Homeland Insecurity

In late June of 2002, 52 Phillipino and 132 Pakistani immigrants were deported from the US back to their countries of origin. They were kept shackled for the entire trip. They were served nothing but Oreo cookies for 24 hours. And then they were delivered into the hands of government officials who also presume the guilt of these men and women. It would seem that no matter where they go they are somehow always disqualified from citizenship. It is through the presumption of guilt that homeland security in the US has tied together the policing of immigrants, the "profiling" of future criminals (à la Spielberg's Minority Report) and the polarization of civic life. In the coming months, for thousands of immigrants this plane ride will be the extension of a nightmare that began before September 11th. In the massive blanket detentions that have terrorized our communities we are reminded of El Salvador, Palestine, Brazil, apartheid South Africa, and of course the Japanese American internment. Such joint police-INS actions have not only sacrificed hard won immigrant rights for the illusion of a secure homeland, they have sought to smother the only things that can provide America with its much needed security: the right to dissent, to organize, and to resist.

In the wake of 9-11, national strategy planning in India and the US has converged on one dominant theme: "homeland security." In India's mad scramble to take up its "frontline role" in the war against terrorism, in its frank ambition to become a "global power," much more is at stake than righteous posturing against Pakistan. The somehow always failed ambition of securing the nation from both internal and external threats has led to some signal innovations in India and the US: not only a newly shared rhetoric (constellated around such bogeys as "jihadi terrorism," the internal Muslim "threat," cross-border infiltration, and global and Asian balance of power, etc.), but also an increasing cooperation of counter-insurgency military and intelligence resources. Of course, when we speak of the "somehow always failed ambition of securing the nation," we should be clear: the failure is part of the strategy. This failure of security, which is taken as a justification for more security, is like a vicious circle, which, if the recent nuclear tensions are any indication, is close to spiraling out of control.

Events in the rest of South Asia continue to be disheartening. In an ineffable irony, the government of China is helping the government of Nepal "deal with" its Maoist insurgents! In Pakistan, President Musharraf followed his "election" with proposed changes in election law that would make many of his potential adversaries ineligible to contest future elections, further damaging the credible possibilities of the reinstatement of democracy in Islamabad. Further west, Israeli troops continue to terrorize Palestinian youth in Nablus, Jenin and the Gaza strip. Young men were especially singled out, perhaps mirroring the US initiatives to subject males between 16 and 45 to specialized profiling in all immigration transactions. While the world continues to be sickened by Israeli atrocities (the UN voted 114-4 on August 6, 2002 urging Israel to leave the occupied towns), the politics of Israeli impunity rest unequivocally on US support (the four dissenting votes came from Israel, US, Marshall Islands and Micronesia). We are witnessing US imperialism on steroids, be it through the blatant support of client states like Israel, the insouciant inventory of excesses in previous adventures like the Afghan War, or the brazen contemplation of future turkey shoots in Iraq. Meanwhile, like the "disappeared" of Argentina, the US continues to hold people in detention camps without releasing their names, deporting them at will.

Is it incorrigibly hopeful on our part to wonder if the crisis of civil liberties in the US (the PATRIOT Act) and the sharpening of the machinery of state repression in India (the POTA Act) is not only a tactical convergence, but also the starting point of a counter-strategy of resistance and solidarity? "Homeland" security is only meaningful for those who can claim the land-nation as their own, and who can back up that claim with the violence necessary to secure it from all those immigrants, dissidents, unlawfuls, and "future criminals." All those, in other words, whose lives and work, so essential to the very security of capitalist democracies, cannot now be part of the image of "home." Isn't it possible that between the work of immigrant rights groups, detainee groups, anti-nuclear and anti-dam grassroots activists, and those working for justice for Muslims in Gujarat, another vision of "homeland security" is emerging? A movement, transnational and multiple, a solidarity movement...yet to come?


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