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A nation gripped by paranoia
Posted: Sunday, January 4, 2004

By Raffique Shah

WHEN an FBI agent, working under America's new Homeland Security laws, could grab an innocent BWIA pilot off a flight and say triumphantly, "We got him!" anyone with a modicum of sense and an understanding of history will realise that the world's sole superpower is in super trouble. It's a country that possesses weapons of massive destruction that could reduce Earth to rubble. But it's also a country that lives in mortal fear of ordinary people, some like our two harmless pilots, hapless victims of its paranoia, and others who are penniless but who are prepared to sacrifice their lives to bring this global giant to its knees by whatever means necessary.

On learning of the detention of the BWIA pilots, I was reminded of Homer's epic, Odyssey. I thought especially the episode in which Odysseus, who took his marauding men on a plundering journey through strange lands with even stranger people and beasts, came across the giants of Cyclops. There, trapped in the cave of the one-eyed Polyphemus and his flock of sheep, Odysseus would drunken the giant with wine then stab him in the one eye with which he could see. The enraged but now blind giant had to let his flock out to graze, and Odysseus and his men escaped by attaching themselves to the bellies of some sheep as the giant checked out their backs.

That is where the USA as a country has positioned itself at the turn of the millennium, a modern-day Polyphemus. It's enraged that some bedraggled Islamic fundamentalists could drive it into wars that it's sure to win by bombing poorly armed countries into submission, but which in turn exposes its troops and its people to deadly retaliatory action, especially suicide bombings.

It's frustrated that for all its sophistication and readiness to bully others to bend to its will in matters like the ICC or the WTO rules, it's becoming increasingly paranoid to the point where it ends up running helter-skelter looking for ghosts! What a state for the most powerful nation on Earth to find itself in!

The arrests of our two pilots were just the tip of an iceberg of paranoia that has enveloped US authorities (I don't know that ordinary Americans felt in any way threatened) in a manner never before seen in history. Over the Christmas holidays "jumpy" officials ordered several flights from Europe to US airports be cancelled, presumably because their intelligence suggested "terrorists" might use them to launch 9/11 type attacks on US targets. So even American citizens returning home to spend the season with their families were adversely affected by what I can only describe as "dotishness". Moreover, ours weren't the only pilots who were made to endure the humiliation of being listed as terrorists, and treated accordingly. Many others were, and I'm sure countless other persons, especially those with an Arab "hue" are probably still being held in chains at various detention centres across the US.

Their claim could be that the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, which triggered never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was behind the security alert and the draconian measures that all visitors to the US are now being subjected to. But there are unanswered questions over 9/11 that remain hanging in the air.

For example, how could some two-by-two pilots who only recently got their licenses acquire the skills needed to make direct hits on targets like the WTC towers? Pilots with air force experience will tell you how difficult such feats are, and that even with aircraft designed for such "hits". Also, no one ever explained why, on that fateful day, so few people were at the WTC, and virtually none of the Jews who worked there (check the nationalities of those reported dead)! Or, to add to the mystery, why the alert US air-tracking systems never picked up the course deviations of the various flights involved in 9/11.

Whatever the facts surrounding 9/11 may be-and the truth has a way of surfacing, sometimes decades later-the end result of the US backlash against its perceived enemies is not a safer America. It's a grossly paranoid nation that's drifting into a police state akin to what obtained in Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia. Regarding the decision to fingerprint and photograph all visitors entering the US, Brazil has already taken retaliatory measures. As of the same date, all US passport holders entering Brazil will be subjected to similar scrutiny. It's a straight case of tit-for-tat, and one can see other big countries following suit, not because they want to harass Americans, but because they want to drive home the point that all human beings are supposed to be treated in an equitable manner, that Americans are not God's chosen children or "more equal" than anyone else.

In fact, the Brazilian judge who handed down the order had this to say about the US fingerprinting policy: "I consider the act absolutely brutal, threatening human rights, violating human dignity, xenophobic and worthy (sic) of the worst horrors committed by the Nazis." I don't fully agree with the latter part of the statement, although, as I pointed out some weeks ago, the Guantanamo detention centre looks more like a Nazi concentration camp. And worse, the US authorities are guilty of detaining totally innocent people (like our two pilots) at similar camps across the world.

Ordinary Americans need to seriously question the sanity of leaders like President George Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and others of similar ilk who are misleading their richly endowed and once proud country into an abyss of instability, and ultimately to self-destruction. The question Americans should ask themselves is who else but America can destroy America?

There is no need to answer that question. Because Bush, and before him his dear dad and Bill Clinton, stirred up a hornet's nest by launching an unholy crusade against Islam. Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are only fringe-elements who happen to belong to the fastest growing religion in the world. The mass of Muslims are a peaceful people, and if there are aberrations among them, tell me what religion is exempted from such? Christianity? Think of the century-old bitterness and blood spilled in Northern Ireland. Hinduism? Remember the destruction of the mosque at Babri or the many times Muslims were butchered by Hindu fundamentalists in different parts of India?

If ordinary Americans fail to stand up and reclaim their land in the name of democracy, then they will soon find themselves an isolated country that will inevitably implode.

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