by Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept:
IN 2010, CIVIL libertarians encountered a surreal moment: After years of trying, largely without success, to get Americans to care about the assaults on basic rights carried out in the name of the war on terror, these issues suddenly exploded with great prominence to the forefront of our national debate. Suddenly, everywhere one turned, one heard paeans to the importance of privacy rights and the need to balance security concerns with respect for core liberties.
What caused this outburst of civil libertarianism was the implementation at airports by the Transportation Security Administration of new, invasive body-scanning machines that generated quasi-nude images or, if one refused that, physical pat-downs that included the groin area. Unlike far more egregious abuses that Americans largely ignored, if not sanctioned — from putting people in cages in the middle of an ocean for years without any trials to torturing helpless detainees convicted of no crimes to targeting even American citizens for assassination with no due process — these invasive procedures were being applied not just to Muslims, but also to Americans generally of all types. As a result, the TSA machines and pat-downs transformed huge numbers of people into newfound privacy and civil liberties advocates because the rights that they felt were being assaulted weren’t just those of Muslims and foreigners, but their own rights and those of people like them.
The lesson civil libertarians learned from that episode is that many Americans will remain blissfully ignorant, if not aggressively supportive, of even the most extreme rights abuses — unless they believe that they themselves or people who look like them will be affected, in which case they will become highly agitated in defense of the very same rights that they are more than happy to watch be eroded when the victims are other people. Two widely discussed controversies from this week illustrate this principle quite vividly.
The first is a long-anticipated essay in Harper’s about the #MeToo movement by Katie Roiphe, a longtime critic of various aspects of contemporary feminism and one of the most polarizing writers on these issues. Roiphe’s essay expresses various forms of ambivalence and criticism about what she regards as the movement’s excesses. One of the targets of her criticism is the so-called Shitty Media Men list, a document that was widely circulated among journalists that purported to identify dozens of men in journalism who have allegedly engaged in abusive, assaultive, or otherwise “creepy” behavior toward women.
The objections voiced by Roiphe to this list are ones that have been expressed by many genuine supporters of the #MeToo movement: namely, the accusations it contains are unvetted and unverified; anyone can add accusations on the list while remaining completely anonymous; and because the list purportedly was intended never to be published (a claim Roiphe questions), those accused of misconduct may never know that they’ve been accused and, in all events, have no ability to challenge or dispute the accusations made against them, ones which could nonetheless severely harm their reputations or even destroy their careers. Roiphe’s objection to the list is, in essence, one of due process: It enables people to be punished with no evidence of guilt, no guarantor of reliability, nor any meaningful opportunity to contest the accusations.
In her attempt to induce readers to feel anger over this media list, Roiphe tries to imagine a hypothetical analogue that would be self-evidently infuriating and thus, invites readers to feel the same way about this list. She writes:
As amazing, or at least as horrifying, as it is, Roiphe seems completely unaware that the hypothetical list of dangerous “Muslims who might blow up planes” that she asks readers to fantasize exists does, in fact, already exist. It’s called the “no-fly list.” It’s a list compiled by the government in total secrecy, of people (almost entirely Muslims) who the government, with no notice or evidence or process, has decided are too dangerous to board airplanes. In other words, it’s “a secretly circulating, anonymously crowd-sourced list of Muslims who might blow up planes.”
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