America Post 9/11: Land of the Free (for a few)

Jessica Joseph – Period 1 – Honorbound

As a sudden explosion hits the World Trade Center, a cloud of smoke encapsulates New York City, changing American politics forever. Suddenly foreign words like “bin Laden”, “Al-Qaeda”, and “Islamic extremists” flood the CNN news reports. For the average individual watching the news on September 11th, 2001, the only logical people to blame for such a tragic event seemed to be Muslims.  The 9/11 tragedies not only challenged America as a nation, but also influenced the clouded vision many people now have toward any ethnicity associated with Islam. The American claim that any individual can be who he or she wants to be in America was scarred by the vision of hundreds of innocent lives falling due to a group of Islamic extremists.  Previously stamped on the constitution as a sticker of natural rights and freedom, the Bill of Rights became invalid to almost any America individual associated with Islam during the post 9/11 decade. Which brings us to an important question: During the post 9/11 decade, has America strayed from its constitutional ideals and become a defective government?

To answer the question, first let us look at what America claims to be. The very first amendment of the Constitution forms part of the foundation upon which America as a country is primarily hoped to function on. Under this amendment, Congress is unable to make any laws “respecting an establishment of a religion” and is also forbidden to “prohibit the free exercise thereof” [1]. Formed as a response to the two centuries of religious conflict in America, this amendment represents the liberty owed to all individuals. In fact, the first ten amendments to the constitution were formed to ensure that individual liberties would be protected under the government. These liberties became known as “unalienable rights”, referring to man’s natural rights that even the highest authority in government has no power to take away. As ideas such as “freedom of speech”, “right to a fair trial”, and “freedom of religion” were advertised to the world as America’s values, America became known as “an asylum for humankind” [2]. Thus, America’s constitution and Bill of Rights exhibit to its people and to the outside world that America is not a land under an oppressive ruler or legalist laws, but a country that recognizes and respects that the natural rights of its people that should be protected.

This view is in line with Aristotle’s view of a good government. He notes true forms of government to be “governments which have a regard to the common interest are constituted in accordance with strict principles of justice, and are therefore true forms” [3]. The Bill of Rights, as noted above, is proof enough that the US government should strive to protect the rights of its citizens and ensure that the government cares for the public good. The rights listed in the Bill of Rights are all to protect the rights of man and ensure that all have the opportunity for freedom. Thus, on paper, America’s government seems to act in accordance with a true form of government according to Aristotle.

However, this is what America claims to be on paper. In reality, have we held up to be a proper and good government according to Aristotle?  While the stereotype of America would answer yes, the reality of America during the post 9/11 period would argue otherwise. During this time period, the validity of an American’s constitutional rights had frayed as the idea of who exactly is entitled to the status of an American became obscured. Following the 9/11 attacks, many began to stereotype Muslims and those of Arab descent as “terrorists”.  As the media played on America’s fear of terrorism by utilizing stereotypes derived from the 9/11 attacks, Americans continued to be fed animosity toward the Islam culture, locking Muslim-Americans in a cycle of oppression and negative generalizations throughout the post 9/11 decade. During the years following the attack, Americans began to view Muslim-Americans not as every day citizens, but as a group of people undeserving of the title “American”.

In the weeks following the attack on September 11th, 2001, the government passed what is known today as the USA Patriot Act, which expanded “the powers of the federal law enforcement agencies to gather intelligence and investigate anyone it suspects of terrorism” [4]. Aristotle recalls in The Politics the philosopher’s Lycophron’s view of what a law should be, which is a “surety to one another of justice” [5]. Although this act was intended to bring justice to the American people as our national security took an active role in ensuring that 9/11 related attacks would not occur again, in reality, the act inadvertently threatened the rights of Americans themselves. The freedoms enlisted in the American constitution were now void to persons who appeared to be “suspicious”, or in other words, individuals who in some shape or form resembled the appearance of an Arab or Muslim. As rash assumptions regarding one’s loyalty to America allowed the government to file that person under suspicion, such individuals no longer retained rights such as respect under the government. Adama Bah, a 16 year old girl at the time of the attack, describes her experience with federal officers in the book The Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post 9/11 Injustices. Falsely accused of being both an illegal immigrant and suicide bomber, Adama was forced to strip herself of her niqab, a traditional Islamic vestment worn by women, and bear naked in front of an officer. Pleading for her right to privacy, Adama was given no other justification other than the fact that “[she] had no rights” [6]. The Patriot Acts had made it legal for the government to attack any individuals deemed suspicious, and in this era, suspicious equated with Muslim due to the misunderstanding between Islam as a peaceful religion and the small sect of Islamic extremists.

Adama’s treatment had been extremely contrary to America’s claim to treat citizens with equality as Adama had been dehumanized like the slaves in pre-civil war era, de-Americanized like the Japanese-Americans in the McCarthyism era, and stripped of the title of a US citizen in her present era. Furthermore, these dehumanizing acts were committed by the American government itself. So would the US government be considered a “defective government” according to Aristotle during the post 9/11 decade? On one hand, the government’s intentions were to protect the American people from possible harm. Their interest was for the American people as a whole. This view would claim our government to satisfy half of Aristotle’s view of a true form of government, which is to “have a regard to the common interest” [3]. However, the government in this sense disregarded Muslims as those of the “common” interest as Muslims were stereotyped as “suspicious” and “terrorists”, regardless of whether they were American citizens or not. Thus, the government was not in truth acting according the common interest of America, but to the common interest of the majority of Americans. However, to say that the US government was completely defective would not be entirely true. Aristotle defines a defective government as one that acts mainly in accordance with the self-interests of the rulers alone [3].  This is untrue of the US government, as security measures taken were taken for the security of the American people.

It is evident that many Americans found themselves losing their rights as American citizens during the post 9/11 period because of acts such as the USA Patriot Act. However, to say that the US government was completely corrupt or defective would be extreme. It was in a sense, however, acting contrary to the role of true form of government, which is to act with regard to the common interest in accordance with virtue and justice as many lost their rights. Our country has progressed long ways since this time period. Various memorials have been established in honor of those who lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks. More understanding and acceptance has been brought surrounding Islam culture. And more and more people are standing up for their rights, regardless of ethnicity, race, sex, or religion.

Bibliography

1. Vile, John R. “First Amendment.” In American Government. ABC-CLIO, 2000-. Accessed April 26, 2015. http://americangovernment.abc-clio.com/.

2. American Government, s.v. “Thomas Paine: Common Sense (1776),” accessed April 26, 2015. http://americangovernment.abc-clio.com/.

3. Aristotle, “Book 3: Chapter 6.” In Nicomachean Ethics.  Bernardo Aparicio, 2014.

4. Urban, J. Kristen. “USA PATRIOT Act.” In American Government. ABC-CLIO, 2000-. Accessed April 26, 2015. http://americangovernment.abc-clio.com/.

5. Aristotle, “Book 3: Chapter 9.” In Nicomachean Ethics.  Bernardo Aparicio, 2014.

6. Malek, Alia. “Adama Bah,” McSweeney’s, 2011.

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One thought on “America Post 9/11: Land of the Free (for a few)

  1. Your post is very interesting. Although on paper it sounds like everyone has freedom, in actual society, this is not true. Hopefully, like you said, in a few more years, people will no longer be prejudice toward Muslims.

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