The terrorist hysteria now being generated by the establishment media in cooperation with governments worldwide will go down in history, along with the witch-hunts of the Dark Ages, as a particularly ominous craze a fitting climax to a millennium drenched to the bones in state terrorism.
As we count down the days to the end of the millennium, and work ourselves up into a paroxysm of pure paranoia, I am reminded of Charles MacKay's enduring classic, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), a book which documents the idiocies of which men and women are capable whenever they engage in collective action. From the "tulipomania" of the 1600's, when Dutch speculators drove the price of tulips above that of gold, to witch-mania, the Crusades, alchemy, animal magnetism, fortune-telling, and other more modern fads and fantasies, the book documents the irrationality of the human species when congregated in numbers greater than one.
Yet there is a crucial difference between the madness of 19th century crowds and the delusions of the 20th (and coming right up, the 21st) century. Back then, for the most part, popular delusions bubbled from the bottom up: the Crusades were the result of the preaching of the mad Peter the Hermit, not (at least in the beginning) an edict handed down from Rome and the capitals of medieval Europe. Tulipomania and similar financial phenomena, such as the South Sea Bubble, were truly popular delusions: today, our delusions are imposed from above, the result of either corporate or government manipulation.
As a glimpse into the ugliness of the future that awaits us on the other side of the New Year, it is useful to observe the City of London on the eve of the "celebrations." The headline in the London Times heralds the dawning of the Age of Paranoia: "Anarchist attack fears turn City into no-go area"!
The British government has its terrified citizens facing a three-fold threat not only from homegrown "anarchists" might not a few of the more Euroskeptical Tories be made to fit this category? but also from "Islamic fundamentalists and Irish republican splinter groups." The Blairite response is to "isolate the City" according to the Times, "access will be possible only through seven tightly controlled entrances and exits." A local official is quoted as saying." "It will effectively be a no-go area."
This last comment just about sums up the new era we are entering: for ordinary people in all countries, much of life will effectively be a no-go area. The political decisions that affect their lives, the economic factors they must cope with, the social and cultural trends that shape their children all are made by increasingly small and distant groups of people.
On a more down to earth level: the power of a Western "democratic" government to "isolate" its major city and its ability to so swiftly transform itself into a garrison state ought to destroy any illusions about the famed Anglo-Saxon devotion to the rule of law. When it comes right down to it, "democratic" Britain is no different than some Third World banana republic. Troops and tanks don't have to be rumbling through the streets of London for Blair to have effectively declared martial law.
The same Times piece goes on to describe the recent arrest of an alleged terrorist, Ramdane Zouabri, who "has been charged with threatening to kill an Algerian community leader after he was allegedly filmed making calls from a north London telephone box." While Zouabri's real crime is that he just happens to be the brother of Antar Zouabri, leader of the Armed Islamic Group, to the casual American readers there is something odd about that sentence. He was filmed? By what or whom?
Although this was not mentioned in news accounts, in all probability he was filmed by one of the numerous video monitors now situated at strategic spots throughout the whole of Britain, which is being rapidly and systemically outfitted with a national spying system, a network of what can only be called telescreens the Orwellian device, right out of 1984, that served as the omnipresent all-seeing eye of Big Brother.
But it couldn't happen here, in the United States, you say? After all, those Brits don't even have a written constitution, just a fast-dissipating sense of tradition. We have a Bill of Rights, a free press, a strong democratic tradition they could never get away with that here in the good old USA. This attitude is, unfortunately, bunk, as the hysterical preparations for Y2K and the attendant terrorist scare reach a fever pitch.
In New York City, Giuliani is welding the manhole covers shut in case the terrorists come crawling through the city's sewer system, like in some cheap action thriller. 8,000 of New York's finest (and their bomb-sniffing dogs), heavily-armed and ready-to-rumble will descend on the Times Square celebrants, combing the crowd for Osama bin Laden or a reasonable facsimile thereof. As if to underscore the influence of Hollywood on the minds of our leaders, the operation is code-named "Archangel." The "complex plan" involves removing all garbage cans from sidewalks, locking all mailboxes, and banning all parking with a 60-block area. As police helicopters hover overhead, three hundred plainclothes "antiterrorist" commandos will nonchalantly "mingle with the crowds" although their black ninja suits are bound to be a dead giveaway.
The Keystone Kops aspect of the frantic search for terrorists was illustrated in the recent anticlimax of the latest "manhunt" launched by the FBI in New York City: a three-day search for a mysterious blue van ended when they found the vehicle and came up with nothing. As one official put it: "The vehicle has been located, no one has been arrested, and no explosives were found." A rather laconic Associated Press article goes on to report that the FBI alert was prompted "after a service station attendant near the US Capitol raised a concern because its occupants appeared to be Middle Eastern and refused to let anyone near the vehicle as it was being fueled."
Witch-hunts are great levelers. When a lowly gas station attendant can lord it over his betters, when his "concerns" can command the resources of the state and cause it to embark on a three-day nationwide search, you know we are living in revolutionary times. Although the article states that FBI officials "declined to say whether the van's drivers had been questioned," those Arabs who so rudely disdained an offer to wash their windows certainly paid the price for their arrogance. More will pay, and the price will be higher. But anything is justified in the "war on terrorism," right?
The hijacking of an Indian airliner by Kashmiri rebels is the crowning irony of this orchestrated hysteria for here is an incident that cannot be blamed on the nefarious Osama bin Laden, America's all-purpose bogeyman of the moment. Indeed, a far more likely connection is with the US-backed regime in Islamabad, which has financed, organized, and armed the Islamic rebels in the disputed Kashmir region since the division of the subcontinent into separate states. The recent military coup did almost nothing to cool relations with Washington, but one can only guess at the response of the US State Department to Pakistani allegations that the hijacking was "staged" by India and Indian allegations that the whole thing was a Pakistani plot.
Pakistan's foreign minister has declared that, having failed to isolate Pakistan in the wake of the recent coup, "perhaps the government of India manufactured another incident in pursuit of their aim of maligning Pakistan internationally." Close observers of the ongoing low-level guerrilla warfare between India and Pakistani proxies will not be surprised by this somewhat alarming accusation. Islamabad made similar accusations in 1995-96, contending that India had organized bombings in the Punjab province in which 18 people were reported killed. In July, 1996, the Pakistanis arrested one of their own countrymen, who confessed to being part of an Indian plot: others were sentenced to death and life imprisonment for involvement in similar plots.
As we enter into the shadowy subworld of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups, the line between governments and private groups, between our enemies and our creations, becomes increasingly blurred. That we are now paying the price of our past cold war interventions in Afghanistan against the Soviets is beyond debate: Osama bin Laden is entirely an American invention. His cause was aided and abetted by the Reaganite cold warriors of the eighties: remember how they insisted on supplying the Afghan "freedom fighters" with Stinger missiles? The next time you hear our wonderful President warn against the alleged terrorist threat, remember that these terrorists were trained by US personnel and armed by the US taxpayers.
The pathetic case of Brahim Mahdi is typical of the work of our Keystone Kops in action. US officials seized a couple at the Vermont border, and traced their car to Mahdi, who was identified as a top leader of the "Islamic League," an alleged terrorist organization. When a gaggle of reporters showed up at his door, in Montreal, demanding to know if he was a member of a terrorist organization intend on leveling massive amounts of destruction, he was somewhat taken aback: "No, Mahdi replied with a look of disbelief, he never heard of the group and didn't belong to any terrorist network. He was just an Algerian immigrant in Canada, battling depression that made him drop out of college in June. 'I don't know anything. I'm a good citizen here." The bewildered Mr. Mahdi, blinking into the cameras, proclaimed his innocence: "I don't do anything bad. I live like anyone else. I want to finish my studies and find work." This poor dope, roped into the "anti-terrorist" dragnet and used to rationalize the official alarmism, wondered if perhaps he ought to get a lawyer. This is a terrorist mastermind? Poor Mahdi is lucky if he stays out of jail and all for the "crime" of having given someone the use of a car and a cell phone.
As I related in my last column, last Tuesday some poor slob was pulled off a flight out of the Bahamas airport because he had the temerity to come on board with wires, magnets, batteries, and circuit boards in his luggage. He was finally released on Thursday, Dec. 23: no charges were filed, and his name was not released and I for one hope he sues the airlines and the federal government for millions. Let him sue on behalf of all of us, who have to live under the constraints of an increasingly militarized society, in which hidden enemies are supposedly hiding in garbage cans and depositing bombs in mailboxes. In the relentless search for the ever-elusive "terrorists," how long before Janet Reno unleashes the FBI on every falafel joint in America?
I am far less frightened of alleged foreign terrorists who may commit an atrocity on US soil than I am terrified of the FBI/ATF ninja-commandos who have committed acts of terrorism, such as the firebombing of Waco.
If we take the fears of the whole world into consideration, as far as sheer numbers are concerned, far more people are frightened of the terrorist threat emanating from Washington than they are from the hidden valleys of Afghanistan. We are currently starving 3,000 children to death per week in Iraq, an act of terrorism on a scale so vast that it has become invisible to the Western media, that is. The Serbs, the Iranians, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Russians, the Belarussians, the North Koreans and any number of South and Central American republics they all live in abject fear of us, and lash out when they can. That is the meaning and the root cause of terrorism. Intervention by the West in affairs best left to the locals leads, invariably, to a reaction, often violent, and inflicted on innocent civilians. As we intervene in the civilizational conflicts of the Middle East, the Balkans, and Central Asia, we are finding that religious and ethnic factions from other cultures do not necessarily play by the Rules of the Marquis of Queensbury. If this is the price we must pay for the dubious privilege of being the world's policeman, then one wonders how long the American people will want to play the game of Empire.
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