Who's Knocking On Fear's Door

coalition of the willing and the judgmental
patricians, politicians, and the fundamentalists
you never have to tell them how the money's spent
you never have to tell them where their freedom went
homophobes in the high command
waitin' for the rapture like it's disneyland
hide all the bodies from out of view
channel all the treasure to the chosen few

Eliza Gilkyson
Man of God

"It's telling that a number of politicians have lately cited as their model on terrorism issues Jack Bauer, the counterterrorism agent on the TV hit "24," who routinely tortures the truth out of bad guys as the clock ticks toward catastrophe. It's not hard to understand the appeal. There's a certain atavistic attraction to the Jack Bauer method, an attraction that bypasses the head en route to the gut.

Too bad, because had the head been asked, it might have pointed out that Jack Bauer is a fictional character on a TV show not noted for its realism. Using him as a guide to terrorism makes about as much sense as using Barney Fife as a guide to law enforcement.

And the very fact that Jack Bauer is invoked in the most crucial policy debate of our time tells you something about the state of the union going on seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks. In a word: scared.

There is nothing new about being scared. Nor about abridging civil liberties in response. It happened in the civil rights movement, in the Red scare, happened when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, when the nation plunged into World War I, when the French offended John Adams.

But it's worth noting that, for all the illegal wiretapping, arrests, detention, blacklisting, censorship and loss of life this country has seen in the name of fear, only one major abridgement of civil liberties in time of national emergency - Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War - stands justified by hindsight.

The rest, we regard with a shamefaced fascination. We wonder what we were thinking, how we wandered so far afield from the principles that should make us great."

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

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