Scare Rhetoric and the Search for Security in the U.S.

Scare rhetoric has become a schizophrenic obsession in the United States public policy discourse involving issues of national security.

The rhetoric of security first appeared as the 'red scare' in the 1950s. Senator Joseph R McCarthy of Wisconsin made outrageous claims that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations amounted to "20 years of treason," that they were lax about subversion and disloyalty, and that communists or "reds" had infiltrated the government. Although McCarthy offered no evidence to support his charges and revealed only one name of his suspected communist agents, he won a large following in the U.S. political and media circles.

McCarthyism has now reappeared as a new scare of terrorism. In a typically McCarthy style, the National Commission on Terrorism (NCT) issued its report Monday, accusing the government of being timid in fighting terrorism. "We think there's a chance terrorists will try to stage a catastrophic event in the United States in the future," the NCT Chairman L. Paul Bremer told CNN. "We're talking something which will have tens of thousands of casualties." The Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center bombings give credence to their alarms.

The NCT report lamented that the National Security Agency cannot translate the rising volume of terrorist data traffic into intelligence and thus has put the U.S. at increased risk for attacks. Hence, NCT argued, the freedom of thought and action of certain groups of people must be curbed. The government must keep closer tabs on international students in the U.S, barring them from gathering scientific knowledge that they might use later for terrorist purposes. The government must loosen information-gathering restrictions on the FBI and CIA, maintain tighter controls on suspected "terrorist" fundraising, and impose sanctions on countries that are cooperating with the U.S. "not consistently" or "not fully" in 'counter terrorism.' These measures are a carte blanche for U.S. agencies that have already relished the use of ethnic profiling and secret evidence in searching for real and imagined terrorists.

The scare rhetoric also shaped the State Department report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999," claiming that "The primary terrorist threats to the United States emanate from two regions, South Asia and the Middle East," even though statistics provided therein belied the claim. Amongst the 169 anti-US attacks including bombings reported for 1999, 96 emanated from Latin America, 30 from Western Europe, 9 from Eurasia, 16 from Africa, 11 from the Middle East, and 6 from Asia. The report listed Syria, Iran, Iraq and Libya, but not Israel as "state sponsors" of terrorism.

The former U.S. Ambassador Arthur H. Davis harped on the same strain in an article titled, "Beyond talking tough on terrorism," published in The Christian Science Monitor (May 5). Ambassador Davis described the people fighting for the liberation of Kashmir as terrorists, recommending tough sanctions on Pakistan. It is hard to distinguish his views from those of the Indian government.

Earlier, President Clinton to equated the Kashmiri fight for freedom with terrorism. Clinton ignored the Kashmiri people's struggle to choose independence or secession with India/Pakistan through a plebiscite, which was mandated by the United Nations and agreed to by the government of India in 1947. He chose not to see the last 11 years of Indian army atrocities in Kashmir. Now, at a moment when Russian troops are committing the worst of atrocities on civilians in Chechnya, Clinton is making deals with the bloody Russian President who initiated the war. Absurdly, to camouflage this stark reality, Russia and the U.S. issued an absurd joint statement on May 30, telling Pakistan to break its ties with "groups having links with international terrorism networks." They meant Pakistan should stop supporting people who are fighting for freedom in Kashmir and Chechnya.

Ultimately, all these "tough talks" of security and terrorism will lose their value and translate into "trash-talks" if they reduce the legitimate freedom struggles into terrorism, if they fail to represent justice, and if they continue the train of hypocrisy that the U.S. has maintained over the past half century. Remember, for the past half a century now, the U.S. has sponsored overt and covert state terrorism, political killing, and violence in many countries. The U.S. government used the nuclear option twice during the WWII and has since built a huge nuclear arsenal. The U.S. government does not renounce the nuclear option, does not agree to a fair balance of military power in the world, but tells others to abandon their nuclear defense shields.

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, after killing his visiting guest and boss king Duncan, Macbeth took over as the king but lived the hallucinations of the horror through the rest of his life. His "vaulting ambition" could not overcome the compunctions of his conscience that he wronged his king.

If you have your hands as bloody as those of Macbeth, the horrors of your work will continue to haunt you. You will fight against your own imagined and surreal enemies. No vaulting space missiles can spare you the horrors of your own doing. Ironically, as Hecate tells the three Witches in Macbeth, security will ironically remain your "chiefest enemy." This is the condition of the U.S., with a major difference: Macbeth had the ability to feel that he did wrong, the U.S. government has yet to acquire it.

Mohammad A. Auwal, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles, is a regular columnist for

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