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Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Assata Shakur and Domestic Terrorism

In History, Identity Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on May 3, 2013 at 5:08 AM
Mug shot of Assata Shakur

Image showcased in the media last night, from when Assata was imprisoned decades ago

My reaction to seeing Assata Shakur in the mainstream media was fraught with the sort of rage and frustration that only an amerikan corporation-state-military apparatus could muster. It wasn’t just that she was simply added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list that angers me–that, at least, is to be expected from an agency whose COINTELPRO pigs surveilled and murdered countless activists from liberation movements from the 1960s and ’70s. It was the rather callous, not-so-furtive way in which her case was brought up in conjunction with the Boston bombings. As if the people living in the u.s. were all so ingenuous as to believe that an alleged murder from the 1970s were somehow connected to bombings perpetrated by two ‘disaffected’ young men in 2013.

I’m sure many articles will arise making the argument that I’m about to make, in more sophisticated language undoubtedly. Seeing the news clip on PIX (which I only happened to have on as background noise until I heard a familiar name), I could see the same tiring sleights of hand. The same dilution and obfuscation of facts, if not a proliferation of outright lies.The same usage of buzz-words like “terror” and “terrorism.” The same appeal to racist beliefs in a “colorblind” world.  The corporate media, once again, perpetrated its usual racism by making anti-black insinuations by referring to her involvement with the Black Liberation Army and stating that her supposed crime was instigated by “more than just race.” There was also the Islamophobia inherent in connecting Muslim faith to acts of murder, with inferences made between her “Muslim name” and the Chechen bombers (who, we’re told, were directed towards bombing because of their connections to “radical” Islamic groups, and not at all as a response to the countless murders perpetrated by the u.s. state in overt or covert wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Middle East countries).  This more recent event, of course, has little to do with Assata–who is called by her federal amerikan name, Joanne Chesimard, in the FBI’s list–and more to do with taking advantage of a recent situation to instill fear and misinformation, as well as to boost ratings and profits (i.e. through media ratings and advertising, justifying increases in defense/security spending, etc).

None of this surprises me, given how inured I’ve become to the subtler racisms and oppressions of amerikka in the 21st century. This “branding” of “terrorist” (meant in both the corporate/marketing sense, as well as in the branding that occurs with abused and mistreated cattle) is very much a part of our post-9/11 neoliberal zeitgeist. The corporate state finds ways to justify increased or continued military spending and funds diverted to “defense” contractors or our militarized police. (I think, for instance, of Bloomberg’s very recent speech to the NYPD inferring–quite laughably–that any legislation against stop-and-frisk would make New York City less safe). And with the case of Assata Shakur, we witness in action the neoliberal impetus to flatten identity politics in ways that promote a racism-fueled color-blindness and an ethnic and religious multicultural consumer market–the apparent markers of a “developed” society such as ours (amerikkka).

Is it a coincidence that the FBI chose the day after May Day to attack a political refugee and black revolutionary? May Day was chosen as International Workers’ Day after worker revolutionaries and anarchists were themselves tried and murdered by the Chicago legal system–this, in spite of the scarcity of evidence connecting the anarchists to the crime (read a brief description of May Day history). It is a day replete with memories of revolutionaries being scapegoated for crimes they did not commit–all in the name of larger “security.” J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI during the infamous COINTELPRO era, himself came to revile “disloyal” Americans because of bombings attributed to communists and anarchists before the start of the Russian Revolution.

Putting all of this against the backdrop of amerikan history, a history embedded with genocide, slavery, and mass incarceration, should we be surprised? If anything surprises me, it’s the clear desperation of the powers that be. Such an obviously dreadful response by the FBI may actually be indicative of (I hope) a slipping grip by the state-military apparatus. After all, luring us with credit and consumption is no longer the appealing, go-to option it once was before the Great Recession. Even other insidious tactics within the state’s arsenal–such as fostering mistrust, skepticism, and internalized oppressions–may no longer suffice now that capitalism nears its saturation point. And so they’ll continue to bomb us with fear-mongering messages. Messages that blame the sick and poor and the world’s most marginalized. Messages that keep the world from seeing the veritable corporate masterminds behind the curtain.  Messages of an always impending, never-ending terror when, in actuality, it is the “terrorist” brander who is the biggest terrorist of them all. Welcome to our topsy-turvy Orwellian world.

“Love is my sword

and truth is my compass. ”

– Assata Shakur


David A. Shirk

Associate Professor, Political Science, University of San Diego

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