Geographies of fear: Letter from America

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Earlier this summer season, I arrived from Mexico to Newark Liberty airport for a short keep in New York City. It was my first go to in years and a violation of my self-imposed travel ban to the United States, which regardless of being the nation of my start and upbringing I discovered to be a really disconcerting place and irreparably alienated from the human situation.

I had left the US in 2003 following my commencement from college in New York, nearly two years after the September 11, 2001 assaults had occasioned the giddy launch of a “war on terror”. In maintaining with the US predilection for shameless irony, this conflict had finally served to terrorise communities overseas and at home.

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Flying into Newark Liberty – renamed in honour of 9/11 – it was instantly clear that 9/11 was nonetheless going robust, 20 years after the actual fact.

My homecoming started with an interminable and schizophrenically supervised passport line. During the wait, US residents and company might admire signage from the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection company, selling itself as the primary and final line of defence defending America and its “way of life”.

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But what precisely is the American “way of life” – and simply how a lot “liberty” does it really entail?

In her guide, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, American scholar Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz lists a few of the components defining existence within the homeland, such because the “endless wars of aggression and occupations” and the “trillions spent on war machinery, military bases, and personnel instead of social services and quality public education”.

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Other highlights embrace the “gross profits of corporations” and the “incarceration of the poor, particularly descendants of enslaved Africans” – to not point out “high rates of suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual violence against women and children, homelessness, dropping out of school, and gun violence”.

Sounds, nicely, lower than “liberating”.

Of course, a nationwide narrative in response to which “terrorists” and different enemies are at all times out to get you gives a useful distraction from the punitive capitalism and institutionalised inequality upon which the nation is based.

As I came upon as soon as I had cleared Newark passport management and crossed the final line of defence into ostensible freedom, the risks hardly ended there.

An enormous poster on the terminal wall – throughout the underside of which is specified that “funding for this message” was offered by Homeland Security Department grants – featured a closely armed police officer alongside a person in a blue button-down shirt and khaki pants, representing the common US civilian. The accompanying textual content learn: “Officer Greg Elkin is well equipped to keep our region safe. And so is Jason”.

Lest Jason’s contributions to regional security cross undetected, his eyes, ears, and cell phone are helpfully labelled.

Another line on the commercial exhorts passersby: “If you see, hear, or notice something suspicious, speak up” – an approximation of the federal government’s trademarked “If You See Something, Say Something®” marketing campaign, which has within the post-9/11 period propelled numerous Americans to report their fellow people for suspicious behaviour like showing to be Arab or Muslim.

After extricating myself from Newark Liberty, I made my method to Manhattan and spent the following week reacquainting myself with New York City and the American coverage of sucking the life out of life by issuing rules for every little thing beneath the solar and forcing of us to stay in fear of breaking them.

For starters, the idea of public area, integral to any group that considers itself free, has successfully been changed by overzealously regulated area – to the extent that even the tiniest of New York sidewalk plazas comes with in depth indicators itemizing all prohibited actions, from displaying indicators – ha! – to feeding birds to mendacity down.

To make sure, overregulation turns into much more ludicrous when 9/11 can someway be tied in – as within the case of the New York City Fire Museum in Manhattan’s SoHo district, which I stumbled upon throughout an harmless quest to search out orange juice that didn’t value the equal of two seafood dinners and beer in Mexico.

At the doorway to the museum, inexplicably, is a 9/11 memorial cow statue – sure, cow – adorned with American flag designs, depictions of 9/11 firefighters, and, on the left bovine shoulder, portraits of ex-US president-cum-war on terror king George W Bush and sociopathic ex-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Next to the animal, an indication on a pedestal reads: “Please Do NOT allow children to sit on the Memorial Cow.”

So a lot for freedom.

Further downtown on the former World Trade Center web site, in the meantime – which now hosts a Dubai-like skyscraper and different monuments to materials extra befitting the American “way of life” – rules additionally abound.

One signal informs that “prohibited items includes [sic], but is not limited to” weapons, instruments, paint, glass bottles, open flames, and “powdered and liquid soaps” – little question a curious prohibition throughout a pandemic.

Another signal lists a variety of forbidden actions, from “causing obstruction, loitering or interfering with safe and orderly flow of pedestrians” to “bathing, showering, shaving, laundering, changing clothes or disrobing”. At the underside of the listing is a QR code with a observe that “a copy of the full World Trade Center Rules and Regulations are [sic] available here”.

Then there’s the “Oculus” – point of interest of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub – a white monstrosity containing upscale outlets and constructed with a mere $4bn of public cash. The Oculus escalator comes outfitted with audio rules stipulating that there’s to be just one passenger per step, in addition to different essential survival suggestions.

Indeed, it could appear foolish to rant about trivial issues when a lot of what constitutes life in America is not any joking matter – akin to, you understand, the police propensity for killing unarmed Black individuals.

In the top, although, hyperregulation within the US is of a bit with the de facto criminalisation of Blackness, Brownness, Muslimness, poverty, psychological sickness – and, in lots of respects, life usually.

The conditioned fear of ubiquitous criminality is in flip used to justify an enormous police and army equipment that’s itself typically dedicated to lethally breaking the regulation.

During my spin via the security-heavy grounds of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum – situated throughout from the Oculus – a map directed me to the “America’s Response Monument” in close by Liberty Park, the place I half-expected to discover a rendering of mutilated Afghans or a flattened reproduction of Baghdad.

Instead, I discovered a bronze statue of a US Special Forces soldier on horseback, subtitled “De Oppresso Liber” – the Special Forces’ motto, translated from the Latin as “To Free the Oppressed”. The monument pays tribute to US army contributions to, inter alia, “overthrowing the Taliban regime in that most dangerous of countries, Afghanistan”.

Oops.

Now, 20 years after 9/11, Afghanistan is as harmful as ever thanks in good half to – who else? – the US army. And as Americans proceed to stay in debilitating state-induced fear of these allegedly plotting to subvert our “way of life”, it’d simply be time to interrupt free from oppression.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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