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The Taliban of the West

Once upo a time there was a place called America, the land of the free they called it, people were free to think, to speak to associate, to protest, and even the media was not manipulated by corporate influence. But unaware of men plotting against her government, judicial system, and Constitution itself, the greatest for which she was so well known became unhinged, and the world soon followed...
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<DIV align=left><FONT face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=2><I><!-- #BeginEditable "Contact" -->Published on Tuesday,
December 18, 2001 in the <A
href=" http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardian" target=_new>Guardian of
London</A><!-- #EndEditable --> </I></FONT></DIV></TD></TR>
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<DIV align=left><FONT face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=5><B><!-- #BeginEditable "Header" -->The Taliban of the
West<BR><FONT size=3>This War is Threatening the Very Freedoms It
Claims to be
Defending<BR></FONT><!-- #EndEditable --></B></FONT></DIV></TD></TR>
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<DIV align=left><FONT face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=2><B><!-- #BeginEditable "author" -->by George Monbiot<!-- #EndEditable --></B></FONT></DIV></TD></TR>
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<TD><FONT face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=2><!-- #BeginEditable "Body" -->The pre-Enlightenment has just
been beaten by the post-Enlightenment. As the last fundamentalist
fighters are hunted through the mountains of eastern Afghanistan,
the world's most comprehensive attempt to defy modernity has been
atomized. But this is not, as almost everyone claims, a triumph for
civilization; for the Taliban has been destroyed by a regime which
is turning its back on the values it claims to defend.
<P>In West Virginia, a 15-year-old girl is fighting the state's
supreme court. Six weeks ago, Katie Sierra was suspended from
Sissonville high school in Charleston. She had committed two
horrible crimes. The first was to apply to found an anarchy club,
the second was to come to classes in a T-shirt on which she had
written "Against Bush, Against Bin Laden" and "When I saw the dead
and dying Afghani children on TV, I felt a newly recovered sense of
national security. God bless America." The headmaster claimed that
Katie's actions were disrupting other pupils' education. "To my
students," he explained, "the concept of anarchy is something that
is evil and bad." The county court upheld her suspension, and at the
end of November the state's supreme court refused to hear the case
she had lodged in defense of free speech.
<P>Katie is just one of many young dissenters fighting for the most
basic political freedoms. A few days before Katie was suspended, AJ
Brown, a 19-year-old woman studying at Durham Tech, North Carolina,
answered the door to three security agents. They had been informed,
they told her, that she was in possession of "anti-American
material". Someone had seen a poster on her wall, campaigning
against George Bush's use of the death penalty. They asked her
whether she also possessed pro-Taliban propaganda.
<P>On October 10, 22-year-old Neil Godfrey was banned from boarding
a plane traveling from Philadelphia to Phoenix because he was
carrying a novel by the anarchist writer Edward Abbey. At the
beginning of November, Nancy Oden, an anti-war activist on her way
to a conference, was surrounded at Bangor airport in Maine by
soldiers with automatic weapons and forbidden to fly on the grounds
that she was a "security risk". These incidents and others like them
become significant in the light of two distinct developments.
<P>The first is the formal suspension of certain civil liberties by
governments backing the war in Afghanistan. The new anti-terror acts
approved in Britain and the US have, like the reinstatement of the
CIA's license to kill, been widely reported. The measures introduced
by some other allied governments are less well known. In the Czech
Republic, for example, a new law permits the prosecution of people
expressing sympathy for the attacks on New York, or even of those
sympathizing with the sympathizers. Already one Czech journalist,
Tomas Pecina, a reporter for the Prague-based investigative journal
Britske Listy, has been arrested and charged for criticizing the use
of the law, on the grounds that this makes him, too, a supporter of
terrorism.
<P>The second is the remarkably rapid development of surveillance
technology, of the kind which has been deployed to such devastating
effect in Afghanistan. Unmanned spy planes which could follow the
Taliban's cars and detect the presence of humans behind 100 feet of
rock are both awesome and terrifying. Technologies like this,
combined with CCTV, face-recognition software, email and phone
surveillance, microbugs, forensic science, the monitoring of
financial transactions and the pooling of government databases,
ensure that governments now have the means, if they choose to deploy
them, of following almost every move we make, every word we utter.
<P>I made this point to a Labour MP a couple of days ago. He
explained that it was "just ridiculous" to suggest that better
technologies could lead to mass surveillance in Britain. Our defense
against abuses by government was guaranteed not only by parliament,
but also by the entire social framework in which it operated. Civil
society would ensure there was no danger of these technologies
falling into the "wrong hands".
<P>But what we are witnessing in the US is a rapid reversal of the
civic response which might once have defended the rights and
liberties of its citizens. Katie Sierra's suspension was proposed by
her school and upheld by the courts. The agents preventing activists
from boarding planes were assisted by the airlines. The student
accused of poster crime may well have been shopped by one of her
neighbors. The state is scorching the constitution, and much of
civil society is reaching for the bellows.
<P>This, I fear, may be just the beginning. The new surveillance
technology deployed in Afghanistan is merely one component of the US
doctrine of "full-spectrum dominance". The term covered, at first,
only military matters: the armed forces sought to achieve complete
mastery of land, sea, air, airwaves and space. But perhaps because
this has been achieved too easily, the words have already begun to
be used more widely, as commercial, fiscal and monetary policy, the
composition of foreign governments and the activities of dissidents
are redefined as matters of security. Another term for
"full-spectrum dominance" is absolute power.
<P>There are, of course, profound differences between the US and
Britain. The US sees itself as a wounded nation; many of its people
feel desperately vulnerable and insecure. But while our cowardly MPs
seek only to dissociate themselves from the victims being persecuted
by Torquemada Blair's inquisitors, the lord chancellor's medieval
department is preparing to dispense with most jury trials, which are
arguably now the foremost institutional restraint on the excesses of
government.
<P>The paradox of the Enlightenment is that the universalist project
is brokered by individualism. The universality of human rights, in
other words, can be defended only by the diversity of opinion. Most
of the liberties which permit us to demand the equitable treatment
of the human community - privacy, the freedom of speech, belief and
movement - imply a dissociation from coherent community.
<P>While those who seek to deny our liberties claim to defend
individualism, in truth they gently engineer a conformity of belief
and action, which is drifting towards a new fundamentalism. This is
an inevitable product of the fusion of state and corporate power.
Capital, as Adam Smith shows us, strives towards monopoly. The
states which defend it permit the planning laws, tax breaks,
externalization and blanket advertising which ensure that most of us
shop in the same shops, eat in the same restaurants, wear the same
clothes. The World Trade Organization, World Bank and IMF apply the
same economic and commercial prescription worldwide, enabling the
biggest corporations to trade under the same conditions everywhere.
<P>Some of those who, in defiance of this dispensation, write their
own logos on their T-shirts are now being persecuted by the state.
The pettiness of its attentions, combined with its ability to
scrutinize every detail of our lives, suggest that we could be about
to encounter a new form of political control, swollen with success,
unchecked by dissent. Nothing has threatened the survival of
"western values" as much as the triumph of the west.
<P><A href=" http://www.monbiot.com/"
target=_new> http://www.monbiot.com/</A></P>
<P align=center> Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001</P>
<P align=center>###</P><!-- #EndEditable --></FONT></TD></TR>
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