To Be Real 

The post-9/11 landscape: the view from Europe; the state of civil liberties.

Just when you thought you'd heard every if, and, and but about September 11, 2001, hear this from a senior researcher at the Institute for Social Studies in Ljubljana (Ljubljana? It's the capital of Slovenia. Slovenia? It's north of Croatia): "The problem with the twentieth-century 'passion for the Real' was not that it was a passion for the Real, but that it was a fake passion whose ruthless pursuit of the Real behind appearances was the ultimate stratagem to avoid confronting the Real -- how?"

The words come from Slavoj Zizek. They come inside his essay "Passions of the Real, Passions of Semblance," which comes inside Zizek's book Welcome To the Desert Of the Real (Verso). But forget the how. How 'bout Huh?

But let's get (lowercase, no italics) real. Hear this: According to French philosopher and culture/art/media critic Jean Baudrillard in "Requiem For the Twin Towers," the second essay inside his book The Spirit Of Terrorism (also from Verso), "In terms of collective drama ... the horror for the 4,000 victims of dying [official death toll: 2,819] in those towers was inseparable from the horror of living in them -- the horror of living and working in sarcophagi of concrete and steel." (The victims were dead meat and didn't know it even before the 9/11 attacks? Tell that to victims' families.) And ... "[The World Trade Center] was party to its own destruction." (The towers committed symbolic then actual suicide!) And ... "[O]ne should build only those things which, by their excellence, are worthy of being destroyed." (And, since the twin towers were excellent embodiments of bourgeois, lawless, capitalistic globalization run riot, they were worthier targets than even the White House. Why? According to Baudrillard, "[P]olitical power no longer means much." Tell that to world dictators.)

And now, add to these pronouncements this fragment from Paul Virilio, director of the Ecole spéciale d'architecture in Paris in his book Ground Zero (again Verso): "A black hole of Progress into which has now fallen this whole philanoia, this love of madness on the part of the sciences and technologies, which is now seeking to organize the self-extermination of a species that is too slow."

Forget the boldface English/Greek, the uppercase P in "progress." What Virilio means by "species" is mankind, and thanks to "totalitarian media" and the techno-scientific spot the "slow" species has gotten itself into, with or without 9/11, the outlook is lousy -- an outlook densely, provocatively outlined by all three of these major European thinkers, brought to you by Verso publishing in a trio of pamphlet-size paperbacks designed (and what well-designed books they are) to "probe beneath the level of TV commentary, political and cultural orthodoxies, and 'rent-a-quote' punditry." The combined effect: arguments that are challenging, aggravating, and positively un-American. As is (or, judging from certain sorry episodes in this country's history, is it?) ...

The systematic undermining of civil liberties currently under the direction of the Bush administration and its chief executioner, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and right under the noses of unsuspecting or willfully ignorant Americans. Or is it no news to you -- rushed into law as the U.S.A.-Patriot Act last October, criticized repeatedly in the pages of It's a Free Country: Personal Freedom In America After September 11 (RDV Books), and best summarized by human rights lawyer Michael Ratner -- that "[t]he president can now make war on anyone without additional congressional authority [but he's having to work at it], can wiretap attorneys and their clients without a court order, can jail non-citizens permanently on the word of the attorney general -- even if they have committed no crimes -- and can set up military tribunals which can mete out the death penalty without appeal"?

Edited by Danny Goldberg, Victor Goldberg, and Robert Greenwald, It's a Free Country is full of words to the unwise from the likes of journalist Nat Hentoff, Congressman Barney Frank, singer-songwriter Steve Earle, perpetual troublemaker Michael Moore, in addition to first-rank analysts Anthony Romero (executive director of the ACLU), Michael Isikoff (Newsweek reporter), Michael Tomasky (New York magazine columnist), and Danny Schechter (author of The More You Watch The Less You Know), plus dozens of other concerned citizens with an interest in upholding the U.S. Constitution.

Please note: These are not your standard-issue bleeding hearts. Nor are they your everyday antigovernment crackpots. What alarms them, and should alarm you, are the measures of the past 12 months that have been put to Congress, hastily passed by Congress, underreported by lazy reporters, and misunderstood by Americans hoodwinked into believing that the fewer their freedoms, the greater their safety.

And note for example: a native Salvadoran raised in the U.S. and seeking citizenship who has guarded her adoptive country as a soldier in the U.S. Army but who cannot, according to the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, screen passengers at Los Angeles International Airport for 9 bucks an hour. (Top-pay airline pilots, mechanics, and baggage handlers are under no citizenship requirement.) Or a Jordanian-born civil engineer and resident of the U.S. for 22 years detained in a New Jersey jail for almost a month based only on word from his business competitors. (The government's charge: no charge ever filed. The prisoner's lawyer? He wasn't allowed one.)

You want "real" this 11th? Listen here: Honor the flag by recognizing your rights. Dry your eyes. Read up.

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