9/11 at a crossroads

By Tram Nguyen Sep 08, 2006

I’ve been thinking about what’s changed, and what remains the same five years later. Bush and Rumsfeld of course are still beating the security drums, stepping it up by comparing their opponents to Neville Chamberlain. But the thing is, efforts to market fear of "Al-Qaeda types" have worn thin by now. Increasingly, national security has less and less meaning, and is looking more and more like a political football. A recent New York Times poll showed that Americans are largely split along partisan lines in how they view the war on terror – most Republicans think it’s going well, most Dems don’t. But more than that, the majority of people don’t trust the government to tell them the truth about the dangers we face, or to respond adequately in the event of a catastrophe. Meanwhile, there’s still a serious crisis over the restructuring and erosion of civil and human rights. National security politics targets immigrants in ways that go far beyond civil liberties concerns. It’s a force in everything from the repeal of driver license laws to the violence at the border. What else hasn’t changed, in fact may have deepened, is the level of anxiety and insecurity people have about their lives. That includes fear about another attack, but it also includes frustration and helplessness – over affording health insurance, getting a decent-paying job, having debt and nothing to fall back on. This sense of individual precariousness is an outcome of our embattled public institutions, or what one scholar on a panel about Katrina called the "dismantling of a socially responsible government." Five years later, much has happened and much remains the same. I think it’s going to be a time that hangs in the balance. It’s not a time to be mealymouthed about "security" but to challenge the terms. We need to reinvigorate a debate about rights and protections, and we need to stand up to the security state and its politics of fear.