August 28, 2007

Naomi Wolf: What we don't talk about

In today's Huffington Post, Naomi Wolf takes on the danger of leaving some topics of discussion of limits.

Even as I write those words, I understand I am breaching a major social taboo of our particular time and place. There is a general polite consensus right now that maintains two no-debate areas: 1) you are not, if you are a serious person, allowed to note in public that it is possible that this White House -- or any U.S. leader ever -- might conceivably distort or hype the terror threat for political purposes (though plenty of serious people discuss this possibility in private); and 2) if you are a serious person, you are not allowed to suggest in public that it is remotely possible that in America elections could possibly be deliberately thrown off course any more directly than, say, the vote recount of 2000.
Wolf then goes on to demonstrate that corrupt leaders often either make up a threat or hype one that does exist, and that U.S. history, even before this administration took over, is full of this sort of activity.
Finally, I am sorry to say, there is the fact that, historically, when leaders are seeking to close down an open society, the months leading up to an election are traditionally the most unstable time -- the period most likely to see reports of a frightening purported threat "just-foiled," an apparent awful breach "just-averted," or even a dramatic actual provocation -- which requires, then, a strong hand to restore "public order." Mrs. Clinton pointed out that even though it is a "horrible prospect," sometime you have to ask "What if?"
And you know, this is a question I heard so many of my fellow Democrats ask in the months leading up to both the 2004 and 2006 election. I was the naive one who said, "Oh, we can't worry about that. Let's just focus on Get Out The Vote." Right now I am glad to see at least one candidate admitting, in public, what we've ALL discussed amongst ourselves.

Wolf goes on to contrast our generalized nation-wide fear with how it's done in nations that have lived with terrorism for decades.
Anyone who has ever lived in Israel -- a country where, since its very birth, sophisticated terrorists have been targeting the civilian population day and night -- knows that you NEVER get the equivalent of broad-anxiety-inducing alerts in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem like the "red alert" or "orange alert" system here at home. At the most, in Israel, you get practical, low-key, usable information from the state -- for example, "avoid the Machaneh Yehudah marketplace this Friday afternoon" -- no matter who is in power. Israelis, consequently, experience, on the day-to-day level, the possibility of terror attacks as a specific, real danger -- but not as a state-produced existential condition, a matrix of helpless fear. (Indeed, avoiding national fear from terror attacks is a point of pride in Israel that transcends party lines).

Nor do Israelis get our regular-as-rain triumphalist narratives in the press about this or that terrorist's creepy bio, his sinister face, or this or that thwarted, grandiose attack on this or that cherished national monument. There is not a constant struggle between the Knesset and the party in power over the declassification of intelligence, comparable to our struggle here at home. Rather, when there is something the people need to know, Mossad lets the people's leaders -- whatever party is in power -- know it. Everyone in Israel understands that terror is too serious to mess with politically -- that intelligence about attacks is too important to disclose or to conceal for political purposes -- and that Mossad is always, very quietly, at work.

Anyone who has lived in the UK during the years of regular, bloody IRA bombings has experienced similar restraint. Nations that have long been primarily intent on tracking and thwarting terrorists -- rather than, perhaps, driving policy with fear -- just don't talk about terrorism in the same way (or nearly so much). Even now -- fighting the very same "bad guys" that we are fighting -- Gordon Brown has reminded his nation and ours that "terrorism is not a cause, it is a crime."
And finally...
Is it irrational to consider the possibility of a hyped threat or even a provocation before the election? It is, at this point, irrational to refuse to do so. If this White House had no actual major record of hyping a threat -- if the U.S. had no record of inflating various fears for political ends -- and if weakening democracies worldwide had no record of manipulating terror narratives to drive certain outcomes, it would indeed be illogical -- even paranoid -- to worry about a possible hyped threat or provocation that is politically driven.

But given the current administration's record of lying to Congress, the American people and the UN about such threats; given that it used fake documents to do so; given that it has often splashed out widely-reported terror charges that then vanish or subside during actual trials (the course corrections of which are seldom as widely reported); given our own nation's history of not being immune to the temptations on the part of leaders of using fear to drive a political outcome -- is it not, rather, almost criminally naive to REFUSE even to consider the possibility of a hyped threat or provocation close to the election?


Let's dare to release our immature fantasies of a magically faultless American system and a magically protected election process. We have been lucky, as a nation; but sometimes continued luck depends on action.

Hillary Clinton's rivals should back down; she was the first to dare to imply what we must all directly consider.

Sometimes collective blind spots -- agreements not to look -- are not a problem; and sometimes -- as in a dramatically weakening democracy -- such blind spots can become big enough to prove self-destructive indeed.


Not Your Mama said...

Is it irrational to consider the possibility of a hyped threat or even a provocation before the election?

Faux news started beating that drum this morning. According to them Homeland Security has "confirmed" that an attack inside the US is "imminent". Naturally they did not "have enough information yet" to say where or when. you don't know where or when but go ahead and panic. Would a rational or responsible governing body release a statement like that?

Featheriver said...

Good and informative post cls. Naomi Wolf has written a piece that deserves thoughtful reading. Somehow, I fear, "thoughtul reading" may have become a thing of the past.