Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Is the US an OPEN SOCIETY? Political Opportunism and the Culture of Racism and Xenophobia in the 21st Century

Racism and Xenophobia in the American Mainstream

One could argue that the US remains an open society in comparison with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries where the typical northwest European liberal bourgeois tradition rooted in Lockean political philosophy does not exist. The US has always presented itself and continues to do so as a liberal bourgeois society whose values are rooted in the Age of the Enlightenment. This despite all evidence that it is moving increasingly toward a model not very different from those it criticizes as authoritarian and despite the reality of policy and voting record in Congress rather than vacuous rhetoric and rationalizations for becoming authoritarian.

Considering that there is almost complete hegemony of markets over the state with corporations determining policy on the basis of their own best interests instead of the welfare of all people, to what degree is the US an open society in comparison to the northwest European countries? Even more important measured against its own values of Jeffersonian democracy, is the US an open society and has ever been, considering its slave-owning past, racism and xenophobia? If the American Dream in the 21st century includes freedom for upward social mobility rather than a caste system determined by “corporatocracy” and the politics of racism and xenophobia, are Americans living in an open society or one that justifies downward socioeconomic mobility on the basis of overriding “safety and security” concerns?

The open society concept – socioeconomic mobility and political freedom without the need for very restrictive conformity and self-censorship as precondition to survive - is rapidly fading because the war on terror that is in fact a continuation of the Cold War, combined with a long-standing American tradition of racial and ethnic-based politics. Is the US an open society for black youth in the inner city where unemployment runs at 50% and where almost every week a police officer guns them down?  Is the open society among Latinos that Trump dismissed as drug dealers, criminals and rapists, rhetoric that propelled him to frontrunner position for president? Where exactly is the open society except among the wealthier class that wants to maintain its privileged status and could care less about Muslims, Latinos, blacks and working class whites that the institutional system precludes from enjoying the opportunity for upward socioeconomic mobility because of its elitist nature?

Henri Bergson and Karl Popper on the Open Society

Henri Bergson (The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, 1932) developed the philosophical concept of the open society concerned primarily with spiritual and intellectual openness that cannot take place of course unless there is an open or free political framework permitting it. Karl Popper (Open Society and Its Enemies, 1945) was a critique of Hegelian and Marxist historicism one which the USSR and new Communist regimes were based after the war. During the inter-war era when Stalin’s USSR regime, as well as German Nazism, Italian Fascism and varieties of authoritarian models across Europe posed a threat to the traditional 19th century concept of a liberal bourgeois society. 

Because Popper was far more concerned with Communism than with Fascism, and because he is the philosopher on whose ideas the neoconservatives are rooted, he would have no problem with the considerable dilution of the open society today, justifying on the basis of “external threats” even though the state helps to exacerbate such threats. The assumption was that the open society was antithetical to totalitarian or authoritarian state. Considering all the empirical evidence about the surveillance state that exists in the US, the human rights and civil rights violations, the general trend toward adopting military solutions to solve problems abroad before giving diplomacy a chance, and police state methods at home as evidenced by the gunning down of black youth, can we still call the US an open society?

Cultivating the Politics of Fear with the Selective War on Terror

US history is not about the tradition immersed in the liberal tradition for all, but multifaceted that includes extreme right wing groups such as the KKK, xenophobic elements throughout its history, rightwing Evangelicals and Tea Party elements that want a society as close to Fascism as possible. All of these groups embrace aspects that resemble totalitarianism of the interwar era, aspects that are an integral part of the American political, social and cultural fabric. The prevailing Islamophobia hysteria in the US, but also EU, Canada and Australia is part of a racist past rooted in white Anglo-Saxon colonialism and imperialism in non-white lands.

The only way to understand the current hysteria is to place it in a historical context and not isolate it as though it is an aberration or the extreme views of one or more opportunistic politicians. In short, society gives rise to its best and its worst elements that move from the fringes of political life into the mainstream. For example, on the same day that Trump called for a ban on all Muslims coming into the US, the House of Representatives immediately voted for tighter control on visas from predominantly Muslim countries, taking special aim at Syrians and Iraqis. This was not a Republican vs. Democrat issue because the bill passed by a vote of 409 to 19, indicative that indeed Trump is the new American mainstream, regardless of the rhetoric to the contrary! If Trump is the aberration why did the overwhelming majority of the House vote for such racist legislation, justifying it on the basis of “the war on terror”?

When a reporter asked (8 Dec. 2015) Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump if the internment of (120,000) Japanese-Americans represented the values of the country, and how he would feel if the Japanese had followed the same policy, there was no answer from the Republican candidate. That the US reached the point in 2015 so close to that of World War II xenophobic and racist conditions is attributed to the “war on terror” campaign that Bush and Obama globalized and it is now out of control and continuously expanding and becoming a bigger threat because of US and allied policy that sometimes punishes and provokes and at other times indirectly supports terrorists because they happen to be on the same side as the US – “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” mindset. This is what took place in Yemen. Saudi-backed militias are spearheading efforts to roll back Houthi gains and reinstate the government that the rebels drove into exile in neighboring Saudi Arabia. But they have turned to Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  ( The US was also on the same side as al-Qaeda in Libya because it wanted to bring down Muammar Qaddafi and it has been following the same policy of backing terrorists in Syria to bring down pro-Russian president Assad. ( and

While pursuing a war on terror and collaboration with terrorists selectively, the US has been experiencing a rise in fear of terrorism and xenophobia. The same is true in EU, Canada and Australia where there is a rising tide of xenophobia and rightwing populism rooted in anti-Islam tendencies that are rooted in the war on terror. Contrary to public pronouncements, the goal is to keep people in fear so that they conform politically and not focus on overriding social and economic issues, but on “the enemy”, which ironically the very policies adopted constantly feed. If the goal is to end terrorism, there are many methods to accomplish it and they most certainly do not include direct and indirect collaboration in everything from weapons and truck sales to money laundering for terrorists or fighting against governments opposed to terrorists.

Europe is not that far from the US, partly because extreme right wing political parties are waiting in the wings to take power from the two-party (Conservative and Socialist alternating power every few years). On 8 December 2015, Martin Schultz, European Parliament President and German politician, argued that the EU is in danger as a result of terrorism and Muslim migrants flooding the continent, prompting each country to revert to nationalism. Just one day before Schultz issued that warning about the integrity of the EU, Republican presidential candidate Trump called for a ban on all Muslims trying to immigrate or visit the US until a policy reassessment can be undertaken. Indeed, the wave of xenophobia with Muslims as the main target is very strong inside Europe, forcing the Conservative and Socialist parties increasingly toward a rightist populist orientation so they can retain power, while also continue to feed their defense industries just as the US does with the war on terror. 

In the US there is the surface appearance of real differences on the war on terror, when in fact we will see below that Obama started out promising a complete reversal of the George W. Bush policy, but he increasingly became tied down to Bush policies and we are now back to Bush under a black Democrat president selling his message as “progressive”. While many are embarrassed by the blatant racism and xenophobia of Trump, he is the Republican frontrunner and he represents the mainstream more so than people would admit publicly if it were not for the constraints of political correctness. It is in fact a reality that the culture of fear with Muslim terrorists as the pretext is the driving political force behind a general anti-Islam wave across the US, as well as EU, Canada and Australia where hate crimes and series of anti-Muslim attacks have been taking place. The odd thing about all of this is that it plays into the hands of militant Muslims recruiting disgruntled youth into their ranks, and this is well known to the West. Why then adopt positions that actually strengthen terrorism while all along claiming the only goal is to defeat terrorism.

On 6 December 2015, President Obama addressed the nation on the issue of the tragic mass killing in San Bernardino in the hands of a radicalized Muslim couple inspired by the teachings of radical Islam. By linking the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino to the Paris ISIS attacks that were entirely of a different mode f operation, and by arguing that all of this is an extension of the 9/11 attacks, the president argued that the Islamic terror campaign has now “evolved” into a new phase but the US is “winning”. How is the US ‘winning’ and how it is possible to “defeat” terrorism that exists in about one-third of the countries around the world, he offered no specifics any more than any other US politician.  However, he did ask Muslims to work in combating terrorism by helping with the US counter-terrorism campaign. 

Indicative of the confidence investors have that anything will change in the status quo regarding gun control, the day after Obama’s speech on terrorism and guns, the market dropped sharply but the shares of handgun companies Smith and Wesson and Sturm Ruger rose sharply. In fact, while in 2015 the US stock market is relatively flat, Smith and Wesson has risen 115%, indicative that  investors are confident more people will be buying guns because the culture of fear the media and politicians are creating drives people to arm themselves in a culture already very friendly to guns. After all, Liberty University President Jerry Fallwell, Jr. urged the college campus  to apply for gun permits because: "I always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill."
On 7 December 2015, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until the country’s representatives can “figure out what is going on.” While most Republicans and Democrats went through the rhetorical political correctness formality of criticizing Trump as counterproductive because the US is a pluralistic society, they voted in the House to tighten visa controls on Muslims and agreed more is needed in the name of fighting terrorism. This mindset did not just emerge out of nowhere in 2015 amid a presidential race. It has deep xenophobic and racist roots, specifically for Muslims dating to the Palestinian Question in which the US always sided with Israel.

Racism and xenophobia toward Muslims intensified after 1979 with the Iranian revolution and became institutionalized after 9/11. The wind is blowing toward the racist and xenophobia camp and all politicians know it, so they are moving to the right, so much so that as far as many Republicans are concerned a Rockefeller Republican is a “leftist”! The politically correct Democrats are much closer to the Republican rightwing position of xenophobia than they project to the public, remaining committed to the concept of an open society only in rhetoric while voting to move society toward a closed authoritarian model.  What annoyed politicians and the conservative socioeconomic elites about Trump's blatant racism is that he deviated from the long-standing path of political correctness, itself a thin veneer concealing institutional racism and xenophobia.

All of this is justified to the public on the basis of the war on terror. But is the US fighting terrorism, not as other nations or the UN defines it, but as it defines it, or is it selectively targeting certain groups while directly and indirectly collaborating or at least inadvertently assisting others? When Democrat Senators brought up amendments to curb gun sales to individuals on the terror watch list, Republicans voted against it. This was a few days after the tragedy of the mass shootings in San Bernardino, CA by two radicalized Muslims apparently inspired by ISIS. The proposed legislation for expanded background checks was similar to that of 2013 following the Sandy Hook (Newtown, CT December 2012) shooting tragedy. 

Here was a very concrete step to fight terrorism at home by depriving those on the “terror watch” list of FBI and other agencies, but the majority of US legislators rejected it. At the same time, these same individuals proclaim that they want to fight terrorism, while they are not interested in depriving suspects of weapons they could potentially use in terrorist activities. In fact, they do not even want to deprive those forbidden from boarding a plane to have the right to gun ownership. This flagrant contradiction could lead a rational person to conclude that elected officials are in fact interested in promoting terrorism because they have no problem with suspected terrorists buying weapons. 

US and EU planes have been targeting Syrian government targets and civilians instead of ISIS, thus sending the signal to ISIS that the West along with Turkey and Saudi Arabia are more interested in removing Assad from power than removing ISIS. “Syria's government said coalition planes had carried out a deadly air strike on the Syrian camp. The United States denied the allegation and a U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was certain that Russia was responsible.”  (Reuters 8 December 2015) 

Although it is hardly a secret that Russia has been supporting Assad and it would be absurd that it would target Syrian government forces, the US has been following the same line of blatant propaganda as Turkey that has been supporting ISIS buying its oil, as hard evidence is now provided not only by Russia, but also Iran, Iraq and even by Turkish political opposition. Before the Paris bombing by ISIS operatives, France had been hitting Syrian government targets just as had the US and Turkey. In the aftermath of the Paris bombing, France decided to change its policy and side with Russia, considering that its pre-Paris bombing campaign of hitting Assad’s forces did nothing to deter ISIS from targeting French civilians. 

When Obama ran for president in 2008, he promised to make America more popular with the rest of the world, to help lessen anti-Americanism that was at its highest under George W. Bush, and to pursue diplomatic solutions to political problems in a multilateral manner rather than unilateral military solutions that cost enormous resources, do not solve the problem and in most cases make it worse. He was referring to terrorism and the Middle East where the US has chosen to focus because of oil from the Truman presidency to the present.  

1.      Close down Guantanamo prison, because it was a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda. The prison remains open, despite a Senate Intelligence report calling it an example of US human rights violation.
2.      End Iraq war within 16 months after taking office. The US remains active in Iraq, despite the fact that the US-imposed government in Baghdad has turned to Iran and Russia for support against rebel groups whose goal is to lay claim to parts of the country, and which groups the US supports.
3.      "Launch an aggressive diplomatic effort to reach a comprehensive compact on the stability of Iraq and the region…including all of Iraq's neighbors - Iran and Syria. While there has been progress to restoring relations with Iran because it is simply too powerful in the region for the US to destabilize, the Obama pledge of working with Iraq has not been kept. On the contrary, destabilization has been the only goal in that country and remains so with the Republicans as well. 
4.      Provide $30 billion to Israel, the largest US aid recipient that has benefited from an Obama green light to more Israeli settlements, demolish the Palestinians in the Gaza and force as many as possible from the West Bank to either leave or capitulate to the apartheid status quo.

While the US and its 19 coalition partners have been telling the world that they want to eliminate ISIS and al-Qaeda, they have been hitting targets in Syria and Iraq that have weakened the governments and strengthened the jihadists that the US is supposedly interested in eliminating. From August 2014 until the present, more than 23,000 strikes at a cost of more than $4 billion have been devoted to taking down ISIS when in fact the target for the most part has been civilian and Syrian government installations. When Russia decided to intervene in Syria to fight ISIS in November 2015, the US warned Iraqi government that if it opted to ask Russian support to fight ISIS, then the US would withdraw its support from the Iraqi government. The Iraqis promised Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that they would stay with the US, but warned that Turkey, a NATO ally was facilitating ISIS transport of oil while fighting against Kurdish rebels who were on the same side as Iraq against ISIS.  (

Even more alarming, Iraqi government claims that it has video evidence of U.S. helicopters providing military assistance to ISIS jihadist rebels. ( Among other organizations, the Syrian Network for Human Rights claims that the US airstrikes and those of its allies have been targeting civilians exacerbating the migrant crisis that has spilled over to Europe.  (


What is the ordinary American citizen to make when comparing the empirical evidence of US rhetoric about the war on terror and the actual record as mentioned above showing that in fact ISIS is growing stronger in no small part because the goal of the US is to topple Assad and not eliminate ISIS. Let us assume that Assad is gone, just as other dictators of Islamic countries left with the help of the US and its allies –Libya and Iraq. What exactly would the US gain from regime change even if Russia is no longer a player in Syria?
The only real beneficiaries at the regional level would be Iran and Israel, while at the global level China would benefit economically as it has in Afghanistan. Under the best case scenario, the US would secure a military base but toward what end, considering that its economy is weakening and projected to weaken even more in comparison to China currently dumping US Treasury bills along with Japan as the Chinese currency is now part of the world’s elite hard currencies thanks to the IMF. In short, geopolitical advantages would be limited and short lived as they were in Iraq and Afghanistan and the militarists in the US would be back demanding the next place to intervene.

The political cost for such reckless policies that are justified in the name of the war on terror will be continued drift toward a more racist and xenophobic orientation at home to the degree that the open society will continue to wither away. Of course, the apologists of the concept will be too ashamed and too clever to call American society what it is and will continue arguing it is a democracy where freedom and the American Dream are still cherished. Political polarization with very few on the progressive side and the majority moving toward a conservative direction will mean that the historical cycle of America moving from a conservative to liberal era - from the Gilded Age to the Age of Progressivism, from the conservative 1920s to the New Deal of the 1930s, from the conservative 1950s to the liberal 1960s – will end as it has since the Reagan era that now looks more progressive than the Obama administration in many respects because there was not as much capital concentration and inequality.  

Will the future of America be closer to the open society concept and values of the Enlightenment era in the 18th century or will it resemble some combination of the Fascist and Nazi regimes of the 1930s? Clearly, the US today is not Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, but the political, business and social elites are certainly heading in that direction while claiming they represent values of pluralism, democracy and everything that characterizes an open bourgeois society. As bourgeois society sinks into crisis because of immense capital concentration, the tilt toward an increasingly authoritarian direction is inevitable so that the elites are able to retain their privileged positions.  
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