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Just in case you thought that “political correctness” had been thoroughly discredited in the culture wars of the 1990s, it’s back -- and this time it’s being treated as a stalking horse for terrorism and getting pummeled all over again. 

You only had to listen to the recent hearings convened by New York Republican Congressman Peter King on radicalization and the Muslim religion to know that, if the ascending right in Washington (and elsewhere) has its way, the age of tolerance in America is over.  In the name of putting political correctness in its grave, a surprisingly sizeable contingent of politicians, judges, and other influential figures are now calling for transforming draconian behavior -- that once would have made Americans blanche -- into the order of the day.

Blaming Political Correctness for Terrorism

King’s hearings underscored the urgency with which a growing cast of influential characters seeks to open yet wider the door to the sort of anti-democratic (and anti-constitutional) actions that have been woven into counterterrorism policy since September 11, 2001. As chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, King made it his job to acknowledge the obstacle that -- as he might put it -- excessive tolerance for minorities, foreigners, or other religions and cultures can pose. “To back down [from these hearings],” he insisted when criticized, “would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee -- to protect America from a terrorist attack.”

It was hardly the first time in the Obama era that political correctness has been identified as a major cause of terrorism, or at least as a major roadblock to confronting terrorism.  One need only think back to the November 2009 killing spree in which Major Nidal Hasan, a Muslim Army psychiatrist, fatally gunned down 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas. In an op-ed penned several days after the attack, Republican Congressman John Carter, who represents the district where Fort Hood is located, pointedly connected political correctness to the dangers posed to the country by terrorism, warning, “Political correctness is killing Americans and undermining the national security of the United States."

Key political figures continue to use the Hasan case to harp upon the imagined horrors of being politically correct.  For instance, in February, a Senate Homeland Security Committee report was still fretting that military “worries” about “political correctness inhibited Hasan’s superiors and colleagues who were deeply troubled by his behavior from taking the actions against him that could have prevented the attack at Fort Hood.” Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, commenting on the report, insisted that “we must never allow the safety of those who defend our freedom to play second fiddle to political correctness.”

Dorothy Rabinowitz, a conservative columnist in the Wall Street Journal, echoed Cornyn, arguing in a much-cited op-ed that military psychiatrists failed to see Hasan’s rampage coming because they inhabited “the world of the politically correct.”

The message that political correctness is allowing al-Qaeda-ish wolves in sheep’s clothing to penetrate the country’s defenses has been spreading, based in part on claims about unlearned lessons from past incidents of terrorism.  Last month, at New York Law School’s City Law Breakfast Series, for example, Michael Mukasey, George W. Bush’s last attorney general and the former chief judge of the Southern District of New York, informed an audience of judges, lawyers, reporters, and law students that political correctness had actually been responsible for the FBI’s failure to stop the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.  

 
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