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US Exceptionalism and the Legacy of the War on Terror – Part II: The realities of living in a Police State

September 19, 2021

Last week, we posted Part I on the consequences of US Exceptionalism and the Legacy of the War on Terror, specifically as it relates to US Foreign Policy. In today’s post, we want to explore the same legacy of 9/11 on the domestic front.

In general, the consequences of the US War on Terror for people residing in this country have been increased government surveillance, increased collaboration with federal law enforcement and local law enforcement, the targeting of certain classes of people, Arab, Muslim and undocumented immigrants, along with greater government capacity to suppress dissent.

Of course, what we are primarily talking about was the bi-partisan passage of what is known as the USA Patriot Act, which was signed into law on October 26, 2001. The USA Patriot Act put into effect policies and procedures that means the government can:

  • Search your home and not even tell you. (Section 213)
  • Collect Information About what books you read, what you study, your purchases, your medical history and your personal finances. (Section 215)
  • Label you as a “terrorist” if you belong to an activist group. (Sections 411 and 802)
  • Monitor your E-mails and watch what internet sites you visit. (Section 216)
  • Take away your property without a hearing. (Section 806)
  • Spy on innocent Americans. (Sections 204 and 901)
  • Put immigrants in jail indefinitely. (Section 412)
  • Wiretap you under a warrant that doesn’t even have your name on it. (Section 216)

Now, a second version of the USA Patriot Act was passed years later, along with other amendments, along with some sunset provisions. In 2015, the USA Freedom Act was passed restored many of the provisions of the original USA Patriot Act, even though groups like the ACLU have been fighting these repressive policies all along.

When the USA Patriot Act was adopted, there were some groups that were more targeted than other. One group was anyone who was identified as Arab and/or a follower of Islam. There were thousands of Arabs/Muslims that were rounded up by the US government without being charged and held for long periods of time. We also know that those who were perceived as being Arab/Muslims were also experiencing an increase in discrimination, harassment and violence from the general public and from law enforcement. This dynamic is well documented in the recently updated version of the book by Deepa Kumar, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire: 20 years after 9/11. 

9/11 also led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which created the repression entity known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. ICE has terrorized immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants since the agency was founded in 2003 by the Bush, Obama, Trump and now the Biden Administrations. In this instance, 9/11 has provided a justification for the repression of immigrants, Arabs, Muslims, Black and Brown communities, along with community dissidents and activists. The ACLU writes of this type of repression and surveillance:

The human toll of government surveillance is undeniable. It can have far-reaching consequences for people’s lives — particularly for communities of color, who are wrongly and disproportionately subject to surveillance. The people who feel the impact the most are Muslims, Black and Brown people, people of Asian descent, and others who have long been subject to wrongful profiling and discrimination in the name of national security. Routine surveillance is corrosive, making us feel like we are always being watched, and it chills the very kind of speech and association on which democracy depends. This spying is especially harmful because it is often feeds into a national security apparatus that puts people on watchlists, subjects them to unwarranted scrutiny by law enforcement, and allows the government to upend lives on the basis of vague, secret claims.

One other major consequence of the US War on Terror beginning after September 11, 2001, was how much public money went into the wars abroad, money which could have been spent here in the US, such as fully funding Medicare for All. According to a recent report put out by the National Priorities Project and the Institute for Policy Studies, the US spent $21 Trillion on foreign and domestic militarism over the past 20 years. Just imagine how $21 Trillion could have been used to give people a living wage, to create sustainable energy sources, to provide housing for all, end poverty, etc. We must always remember that creating equity isn’t about a lack of funds, its about how public money is prioritized. Over the past 20 years the US Government chose militarism over equity and justice at home. 

This history is important for all of us to come to terms with. This is especially the case for people who were too young to remember 9/11 or for those born since 2001. The legacy of 9/11 domestically has been even greater government capacity to repress and monitor Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, gather intelligence on all of us, along with providing greater government powers to suppress public dissent of any kind. These dynamics make it clear that we live in a police state.

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