Dept of Homeland Liberty

Its that time of year again, the time of year where graduate students binge on tv to reset their brains after months of intense mental labor. I am no longer in course work so I don’t feel fully entitled to the mental holiday but since my dissertation committee is on break I will be too. To celebrate this time honored tradition I have been obsessing over Homeland.

I am not really into spy shows, I watched a few episodes of 24 but found it distasteful. The only Bond movie I have ever seen was a at a Mexican restaurant in the mountains of Thailand, a special circumstance all around. And in general I am not a fan of the war on terror. As far as I can tell it is just an excuse to expand intelligence operations at home by treating all individuals as possible terrorists–regardless of their citizenship status.  Despite all this I like Homeland, it has a strong but emotional female lead, addresses the stigma of mental disorders, and most importantly it deals with the war on terror in an intelligent way.

“Don’t look for what makes them terrorists, look for what makes them human”. This is what lies at the heart of the show’s un-enhanced interrogations. The terrorists aren’t monsters they are humans who make extreme choices under extreme circumstances. It treats victims on both sides as victims worthy of empathy. It plays at the tension between the CIA and FBI, the tension between slow intelligence gathering and quick, forceful action. The long game versus the short game.

That isn’t to say I support all the actions of this fictional CIA. Civil liberties are violated in the name of homeland security. Legal protocols meant to protect individuals are treated as mere suggestions to be followed when convenient, or after the fact to avoid litigation. And this is why I do not support the war on terror. Even the “good guys” within the bureaucracy justify infractions to “prevent the next attack”. But it is unclear when the next attack begins (in the planning stages? once the bomb is built? just prior to execution?), so it becomes difficult to defend civil liberties in the face of such an ambiguous threat.

I would like to see the war go cold and focus on intelligence gathering rather than the elimination of threats (i.e. targeted assassinations). But not so cold that society lives in fear of the state; too often the FBI gets called in prematurely or creates its own drama. National security should always be balanced with respect for individual liberties and the state should not forget that we are humans, not targets or threats. The pen is mightier than the sword, knowledge is power, there is no quaint expression to support drone attacks and suicide bombers. There is probably a reason for that.

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