck fomenting fear and hatred, cheerleading a new American Inquisition, who needs crazoid right wing Republicans? Our elected officials are falling all over themselves trying to establish their Torquemada bona fides.

Update: Watch a video with Glenn Greenwald on the ACLU site, here.

Conductor Chuck, Keeping Fear Alive


Denis Neville said...

The velvet glove that covers the iron fist…

David Lyon, The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society, writes, “As a democratic and libertarian socialist, he [Orwell] was quite aware of certain authoritarian tendencies within capitalist societies. What he may not have foreseen was that new technologies might eventually permit surveillance tending towards totalitarianism with democratic processes still neatly in place. As Gary T. Marx notes, the velvet glove may hide the iron fist.”

According to Gary Marx, “Orwell's powerful vision needs to be updated. Threats to privacy and liberty are not limited to the use of force, or to state power, and indeed they may appear in the service of benign ends. It is important to examine control by other means, and by groups other than the state. New forms of control and surveillance represent a profound break with the past, posing great challenges to students of society and all citizens.”

“The velvet glove is replacing, covering, the iron fist. Orwell hints that the decline of physical coercion is consistent with the rise of liberty: ‘The heirs of the French, English, and American revolution had partly believed in their own phrases about the rights of man, freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the like, and had even allowed their conduct to be influenced by them to some extent. But by the fourth decade of the twentieth century all the main currents of political thought were authoritarian - and in the general hardening of outlook that set in round about 1930, practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years-imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages and the deportation of whole populations - became common again.’”


When James Rule lived in Britain in the 1970s, “Its culture struck me as a much more privacy-oriented than the United States. In those years, a proposal like this [unmanned airborne spy drones for domestic surveillance] would surely have triggered howls of public outrage there in George Orwell country. Today Britain leads the world in video-monitoring of public places, with an estimated 4.2 million cameras in England and Wales - that is, about one for every fourteen persons. Somehow, ordinary Brits have been sold on the idea that their well-being depends on ever-more-thoroughgoing public monitoring of private life.”

“Things aren't much different here in the United States…for people to write off what they once held as core values, they need to be convinced that the sacrifice is necessary on behalf of some still more compelling concern - public safety, the protection of the innocent, or punishment of the undeserving. Heroic exercises of entrepreneurship are required to convince us that, by accepting reduced privacy for everyone, we are somehow doing our part to make the world a better place.”

“…privacy-eroding activities only seems to grow with time. In today's world, there will always be technologies able to devour the private spaces and personal data remaining to us. The question is, will we develop the cultural antibodies necessary to resist these appeals, or will the desire to make the world safe, profitable and convenient ultimately relegate privacy to the archive of anachronistic values?”


As Gary Marx wrote, Sting’s lyrics in "Every Breath You Take" suggest that popular culture is more attuned to the social control implications of the ‘new surveillance’…The surveillance component of social control is changing in subtle and often invisible ways, the element of which are voluntary and not defined as surveillance.”

Rose in Michigan said...

I've printed out the Martin Niemoller quote and pinned it to my home office bulletin board, where it has become a daily reminder.

They're coming.

Sooner or later, they're coming for all of us.