Friday, May 6, 2011

Bin Laden Fervor: A Taste of the American Flavor of Fascism
by Nicholas Levi LaChappelle

In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, it is worth examining the effect of 10 years of war on the character of both society and democracy in the United States. Since 9/11 Americans have been willing to swallow and regurgitate extreme nationalist rhetoric while financing illegal wars and being stripped of their own liberties. Now, the precedent of the Nuremburg trials long forgotten, Americans are rejoicing in the death of an unarmed man, killed in front of his wife and daughter. Such zealous support of violence and disregard for the securitization of the United States are ominous indicators of fascism.

Defense spending in the United States now totals more than the rest of the world's military budgets combined. This should be alarming. In the words of Benito Mussolini, the father of fascism, the fascist state is characterized by perpetual warfare and militarization. The United States has made armed intervention a mainstay in the Middle East and is carrying out military operations all over the world due to the limitless-by-design Global War on Terror. This so-called war has perverted notions of justice and deformed American democracy. The atrocities of Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, unrestricted military spending, and disregard for international treaties are more indicative of a global police state than a democracy. With such heavy dependence on war and the politics of violence, the United States unfortunately seems to be meeting Mussolini's main criteria for fascism.

Historically, fascism has promoted violence and war as means of national unity, spirit and vitality. I ask any able-minded American to compare this tenet of fascism to the United States' policy of perpetual war and, more recently, the heartfelt cries of victory that followed the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The U.S. government is touting murder as an achievement and the American public not only approves, but responds with jubilation.

Of course, it would be silly to say that a single parallel is enough to make the United States a more modern example of 20th century fascism. Where are the other important factors associated with this political ideology: policies targeting minorities and immigrants, chauvinism, the use of propaganda, an absence or repression of political opposition, and that common historical catalyst, economic hardship?

In fact, America has an unsettling number of parallels with the fascist states of yore. Although the Great Depression may not have a 21st century equivalent, severe economic hardship has been no stranger to the American public. And despite the laudable successes of many American women, the glass ceiling is bulletproof for the millions who continue to make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. In another disappointing commentary on sexism, the United States continues to be the only democracy in the world not to have ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.

An examination of racial equality in this country also reveals a poor state of affairs. Although the election of an African American president was a milestone, it is only a small dent in the armor of heavily institutionalized racism. One needs look no further than the prison system to find signs of egregious racial inequality. There are more African Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

The disproportionate number of people of color in the correctional system is a stark indicator of the racial inequalities that prevail throughout all of American society. This belies an insidious and deeply hidden flaw in our education, social welfare, and justice systems: a flaw that can only be denied if you believe that certain ethnicities are inherently predisposed to crime and immorality while others are not (an idea, by the way, also common to fascism).

Although propaganda is also a hallmark of fascism, traditional propaganda is not necessary in a country where almost all of the popular media is owned by only six firms, deftly controlled by a handful of wealthy power-elite.

What is perhaps a result of this media control, many Americans remain unaware of the explosion of right-wing hate groups in this country, especially in 2010. The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that this growth is "driven by resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the government's handling of the economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at various minorities."

Especially distressing is how this rhetoric has been mainstreamed through, for example, public questioning of Obama's birthplace and the election of radical right-wing politicians from the Tea Party. The strictest anti-immigration act in recent American history -- Arizona SB-1070 -- also smacks of the xenophobic and explicitly anti-immigrant stance that prevailed in fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt cautioned that "The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group."

President Roosevelt's prescient warning is especially disquieting given the countless in-roads that corporations have made into the United States Government. For each and every Congressperson there are 25 lobbyists on Capitol Hill ensuring that public concerns do not get in the way of corporate interests. After the 2010 Supreme Court decision declaring that corporations can use unlimited funding for political ads, it seems that big money has consolidated its control of politics. This state of affairs certainly undermines the likelihood of political opposition gaining any real traction in Washington, and the American public has been all too compliant in this painful dismantling of democracy.

In this way Bin Laden has warped the American sense of justice, lured the United States into Afghanistan (the graveyard of empires, after all), bound-up American tax-dollars in an expensive and unwinnable war, and all but destroyed America's international image.

Bin Laden harnessed American vengeance to do far more damage than suicide bombing ever could. Americans took the bait, hook-line-and sinker, revealing the dark side of our national character and playing right into Bin Laden's radical narrative. Recent comments by private citizens reveal an acute absorption of violent and myopic rhetoric that feeds anti-American sentiment overseas and excuses the deterioration of liberties at home.

If Bin Laden's goal was to vitally damage the United States, then he has done so -- and with the immense help of unlikely allies: the American public and power-elite.

The last 10 years have seen American controlling powers hijack ideas of "democracy," "freedom," and "justice" and use them to push exploitative laws, corporate interests, and illegal and immoral military action past a compliant American citizenry. Having lost all claims to benevolent leadership, the United States is now flirting with fascism, not because of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden but because of the many ruthless actions taken in the name of bringing him to justice.

Nick "Levi" LaChappelle is a graduate student in Global & International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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