There is a defining clash of civilizations going on. But it is not between Islam and the West. No it isn’t. The clash is not between Shiite and Sunni in Iraq. No, not at all.
The clash of civilizations which will define the future is taking place here at home, in the United States. If the Bush Administration succeeds in deconstructing America and establishing an electoral dictatorship, America the “superpower” will slowly sink into irrelevance.
After the 2000 election we began to speak of “red” and “blue” states. But what is now at risk is the red, white and blue: the fabric of America as a society, as a civilization, as a force for good at home and abroad.
The current “detainee” provisions sought by President Bush will establish an electoral dictatorship and endanger the freedom of every American citizen; yes, every American citizen.
A bit of history here. I was trained as a lawyer at the University of Illinois. Shortly after I graduated from law school the Nixon Administration passed the “Organized Crime Control Act of 1970.” Congress hastily enacted a provision addressing “Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations,” or RICO. RICO was sold to the public as a law that would be used to fight “organized crime,” i.e. “the Mafia.”
Since 1970, the criminal and civil provisions of RICO have been addressed to every conceivable kind of non-criminal activity, from anti-abortion protesters to matrimonial disputes, none of which have even the remotest relationship to the “Mafia” or Mafia-style criminal activity.
As a young corruption fighter I popularized “Civil RICO” remedies when I began suing corrupt business people and political organizations in Chicago. My pioneering lawsuits touched off a “civil RICO” revolution, and a flood of civil “racketeering” lawsuits followed. Thus, I know of what I speak. The moral of the story: laws which are sold to the public on one basis, can later be used, misused and abused in very different situations once they are actually on the statute books.
After 9/11 Congress passed the “Detainee Treatment Act.” The law was designed to empower public officials to impose mistreatment on prisoners. Now the Bush Administration has cowed president-to-be John McCain, and is on the verge of securing enactment of a law that will eventually lead to the detention of Americans by the U. S. Government.
Alternatively, the new prisoner legislation might be called the AIPAC Enthronement Act. Over the past decade Congress has relentlessly tried to choke off American support for the Palestinian national cause. Bogus criminal charges are used to harass Palestinian supporters. In the most celebrated charade, Sami Al-Arian was tried in a federal court in Tampa, Florida. A jury would not convict him.
Many pending and past “terrorist” cases were utter nonsense. But AIPAC and the pro-Israel lobby have been avid supporters of laws that could be used to criminalize advocacy of Palestinian nationalism, or even “the peace process,” and imprison American citizens who support a Palestinian state.
Mark my word, the proposed prisoner detention laws will be used in ways that can’t even be predicted. Scheming prosecutors and craven officials will use and misuse any power they are given to the ultimate limits. This time, moreover, the politicians are making sure meddlesome judges can’t block their fascist legislation. They are writing into law a prohibition on judicial review of government action. In short, Congress is acting as a helpless, puny adjunct to President Bush, by passing a series of laws that will ultimately be used to jail Americans and maybe even someday to jail congress.
Back to the red state/blue state clash of civilizations. The true war today is between Americans who believe that the best way to fight terror is to maintain our open society while vigorously counteracting terrorism, and Bush-style operatives who endorse fascism at home as the easy solution to fighting terrorism abroad. If Bush wins, America loses.
Bush, like every dictator before him, demands absolute power in order to fight “the enemy.” Yes, of course, even Hitler used a list of “enemies” to gain absolute control of Germany. If Bush gets what he is seeking in detainee legislation and related statutes, and if courts are rendered helpless to intervene, he will be an elected dictator. His actions will be supreme above everyone, including the Supreme Court and Congress. There will no checks and balances; Congress will have abandoned the last vestiges of a constitutional state.
Bush now has a track record: we can see how he has grossly abused his powers to degrade and corrupt the Army, the CIA and every agency which is essential to national defense. Torture, barbarism, “renditions” and other strained language have been used to create an Orwellian parallel universe to American society. At some point the parallel Orwellian state will overcome, merge into and take control of America itself.
When Bush is screaming for power to torture the architects of 9/11 it is seductive to join the cries. Who among us supports those attacks? Yet American legal history clearly teaches that laws passed to “torture” extremists will soon be bent to attack political foes and sincere opponents of the regime. Now that Bush/Congress have invented a new tactic–”denying the courts authority to intervene–we have a proto-fascist state in the making. We are voluntarily deconstructing the institutions of our government and our society that make us a great nation.
I have written a critical analysis of John McCain’s capitulation to political ambition, in his surrender to the president on Bush’s demands for dictatorial prisoner abuse powers. McCain, if he reaches the White House, would not hesitate to apply these anti-terrorist laws to his domestic opponents. Nor, perhaps, would the Clintons. Our political class is concerned only with its own survival, expansion and aggrandizement, and nothing else at all.
Should we fight the war on terror? Absolutely. Imprison terrorists? Obviously. But we should do so while maintaining our own parallel society, our real society: America and life here as we know it, so that terrorism is ultimately defeated by both parallels, “smart” anti-terrorist tactics and the allure of our free and democratic institutions. It is nonsense for Bush to rail against “Islamofascism” while he is working to burrow deep into the legal fabric of America laws designed to give him absolute, dictatorial, fascistic powers.
If we fight terrorism using our strongest weapons–”freedom and democracy and openness and tolerance–”we cannot lose. If we fight terrorism with the grab-bag of narcissistic tools Bush is advocating, we have lost the war before it is over. Because we have lost the soul of America while claiming to save it.
Yes, there is a war of civilizations, a clash of civilizations, call it what you will. American civilization stands endangered by the relentless assaults of Dick Cheney, George Bush and all of their bullying fellow-travelers. Only if we preserve our own liberty can we lay claim to freeing others. Only when our Army and CIA maintain standards of treatment that we ourselves do not compare to terrorist benchmarks can we be sure of victory. Only if we fight against fascism at home can we be credible in seeking to extend our freedoms into the broader space.
And in this hour of maximum danger, both Democrats and Republicans have failed the nation. Bush’s toxic cocktail of anti-terrorist hemlock will boomerang and end up poisoning the American people. Bush will accomplish what the terrorists now only dream of: the deterioration and destruction of the last, best hope for humanity. I know where I stand. Do you know where you stand in this hour of maximum danger for our Constitution?
Once we become a gangster nation, ruled by a gangster elite that is accountable to no one and beyond the reach of any court, a return to the Constitution will be rendered almost impossible. Those who shout “Death to America” will have succeeded, but only because this great nation committed suicide and forfeited its historic legacy. The feckless heir to the Bush Dynasty will stand alongside Ozymandias in a poetic parallel of hubris, failure and disaster.