Thursday, April 28, 2011

Michael Barkun

From a Q & A with Michael Barkun, author of Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11:

Q: Chasing Phantoms identifies the gaps between the realities of terrorism and the discourse about it among government officials and the general public. What led you to discover this discrepancy?

A: "Discover" may be too strong a word. But I will give you one example. During the years immediately after the 9/11 attacks, I attended terrorism conferences at which some of the participants were or had been high officials in state and federal government agencies. What struck me at the time was their extraordinary level of fear, bearing in mind that the United States was then and still is the most powerful country in the world and that Al Qaeda even at the height of its capacities, could hardly have numbered more than several hundred people at most. Yet, as I said, here were individuals with years of governmental experience terrified about the safety of the Republic. And that suggested to me the existence of a great gulf between what you term reality and discourse. And, to my mind at least, developments over the last ten years suggest that that gulf did in fact exist.

Q: How did you get interested in government homeland security policy?

A: If we think of homeland security in the broadest sense, it goes back to the mid-1990s, the years of the armed standoff at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, the growth of the militia movement, and the Oklahoma City bombing. The FBI had failed to grasp the importance of religion in the Waco standoff and was now trying to figure out how to factor religion into their decision-making process, an enterprise in which I was involved. In that period, of course, the emphasis was on domestic sources of violence, not foreign terrorism, a focus that didn't change until 9/11.

Q: You emphasize the climate of fear that is evoked by the presence of invisible adversaries and various unseen dangers. Do you believe that these "invisible" fears have driven the U.S. "war on terror?"

A: Well, one of the...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Chasing Phantoms.

--Marshal Zeringue