Democracy and Homeland Security: Strategies, Controversies, and Impact

Part I. Papers Presented in Panels 1–4

Homeland Security in a Global World

Mervat Hatem, Howard University

Editor’s note: This brief chapter by the discussant of panel 2 seeks to provide context for the papers presented by Alice Ristroph, Jameel Jaffer, Bassel El-Kasaby, Scott E. Tarry, and James F. Harris. Each presentation appears as a chapter in this e-book.

The Debate on Economic and Political Globalization Before September 11, 2001

The events of September 11, 2001, prominently displayed the signature of the current stage of economic and political globalization. A group of Arab men of different nationalities were able to take advantage of an economic globalization that facilitated the flow of people, ideas, and money from different parts of the world to successfully demolish the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and inflict damage on the Pentagon in the state of Virginia, as the economic and military centers of U.S. imperial power. Even though they left no documents that stated their reasons, it was widely believed that they were protesting the influence and the role that the United States played in supporting oppressive governments in the wider Islamic world. This intersection of national and global concerns coupled with their operation as nonstate actors in the global arena are markers of the age of globalization.

The early students of globalization who examined the intersection of the global and the national theorized that the increasing influence of transnational corporations significantly weakened the nation-state as the dominant international actor. Because the state was powerless to control the movement and the decisions of these corporations, some hypothesized the demise of the nation-state. In one particularly popular formulation of the demise of the state, Samuel Huntington suggested that the state will be replaced by “civilizations” as larger entities that stand for the fundamental differences in the way groups or cultures view the relationship between man and God, citizen and the state, and men and women, as well as the different definitions of rights, duties, liberty, and hierarchy.1 He hypothesized that these fundamental differences would contribute to the clash of civilizations singling out the fault lines between Western and Islamic civilizations as having a particularly violent history.

In contrast, Benjamin Barber presented a less polarized representation of the global world and a messier picture of its national and global dynamics. The spread of global capital represented by McDonald’s, Macintosh, and MTV was accompanied with the balkanizing/particularistic forces associated with jihad. The resulting dialectic of Jihad vs. McWorld explained the paradoxical interdependence and conflict associated with the global world along with the dual emergence of universalist/cosmopolitan forces and their tribal/particularistic/parochial/provincial opponents.2 Although there is an inequality of power between the global forces and their national opponents, both are intimately tied to each other and both contribute to the weakening of the modern state and its democratic principles.

Whereas Huntington stressed the clash of Western, Islamic, and Confucian civilizations as the new source of new international conflict, Barber underlined the clash of global and parochial forces, represented by McWorld and Jihad, within societies. Curiously, Huntington and Barber agreed on the political instability of globalization and the privileging of the conflict between Western and Islamic societies. In these formulations, Islamic civilization and/or groups representing the rise of political Islam emerged as a global “Other.” Huntington suggested that Islam’s view of itself as having a universal civilization was particularly threatening to Western claims of superiority,3 and Barber suggested that “Jihad” as the rallying cry of the opponents of globalization put it on the losing side of this new stage of human history.

Islam aside, both authors were skeptical of multiculturalism as an appropriate framework for globalization. Huntington, in particular, saw multiculturalism in the United States as another threat to Western civilization and its leadership role. Western cultural dominance was assumed to be most appropriate to globalization, and the attempt to maintain some type of cultural autonomy was not tolerated on either a national or global scale. This explained why the West has been particularly hostile to political Islam and the general quest for Muslim identity. As for Barber, cultural diversity was identified with fragmentation and the destabilization of a global world more in tune with universalizing ideals.

Structurally speaking, there were a minority of Marxist theorists who stressed that globalization was authored by the state and involved its reorganization rather than its demise. “It involves shifts in power relations within states that often means the centralization and concentration of state powers.”4 In putting itself in the service of global capital, the state has become internationalized.

The Globalization of Homeland Security After September 11

Immediately following the attacks, the Bush administration declared its commitment to foil the general goals of the terrorists by enhancing democracy at home and abroad. Its efforts to deliver on these promises ironically led to the curtailment of individual and group freedoms at home and the export of democracy to the Middle East. It should be noted here that political authoritarianism prevails in the Middle East with the active U.S. support for half a century through the barrel of a gun.

Institutionally, the U.S. government’s reaction to September 11 led to the largest reorganization of the U.S. government departments in decades, subsuming many under the new Department of Homeland Security and strengthening the power of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Department and their ability to gather and integrate information at home and overseas. The net result was the strengthening of the power of the state, especially the executive branch, which jealously defended its power to operate in a secretive manner in the name of enhancing homeland security.

The USA PATRIOT Act passed by Congress in October 2001 to provide tools to intercept and obstruct terrorism began in Section 102 by stressing that Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and Americans from South Asia were entitled to the full rights of every American. It also condemned the violence committed against them and promised to punish those who engage in these actions. It also promised to protect the civil rights of members of these groups and called on the nation to recognize the patriotism of all citizens from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

While recommending that American citizens not harass or violate the civil rights of other citizens who belonged to these three large regional groups, there was no mention or condemnation of how law enforcement agencies have targeted members of these groups in the wake of September 11 and denied them the right to due process. In fact, the USA PATRIOT Act expanded the “generalized” and “investigative” surveillance of these groups coupled with a new penchant for secrecy that made due process to many of those suspected and detained in the wake of September 11 not possible.5

In seeking to act preemptively against terrorism, the United States promised to wage a war on two fronts: globally, targeting terrorists wherever they reside, punishing the governments that wittingly or unwittingly host them, and nationally, targeting several groups of Americans who shared the culture, nationality, and religion of the terrorists and whose loyalties were, therefore, deemed suspect. The global reach of the war on terrorism was mirrored by the multinational scope of those affected by the policy of homeland security within the United States.

In this regard, what the USA PATRIOT Act did not mention in its discussion of the three groups that were affected by the events of September 11 (Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and Americans from South Asia) was that membership in each one of these groups was multinational and multiethnic. For example, Arab Americans came from the twenty-two states that were members of the Arab League and included people from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE, and Yemen. Arab Americans could be Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or adherents of indigenous African religions. The region also included linguistic minorities like the Berbers and the Kurds. The category of Muslim Americans as distinguished from the category of Americans from South Asia was confused and confusing. Although a large segment of Muslim Americans hailed from South Asia, many South Asians were not Muslim. Unfortunately, the American public did not recognize this fact as was made clear by the first hate crime that took place in the immediate aftermath of September 11, claiming the life of a Sikh. In addition to Muslims from South Asia and the Arab world, Muslim Americans also include native-born African, Latino, and white Americans.

The above categories did not do justice to the number of national groups affected by the denial of the right to privacy and racial profiling that followed September 11. Many Muslims in the United States hailed from East, West, and South Africa, for example, Eritrea, Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda. There were also many Muslims who came from the non-Arab Middle Eastern states of Afghanistan, Central Asia, Indonesia, Iran, and Turkey. While there are no reliable statistics of the size of these targeted communities, the figures usually cited are around 6 million American Muslims along with 2.5–3 million Arab Americans.

The violation of the civil rights of such a sizable community and its acceptance as a method of securing homeland security do not create a climate that is supportive of the general cause of civil rights, including the rights of other minority groups like African and Latino Americans. If anything, the legitimization of the extensive use of racial profiling against Arab and Muslim Americans has the unintended effect of reinforcing the legitimacy of racial profiling as a law enforcement device used against non-Muslim African and Latino Americans who were its earliest victims.

Finally, the association of homeland security with the Muslim and Arab “Other” has contributed to the revival of powerful anti-Muslim and anti-Arab images and representations. In his very important work titled Orientalism, Edward Said identified these representations with a Western approach to the study of the region that sought through its oppositional representation of the “Occident” and the “Orient” to control the latter as an “Other” (who is different religiously, culturally, and racially). Through them, the Western subject splits off the negative parts of itself and projects them onto the “Oriental.” Islam and Muslims have historically born the brunt of these degraded Western representations.6

For example, while the history of Islam was associated with violence, irrationality, and fanaticism, the secular history of Christianity was equated with civilization. Paradoxically, U.S. public debate has since September 11 witnessed a greater visibility of religion in the American political arena. This includes President Bush’s early description of the war on terrorism as a crusade7 and his suggestion that liberty was a God-ordained value that the United States should spread to the rest of the world. In his discussion of the decision to go to war in Iraq, President Bush told Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter, that he did not discuss it with his father, former President Bush, because he preferred to appeal to a “higher father for strength.”8 Finally, William Boykin of the U.S. Army publicly discussed how in his negotiations with Muslim adversaries, he drew satisfaction from the fact that his Christian God was bigger and better than the idolatrous Muslim God!9

These antagonistic views of the relations between Islam and Christianity that were implicit in the post– September 11 definitions of homeland security have undermined the course of interfaith dialogue as an alternative that was gaining ground in the United States. It also clashed with an equally important approach that was embraced by the United Nations Education, Social, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which stressed the “dialogue among civilizations and religions” as a better policy framework.


1. Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” in Foreign Affairs Agenda 1994: Critical Issues in Foreign Policy (New York: New York Foreign Affairs, 1994), 123.

2. Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld (New York: Ballantine, 1996), Introduction.

3. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 217–18.

4. Leo Panitch, “Rethinking the Role of the State,” in Globalization: Critical Perspectives, ed. James Mittelman (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1997), 86.

5. Alice Ristroph and Jameel Jaffer, “Security’s Province in a Democratic Society,” in Democracy and Homeland Security: Strategies, Controversies and Impact, ed. N. Ammar (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2005).

6. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).

7. Mervat Hatem, “Discourses on the ‘War on Terrorism’ in the U.S. and Its Views on the Arab, Muslim, and Gendered ‘Other,’” Arab Studies Journal 11, no. 2/12, no. 1 (2003/2004), 78–99.

8. Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), 421.

9. Richard Leiby, “Christian Soldier,” Washington Post (November 6, 2003), C1.