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The United Orwellian States?
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

Toronto: When George Orwell wrote his fictional work, "1984", he had in his mind's eye an imaginary state, Oceania, run by the Big Brother. It was a land haunted by fear-imagined fear-concocted and stirred by the Big Brother to keep a terrified populace in check. Those living in Orwell's high-tech Oceania were watched, constantly and hauntingly, by the omniscient ‘video eye’ of the state apparatus.
Those condemned to live in Orwell's Oceania were resigned to their fate because the Big Brother kept the state continually embroiled in war against shifting `enemies’. Fear of the aliens invading their land was so pervasive that the residents ceased to question the rulers. They were so crushed and wobbled, psychologically and emotionally, that they came to believe in whatever the Big Brother said as absolute truth. They succumbed, passively, to the nihilistic vision of their rulers that the " enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil."In the end, a cowed down, thoroughly brainwashed passive people loved the acts of war and cheered Big Brother for shielding them from " evil".

Extrapolate Orwell's Oceania to the present-day United States of America, and you come across a chilling reality. You almost see the fictional Oceania unfolding before your eyes.

As these lines are being written, Kabul, Kandahar and other major cities of Afghanistan are coming under the wrath of American missiles and bombers. It is, to a fault, a replay of the bombing of Iraq at the beginning of the Gulf War of a decade earlier. America is at war, once again, in defence of its ‘values’ against an ‘enemy’ presumed to be threatening and challenging the "American values."

This may be the first war of the new century and millennium for the U.S.but it is not the first time that it has gone to war in defence of its "values." All through the 20th century, America went to war repeatedly and regularly to defend its’ values and way of life.’ Every conflict that the United States entered it did so on a moral high platform. It entered World War I to defend its western values of liberty and freedom against an imperialist Germany and Austro-Hungary. The same moral argument justified its entry in Wold War II against fascist Germany, Italy and Japan. That done, a new enemy confronted America in the guise of communism in the Cold War, which did not remain cold for very long. The Korean War was the first ‘hot’ manifestation of the American ‘resolve’ to combat communism globally. That was in the 50s. Quick on its heels, in the 60s, it took on the challenge of repulsing the communist ‘onslaught’ in Vietnam, which dragged on for more than a decade and resulted in more than 3 million Vietnamese casualties.

There were several other side-shows to these major ‘crusades’ in defence of ‘American values.’ The Southern Hemisphere, an American theatre of influence and interest since 1828 when President Monroe unfurled his doctrine of America's regional supremacy, witnessed dozens of allegedly communist-lit brushfires being put out by Washington. A most heinous example of the Monroe Doctrine being applied with crusading zeal and interest was the toppling of the popularly elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile in a CIA-inspired operation on 11 September, 1973-28 years to the day before America itself was engulfed in a similarly macabre ‘conspiracy.’ The only chink in the American protective armour, to date, has been Fidel Castro's Cuba which the U.S.might and superior firepower has not been able to undo, or dislodge.

But the ‘crusade’ against communism was convincingly won in the Afghan War with the valiant assistance of the Afghan freedom fighters. The back of the Soviet Union, the ‘evil empire’ which epitomised the global reach of communism ,had been broken. The victory was hailed as a gratifying triumph of ‘American values’ and the western civilization against its greatest enemy.

However, the end of the Cold War unleashed a new ‘enemy’--a ‘fundamentalist and militant Islam’--which could not be nipped or ‘smoked out’ despite the 8- year long, and fratricidal, Iran-Iraq War of the 80s in which the sympathies of the west, on prodding from Washington, were manifestly with the aggressor Iraq. Therefore, America had to girdle its loins to deal with this latest ‘menace and threat’ to the ‘American values’. The answer was the Gulf War, whose outcome was only half a victory for America. It did result in putting Saddam Hussain " in a box" and pulverized Iraq back to the stone age. However, the ‘monster’ of Islamic militancy received a shot in the arm from the unmitigated suffering and plight of the Iraqi people. The rise of the ultra-orthodox Taliban in the post-cold war and emaciated Afghanistan added a further menacing bite and punch to this robustly feared ‘militant Islam.’

That America is in the throes of another, periodic, war against " evil" (in this instance personified by Osama bin Laden and his mentor Taliban) quite fits the pattern of an Orwellian society living in a state of perpetual war against demonic forces knocking at its portals. So it is not surprising that George W. Bush is enjoying an approval rating of 94% on the morning after the first blitz against Kabul and Kandahar. It is quite evocative of the Oceania of "1984" whose inhabitants applauded Big Brother every time an enemy incursion was checked or repulsed.

What is even more disturbing is the halo of Big Brother acquiring increasing acceptance and respectability in America at the cost of those very sacred freedoms and civil liberties whose defence has , ostensibly, been the basis of American ‘crusades’ against ‘evil’. Not that this is the first time for the shadows of Big Brother lengthening in America. The McCarthy witch-hunt of the 1950s, in pursuit of " un-American activities" is still a black mark on American civil liberties. Millions of lives were affected by that madness that swept across America like a locust; tens of thousands of careers were destroyed, and as many reputations sullied beyond redemption.

The scare of the Red menace creeping into America was the catalyst and justification for the McCarthy terror. The battle cry this time is ‘terror’ menacing American security. However, what is being encrypted on the cards in the name of ‘security’ for the American people, and the defence of ‘American values,’ could easily pale McCarthyism into an insignificant aberration-a mere blip on the American national radar.

A crony of George W. Bush, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, has been peremptorily sworn in to head a new Department (Ministry) of Homeland Defence. Ridge will have sweeping powers to combat terrorism on American soil as he sees fit, with armed troops and war planes and active support of law-enforcement agencies throughout the continental United States. There was, in George Orwell's fabled Oceania, a Ministry of Truth armed with similar powers and paraphernalia to knock the fear of God into the hearts of its inhabitants. Another disturbing parallel is that of a Ministry by the same name in the pre-World War II Austria, which quickly became a weapon of terror in the hands of the Gestapo after Hitler's seizure of Austria.

But much more implicitly designed to cripple, if not completely snuff out, civil liberties in the name of national security is also on the anvil. Congress is seized of an astounding new piece of legislation, by the name of the Patriot Bill, drafted by Attorney General Ashcroft in the wake of terrorist attacks against New York and Washington. Not even the most zealous defenders of the American civil liberties doubt that the bill will sail through the two houses of Congress like a hot knife through butter. Michael Ratner of a Washington-based rights group, the Centre for Constitutional Rights, summed up the dilemma facing the civil libertarians in the face : " Who could oppose that bill without being a non-patriot?"

The bill, when approved, would make wire-tapping of people's telephones legal. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Personal computers would no longer remain ‘personal.’ Government snoopes and agencies would be able to break into private e-mails and collect personal data right on- the -line. Round the clock monitoring and surveillance would become legal, too and have full backing of the state apparatus, evoking, hauntingly, the spectre of the ‘video eye’ in Orwell's Oceania. Police and other law enforcement agencies would get powers to detain a suspect for days, if not weeks, without a judicial cover. Aliens would lose practically all rights , and may be detained indefinitely on suspicion of being party to a crime.

The Patriot Bill would define ‘terrorism’ to suit the convenience of the law-enforcers and overseers of a sweeping and all-pervading security apparatus. According to a number of human rights advocates and civil libertarians, the definition of ‘terrorism’ would become so loose-to accommodate the enforcement apparatchiks-that a college student throwing a brick at a store window would become liable for being hauled up as a ‘terrorist.’ The underlying spirit of the new legislation would make it increasingly prohibiting for anyone to question the discretion, or authority, of the law enforcers. Which has prompted many a critic to pose the logical question: who would be there, with any leverage, to watch the watchers ? Critics are apprehensive that all this fright-induced rush to evolve a watertight security system would lay the foundations of a police state. Detect signs of the Orwellian Oceania in the making in the real world ? Completing the Orwellian parallel , i.e. a people hobbled by draconian intrusion into their privacy ultimately succumbing to the will and authority of the state apparatus, is the acquiescence of the American people in whatever is being planned to curtail their freedoms on the excuse of security. A recent CBS-New York Times survey of the public opinion on the issue shows that 74 per cent of Americans are happy to concede some civil liberties if it would help in getting Bin Laden and ‘enhance’ their security. American people's trust in their government is said to be the highest in the past 30 years.

Free speech, the most sacred of individual freedoms in America, is coming under a serious threat from the ascendant pro-establishment sentiment. Entertainers, on radio and television, are losing their sponsors for daring to criticise Bush or his policy. Those suspected of holding un-American views are being summarily castigated. A robust and dangerously chauvinistic right wing conservatism is hogging the centre stage in the media. Vindictive sentiment is spewing out in cascades of venom. For instance, one highly rated news commentator (Bill O'Reilly of Fox News) is advocating that " the U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble…" and "their infrastructure must be destroyed and the population made to endure yet another round of intense pain." Another (Ann Coulter in the National Review) is promoting the idea that " we should bomb them back to the Stone Age" (the same threat was made by the then Secretary of State James Baker to Iraq's Tariq Aziz in their meeting in Geneva before the beginning of the Gulf War, and was quickly executed).

Even academics are losing their right to air their views without fear of accountability or retribution. The loyalty bug is smitting people all around North America like a contagion; it is transcending the border with Canada, too and the syndrome is manifesting itself in all its propensity in a show of solidarity with U.S. A university professor of South Asian origin, Sunera Thobani, is in the line of fire for having lambasted the U.S. for its catalogue of crimes against humanity in the world. Some luminaries of Canadian politics have jumped to their feet to denounce her for her " anti-U.S. rant ". Some are suggesting that she be fired from her position on the faculty of University of British Columbia; yet others are advising her to buy a one-way ticket to Kabul. So much for the proud western tradition of freedom of speech and writing. Americans are failing this test, like so many others before it.

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