Tag Archives: homeland security

The Enemization of Everything or an American Story of Empathy & Healing?

The Enemization of Everything or an American Story of Empathy & Healing?

As president Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term and announces his cabinet selections The Indypendent has published a special issue titled “The Shadow Term” in which they have selected their own creative roster for cabinet appointments.

Sparrow’s cofounder Andy Stepanian joined the Indypendent’s all-star team of would-be cabinet appointees, Bill McKibben (Dept. of Energy), Michael Ratner (Attorney General), Laura Flanders (Secretary of State), Sarah Jaffe (Dept. of Labor), Remi Kanazi & Alex Kane (Special Envoy to Palestine & Israel), Deborah Small (Director, DEA), Nathan Schneider (Dept. of Defense) and accepted the appointment of “Secretary of Department of Homeland Security.”  The following is his contribution, written as an acceptance letter…

AN AMERICAN STORY OF EMPATHY & HEALING

In the weeks between my appointment and when I entered this office I had the privilege of spending several days alongside former Secretary Janet Napolitano. I found Secretary Napolitano’s leadership to be exemplary as applied to the terms defining her position as DHS secretary. These terms, framed 11 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, provide a foundation for what it means to direct our Department of Homeland Security. However, I regretfully, and respectfully, submit to you today, that these terms upon which we apply the responsibility of securing of our homeland are flawed. I intend to spend my term as secretary redefining these terms, and eventually redefining the position of secretary to the Department of Homeland Security.

With no disrespect intended to Secretary Napolitano, I will share with you a conversation she and I had regarding these aforementioned terms.

When I asked Secretary Napolitano to recall her first days in office, she waxed nostalgic about a conversation she had in 2009 with her predecessor, Secretary Michael Chertoff, about “the cornerstone of our security apparatus.” This “cornerstone” was handed down from Tom Ridge to Chertoff to Napolitano. When I asked her what this “cornerstone” was she simply replied, “the enemization of everything.”

Over the past nine-and-a-half years, this department has grown exponentially to employ more than 240,000 Americans around a principle that in order to innoculate our population against an attack by an invisible enemy we must first “enemize” everything, treating each and every living thing (and at times even non-living electronic entities) as if she, he, they or it were plotting the next attack on our homeland. The private sector has also seen unfettered growth around its ability to monetize “the enemization of everything,” from developing security technologies in response to unforeseen “enemies” to using the specter of terrorism to draft and fast-track model legislation that serves business interests.

While taking a position that everything is an “enemy” can make it harder for an “enemy” to execute his or her plans, it also creates an ugly, fear-driven environment that sows seeds of distrust, from misplaced suspicions about your neighbor’s religious or political affiliations to fears of crowds or airplanes. Moreover, this “enemization of everything” has been observed to have a profound psychological impact on some individuals. For some, being told over and over by peers or media that they are “an enemy” makes them want to react by becoming that enemy. After surviving a decade rife with violent outbursts and mass shootings, we as a nation cannot afford to ignore the psychological impacts of our post-9/11 terror culture and security-industrial complex on the moral fabric of our communities.

I intend to use my directorship here at the Department of Homeland Security to transform this agency into a restorative agency. To do so we must first undo this prerequisite “enemization” model. We then need to reach an understanding that terrorism, whether political or apolitical like a shooting in a movie theater, almost always has an origin. These origins should be treated as wounds that we as an agency have a responsibility to heal. If we as an agency can isolate these origins on various cultural, systematic or personal levels, we can begin to heal the wounds that jeopardize our security.

From deeply personal individual battles with cancer to the global war on terror, human responses to these acute onslaughts are almost always reactionary and seldom preventative.

Amid the immediacy of our tragedies we rarely question what brought us to those malignant moments; instead we desperately reach for quick fixes — surgery, chemotherapy, torture, drones, carpet-bombing. In the global war on terror, preventative medicine is often practiced as pre-emptive military action, rendition, entrapment, torture and sanctions. These means never challenge the cultural roots of the problem and often serve as a tool for terrorist recruitment.

Like flourishing bacterial cultures in a petri dish, terrorism is a symptomatic cultural reflex that can be easily seen growing out of its own hospitable environments. Oppression, poverty, inadequate education, constant subjugation to the accepted institutionalized abuse of animals and a lack of individual autonomy are the stagnant waters in which this global disease of terrorism takes root and grows. As secretary, I intend to use this agency to analyze, isolate and ultimately treat the prerequisite events that give way to future acts of violence.

To make this agency a restorative agency, not only must we speak in a restorative manner, but our actions and our policies must also promote restoration.

Many of my detractors have speculated about my proposed policy changes, some have gone as far as to call them “treasonous.” I will reserve any comments regarding my policy plans for a later date, but can assure those detractors that I fully intend to re-write their script of “enemization” to an American story of empathy and healing.

Sincerely,

Andy Stepanian
Secretary, Department of Homeland Security

stepanianDHS

This beautifully illustrated special edition of The Indypendent is a powerful testimonial of the alternatives we can create. A list of distribution locations are available here, a .pdf download is available here.

Johnny Cash Could Teach Peter King a Thing (or two) About Prison-Born Terrorism Plots

Johnny Cash Could Teach Peter King a Thing (or two) About Prison-Born Terrorism Plots

Yesterday Congressman Peter King held his second hearing into radicalization within Islamic communities in the United States. This hearing focused on the potential for radicalization within the state and federal prison industrial complexes, specifically highlighting a conspiracy by four California men to wage war against the United States through attacks against military recruitment facilities and other targets in and around Los Angeles in 2005. One of the four men, Levar Washington, who pled guilty to his involvement in the plot was confined to the same secretive federal prison program I was confined to in 2008 for my involvement in an animal rights protest campaign. Levar and I became friends while incarcerated together, we were both young, we were both vegetarians, we would work out together every day, we would discuss spirituality, politics, and every Friday we would sit together and watch animal planet’s ‘Whale Wars’ show on the prison TV. It was an unwritten code in prison to not ask much about someone’s case unless they brought it up in conversation first, so I never learned about Levar’s charges until one afternoon he opened up to me…

Pter King Hearings

Levar, a once-outspoken member of the Rolling Sixties Crips had spent his adolescent and teen years in the California juvenile corrections system, he eventually turned 18 and served the remainder of his time on the yards of some of California’s hardest state penitentiaries — Pelican Bay, CSP, Sacramento, and Folsom State Penitentiary. His life on the yard was one of constant oppression, violence, and sorrow. Levar would spend weeks and sometimes months segregated in the “Hole” or “S.H.U.” (Secure Housing Unit).  It was in the hole at Folsom State Penitentiary that Levar first picked up the Quran. Also segregated to the hole at Folsom was Levar’s future co-conspirator Shakyh Shahaab Murshid (born to the name Kevin James) and during their time together in the hole Kevin turned Levar onto Islam and onto a secret organization he founded in 1997 called Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS) Arabic for The Assembly of Authentic Islam. Levar’s foiled terror plot years later was to be claimed by JIS according to a pre-drafted press release FBI agents found on the floor of his apartment during his arrest.

Johnny Cash at Folsom State Prison.  “Folsom Prison Blues” Cash’s song about the daily oppression of prisoner life highlights the desperation of men living behind Folsom’s walls.   It was from this yard, rife with oppression, that Levar Washington and Kevin James allegedly hatched their 2005 failed terror plot…

Cash’s words resonated with the Folsom men and prisoners everywhere, a stark contrast to the xenophobic rhetoric Congressman Peter King and some of his hand-selected witnesses used when trying to quantify prisoner radicalization.  King and the “expert witnesses” displayed that the lens from which they view these serious issues through, retards their ability to confront real life issues of oppression and violence that impact all of us… For Levar the Qur’an answered his questions about justice, it gave his life a new meaning, it healed old wounds, and his relationship with the text was purely restorative. Peter King’s witnesses made an attempt to argue that it was the cherry-picking of the scripture itself or Islam by it’s very nature that led Levar down the path that eventually ended with his involvement in a terror plot years later. King’s hearings did so without fully acknowledging the oppression, violence, and conflict that enveloped Levar Washington’s life prior to his introduction to the faith. It may be easier for King to scapegoat a religion and chase fictitious bad guys in a system he does not fully understand then begin to address the all-too-real looming problems of disempowerment in inner city communities, xenophobia, failing foreign policies, poverty, and lack of education. All of these factors enable and encourage radicalization to a greater extent then religious scriptures do.

King however is not alone with his approach. How often do we as a culture search for quick fixes to myriad ailments while disregarding our need to make lifestyle changes that challenge our personal comfort. From deeply personal individual battles with cancer to the global war on terror, human responses to these acute onslaughts are almost always reactionary and seldom preventative. Amidst the immediacy of our tragedies we rarely question what brought us to those malignant moments –instead we desperately reach for quick fixes– surgery, chemotherapy, torture, carpet-bombing. In the global war on terror preventative medicine is often practiced as pre-emptive military action, rendition, entrapment, torture, and sanctions. These means never challenge the cultural roots of the problem and often actually serve as a tool for recruitment. Like flourishing bacterial cultures in a petri dish, terrorism is a symptomatic cultural reflex that can be easily seen growing out of its own hospitable environments. Levar Washington is a reactionary by-product to poverty, oppression, and a life of incarceration, not a terrorist recruit of the Quran. Until King begins to acknowledge the predicate problems that spawn terror plots he will continue chasing his own xenophobic tail, will continue to offend America’s beautiful Islamic communities and will continue waisting US taxpayer money.