Friday, November 23, 2007

Musings: Homegrown "Terrorism"

Well, the holiday season is officially upon us, with its over-emphasis on buy-buy, spend-spend. Yawn…… Every year, I pull further out of that whole scene, trying to distill my observance down to the essence, and away from all that hyper-materialism.

Mine is kind of an anti-American attitude, when you get down to it, because our economy is so consumerism-based. So far, however, it’s not illegal to speak disparagingly about shopping.

But with the U.S. Senate now poised to consider The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (H.R. 1955), all kinds of unpopular thought, speech and action now protected by the First Amendment could be at risk.

As I read an article by Jessica Lee on the proposed act published in The Indypendent, I was struck by how some of the concerns expressed about the bill are already playing out here in Hawaii with Gov. Lingle’s response to the Superferry opposition.

First, some background.

The bill, which passed the House Oct. 23 in a 404-6 vote (Rep. Abercrombie voted no, while Rep. Mazie Hirono voted yes), “would establish a ‘National Commission on the prevention of violent radicalization and ideologically based violence’ and a university-based ‘Center for Excellence’ to ‘examine and report upon the facts and causes of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism and ideologically based violence in the United States’ in order to develop policy for ‘prevention, disruption and mitigation,’” according to the article.

While a simple study may sound harmless enough, Lee’s article goes on to quote Hope Marston, a regional organizer with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), who expresses concerns about the bill’s definition of terrorism: “It is about the ‘use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence to intimidate or coerce the government.’ This is often the language that refers to political activity.”

Marston is later quoted as saying: "The definition does not make clear what force is.”

The article states: “One pressing concern is definitions contained in the bill. For example, ‘violent radicalization’ is defined as ‘the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.”

The article quotes Alejandro Queral, executive director of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, who asks: “What is an extremist belief system? Who defines this? These are broad definitions that encompass so much. … It is criminalizing thought and ideology.”

The article also quotes a Nov. 6 press release by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), which states: “The National Commission [will] propose to both Congress and [Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff initiatives to intercede before radicalized individuals turn violent.”

The article then quotes David Price, a professor of anthropology at St. Martin’s University who studies government surveillance and harassment of dissident scholars, who maintains: “This bill is trying to bridge the gap between those with radical dissenting views and those who engage in violent acts. It’s a form of prior restraint.”

Now here’s where it starts to get good, and I’m still referencing Lee’s article:

Price explains how this may work, citing an example in his home town of Olympia, Wash., where a peaceful blockade took place in early November at the Port of Olympia to prevent the shipment of war materials between the United States and Iraq. He says, “It will be these types of things that will start getting defined as terrorism, including Quakers and indigenous rights’ campaigns.”

Kamau Franklin, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), is also concerned at the targeting of peaceful protests. He says the “Commission’s broad mandate can lead to the ability to turn civil disobedience, a form of protest that is centuries old, into a terrorist act.” It’s possible, he says, “that someone who would have been charged with disorderly conduct or obstruction of governmental administration may soon be charged with a federal terrorist statute.”

“My biggest fear is that they [the commission] will call for some new criminal penalties and federal crimes,” says Franklin. “Activists are nervous about how the broad definitions could be used for criminalizing civil disobedience and squashing the momentum of the left.”

I find Franklin’s comment incredibly astute, seeing as how a federal “security zone” at Nawiliwili Harbor, with its attendant hefty penalties, has already been implemented here on Kauai precisely to turn civil disobedience into a terrorist act — with the goal of quashing protests against the Superferry.

As I’ve noted previously, the sole purpose of Lingle’s Sept. 20 visit to Kauai was to advise citizens about the zone and its penalties in order to deter the kind of peaceful, yet extremely effective, protest that resulted in a water blockade that kept the ferry from entering the harbor.

Before the zone, those who were arrested in the Superferry demonstrations were charged with various misdemeanor offenses that carry light fines and little or no jail time.

After the zone, those engaging in the very same “offenses” could suddenly be charged with federal crimes that carry lengthy federal prison terms and substantial fines.

The citizen actions would be the same, but the response from government would be radically different — with much more serious consequences as a result.

We’ve already seen the deliberate rhetorical build-up that allows the government to get away with this kind of heavy-handed approach. Those who gathered for two nights at Nawiliwili to express their concerns about what they perceived as illegal action by the Superferry have been branded as radical environmentalists, extremists, a vocal minority, a fringe element and special interest groups.

They’ve also been depersonalized, through the use of language that demeans them as newcomer haoles, hippies, druggies, unruly, rowdy, rude, violent, obstructionists, anti-Oahu and devoid of aloha.

In America, the big fear is Arabs and Islamic groups. In Hawaii, the big fear is environmentalists and Hawaiian sovereignty groups.

And the really big fear in both places are those who oppose rampant capitalism and seek to dispel the mindset that promotes unending growth.

Lee’s article quotes a 2005 RAND report, “Trends in Terrorism,” which devotes one chapter to a non-Muslim “homegrown terrorist” threat — anti-globalists: “Anti-globalists directly challenge the intrinsic qualities of capitalism, charging that in the insatiable quest for growth and profit, the philosophy is serving to destroy the world’s ecology, indigenous cultures and individual welfare,” stated the report.

If any of this is starting to hit uncomfortably close to home — or you simply don’t want to see America edge even closer to a police state — I urge you to contact your Senators right away and ask them to defeat this bill. It has been referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, chaired by Joe Lieberman.

But first take a few minutes to read Lee’s article, which does an excellent job of exploring both the bill and the broader issue of what constitutes violence and terrorism.

You might be surprised to find that the definitions could apply to some of your own cherished beliefs.


Anonymous said...

Bravo, Joan!!!

As we reflect on this excellent piece, let us remember that we must not submit to fear and despair. Remember, it is those in power who are clearly afraid - of people's movements for social, economic and environmental justice.

If we were not so effective, if we did not have the potential of effecting change, this type of bill would not be before the Senate right now.

Anonymous said...

Mahalo for the disturbing details of this new bill. I can see how it could apply to any protests or vigils or side of the road demonstrations, or anything that speaks out against the government's plans. It really hits home at least for me and I am disappointed that Mazie didn't see it that way. I believe that this was President Bush's plans all along and Lingle has become his sick puppet.
As for all the Thanksgiving and Xmas hype, I am very proud to say that I don't participate in it. Xmas makes people buy junk for each other and the junk ends up over burdening our landfills. Thanksgiving makes people eat unnecessarily and worst of all, it never addresses the ugly truth behind how this celebration came to be. I hate that.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Joan but I must take exception with some of your comments...

Folks on Kauai can protest all they want... being the vocal minority they are we know they will... But we will not allow them to block legal forms of transportation. We wouldn't allow them to go out to the airport and block a flight from Alaska either. They acted like a bunch of THUGS and I hope they are prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. Oh and the next time you get hit by a hurricane or earthquake? Don't call.
Your Oahu Neighbors

Anonymous said...

Most disturbing of all is the silence surrounding this legislation--mainstream news is not covering it, and even some alternative news sites like Alternet have not picked up this story.

I like your blog. Thanks for addressing this vastly important, hugely underrated event!