This guest post comes from Falguni Sheth, who teaches philosophy at Hampshire College. I wandered into a course on Critical Race Theory that she co-taught with Margaret Cerullo my first semester. In that class and others, and through organizing projects, Sheth demonstrated an inspiring and uncompromising approach to political theory that has been the model for my work ever since. I am so grateful for her words in the wake of Sunday night’s news and the subsequent public reaction. Full bio after the jump.
Within an hour of President Obama’s announcement that US commandos had located and assassinated Osama Bin Laden, the Associated Press announced the following top three headlines: “US Officials: Bin Laden killed near Islamabad”; “Bin Laden took a path of fanaticism and terror”; “U.S. warns of anti-American violence after Bin-Laden”.
Remarkable: On May Day, we heard the smug cries of victory reproduced by yet another corporate media source reciting the stance of an imperialist United States government. Osama Bin Laden is dead, and we’re worried about anti-American violence by Osama supporters? Shouldn’t we be more worried about anti-American violence by Obama supporters? After all, isn’t that what the smug victory message by Obama effectively announced to us last night: any worries about whether the Democrats would be forced to deal with the consequences of their collaboration with the Republicans to wage war on Americans were effectively moot. Go ahead, Obama has effectively told his troops in the Senate and the House: Keep going, dear friends Harry Reid AND John Boehner, continue the war on the uninsured, the homeless, the mortgage-foreclosed, Latino migrants, Muslim migrants, GLBT folks, sexually active women. It’s OK, we can keep siding with the bankers without consequence. No one is kicking us out of office any time soon—Democrats or Republicans. And frankly, it doesn’t matter which party you run with. It’s all the same platform, dear friends: Civil Liberties? Out the door. Drones in Pakistan? Ramp ‘em up. U.S. military satellites all over the globe—just to sustain our hegemony? No worries. It’s business as usual, darlings, ‘cause we just killed Osama Bin Laden, and all will be forgiven. Correction: Because we just killed OBL, all will be praised.
Moreover, to the extent that anyone is interested in the aesthetic content of President Obama’s speech, we should perhaps remember how proudly he declared that no Americans were killed in the “targeted operation” on a compound in Abottabad, Pakistan. No discussion of how many Pakistani civilian casualties were effected. Why not? Because it doesn’t matter. While insisting that Americans did not “choose” this fight, suggesting a very short term view of history, Obama also acknowledged that the assassination of Osama Bin Laden did not suggest any change in strategy for Al Qaeda. What then, was the effective purpose of launching a strategy to kill Bin Laden?
Simple: to assure 300 million Americans that President Obama is truly no different than President GW Bush when it comes to enacting and affecting and reinforcing an all-encompassing war. This war is not just on Terror, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Pakistan, but on privacy; on the sexual activity of women, gays and lesbians; on the economic security of people who make less than $40,000 a year, on political dissenters such as Professor Sami Al-Arian; on ethical dissenters such as Bradley Manning, on Muslims who dare to suggest that the U.S. government is racist; on the political left who find the idea of incarcerating hundreds of prisoners without due process and civilian trials morally unconscionable; on the millions of Americans who post online opinions expressing outrage at the brutality of the U.S. government.
But this is where President Obama is wrong: the war that he wages is not the same as the war waged under President GW Bush’s administration. It is, qualitatively and quantitatively, more extreme. We already know that the number of migrants incarcerated and deported has increased threefold under Obama. We know that the number of drone attacks in Pakistan increased under Obama. We know that the erosion of civil liberties has increased under Obama. The same Presidential candidate who took President Bush to task for incarcerating over 700 men in Guantanamo Bay without charges—promising to move the detainees to U.S. Prisons and hold civilian trials for them less than 1 year ago—timed his bid for re-election to coincide with an announcement to hold military tribunals for the remaining detainees. Why? In order to assure his staunchest critics that he not only didn’t give a damn about human rights, moral treatment, or civil liberties, but that he gave LESS of a damn than did President Bush.
As Americans, what lessons should we take away from this moment? Should we, as the Obama administration is clearly counting on us to do, forget the Democrats’ horrific descent into Republicanism, all while exhorting hope and change? Should we, as The Nation and the apologist Democratic National Committee will exhort us to do, with undoubted moral indignance, welcome them with licks and kisses back into the Presidency, the Senate and the House, as warm thanks for the abuse, much as beaten dogs will give to their masters? I would suggest neither. We must redouble our efforts to challenge the existing Republocrats with viable new moral candidates. We must find candidates who will refuse to reward failing banks with hundreds of billions of dollars while ignoring the same banks’ robo-signers who negligently and fraudulently evicted homeowners. We must find leaders who are incredulous that we live in a world where torture is an acceptable practice, or who remember the Civil Rights era as they refuse to accept the racial profiling of Latinos, Arabs, Muslims, or myriad of other groups. We must vote for a president who refuses to be baited by whether he is tough enough to push the button.
The assassination of Osama Bin Laden doesn’t signal a victory for Americans but rather a resounding alarm about the surreal state of affairs in which we Americans have landed, with President Obama at the helm, leading the charge to assassinate Americans and foreigners alike, and vicious beatings of all others who express dissent and stand in the way of the United States Government. We must finally set our sights on neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, but instead put our faith for hope and change in a third party who will kick these vicious xenophobic, racist, brutal plutocrats out of office, and send their banker and insurance friends packing as well. Shame, President Obama, on you and all your “Democratic” colleagues.
Falguni A. Sheth is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory at Hampshire College. Her latest book, Toward a Political Philosophy of Race (SUNY, 2009), explores state-led racial divisions. She was formerly an Immigrant Rights Commissioner of San Francisco.