Scapegoats of September 11th: Hate Crimes and State Crimes in the War on Terror

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Welch, Michael (2006) Scapegoats of September 11th: Hate Crimes and State Crimes in the War on Terror. New Brunswick, New Jersey & London: Rutgers University Press. Korean edition, translated by J. Park (2011) Seoul, Korea: Galmuri.

From its largest cities to deep within its heartland, from its heavily trafficked airways to its meandering country byways, America has become a nation racked by anxiety about terrorism and national security. In response to the fears prompted by the tragedy of September 11th, the country has changed in countless ways. Airline security has tightened, mail service is closely examined, and restrictions on civil liberties are more readily imposed by the government and accepted by a wary public.

The altered American landscape, however, includes more than security measures and ID cards. The country's desperate quest for security is visible in many less obvious, yet more insidious ways. In Scapegoats of September 11th, criminologist Michael Welch argues that the "war on terror" is a political charade that delivers illusory comfort, stokes fear, and produces scapegoats used as emotional relief. Regrettably, much of the outrage that resulted from 9/11 has been targeted at those not involved in the attacks on the Pentagon or the Twin Towers. As this book explains, those people have become the scapegoats of September 11th. Welch takes on the uneasy task of sorting out the various manifestations of displaced aggression, most notably the hate crimes and state crimes that have become embarrassing hallmarks both at home and abroad.

Drawing on topics such as ethnic profiling, the Abu Ghraib scandal, Guantanamo Bay, and the controversial Patriot Act, Welch looks at the significance of knowledge, language, and emotion in a post-9/11 world. In the face of popular and political cheerleading in the war on terror, this book presents a careful and sober assessment, reminding us that sound counterterrorism policies must rise above, rather than participate in, the propagation of bigotry and victimization.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Talking About Terror
Chapter 2: Seeking a Safer Society
Chapter 3: Scapegoating and Social Insecurity
Chapter 4: Crusading Against Terror
Chapter 5: Hate Crimes as Backlash Violence
Chapter 6: Profiling and Detention in Post-9/11 America
Chapter 7: State Crimes in the War on Terror
Chapter 8: Claiming Effectiveness
Chapter 9: Assaulting Civil Liberties
Chapter 10: Culture of Denial


"Michael Welch argues convincingly that the Bush administration's response to 9/11 was an extension of racialized patterns of fear mobilizing and scapegoating that have deformed American democracy long before that terrible day. Drawing on his extensive research in criminal justice and immigration detention, Welch demonstrates why we need social theory to make sense of the discourses at work behind the headlines of our war on terror."
--Jonathan Simon, Professor and Associate Dean for Jurisprudence and Social Policy, School of Law, University of California

"This very good book addresses some of the most important issues ever faced by American society. We are in the grips of an obscene moral panic and state crackdown of historic proportions in which neither the real issues of public safety nor human rights are being respected. For too many people the real meaning of the "war on terror" remains confused, hidden and masked by fantastic layers of nonsense. Here Welch offers an antidote, an empirically and theoretically rich guide to unpack and explain that project of governmental and society-wide racism, fear mongering and repression for what it really is - a disaster."
--Christian Parenti, author of Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis

"I know Michael Welch as among those I regard as the vanguard of attempts by criminologists to get real about transforming violence into genuine social safety. In this copiously documented and plain-spoken volume on the aftermath in the United States of 9/11, he follows the Gandhian principle of speaking truth to power, of satyagraha. In a "culture of denial," U.S. citizens are being led into attacking the wrong people, tolerating greater government surveillance and intrusion, and in fact making life more dangerous for themselves. This eloquent and thoughtful speaking of truth to power is must reading for all who live under what I consider to be a dangerous and also "terrorist" U.S. political and cultural regime. Only waking up to falsehood of things we in the United States tell ourselves and are told about ourselves can lift us out of this climate of fear and lies"
--Hal Pepinsky, Professor, Indiana University

FOLLOWING UP ON his earlier work on crime, punishment, and human rights in such works as Ironies of Imprisonment (2005), Detained: Immigration Laws and the Expanding INS Jail Complex (2002), Flag Burning: Moral Panic and the Criminalization of Protest (2000), and Punishment in America (1999), Michael Welch offers a powerful indictment of the government's self-proclaimed "holy war" on terror and, moreover, those it would like to muzzle or choke with the stars and stripes. His approach highlights two sides to the war on terror coin, one that exacts revenge for the specific events of 9/11, and the other that follows up on a "more ancient campaign against evil," with the two combining to produce scapegoats for specific actions in a context that permits the government to weaken "key democratic principles developed to protect all people against the abuses of government power." Welch's overall conclusions are that "any comfort that the war on terror delivers is merely illusory" and that support for this war "involves a good amount of wishful--and in some instances magical --thinking, reducing the battle against terrorism to symbolic ritual in lieu of pragmatic policy."

The examples that Welch provides to support his claims are appropriately harrowing: new airport screening technologies that produce anatomically correct naked images of passengers who, so terrified by the carefully manufactured "fear factor," are actually willing to submit to this scrutiny; or cynical election tactics that allowed Bush to critique John Kerry's proposal to loosen restriction on Canadian prescription drugs by referencing (unsubstantiated) "cues from chatter" by supposed Al Qaeda operatives who planned to poison imported drugs. Perhaps we'll come to realize, as the orange alerts turn to yellow, and then as the coding system itself fades into the distant past, that we have been bamboozled into outrageous military spending and unjustifiable wars and invasions at home and abroad. More likely, though, is that the vagueness of the threat and the constant effort to reiterate potential consequences have shifted our political landscape in favour of fear-mongering, and communications from on high will from this point onwards morph into a ridiculously successful wooden rhetoric that, without any reference to facts, can convince the populace to swallow reductions in their civil liberties and human rights by paradoxically linking them to the growing threat to our ways of life.

To explain how this whole process works, Welch brings to bear his considerable research and theoretical talents, referencing literally hundreds of works (two pages in the bibliography are dedicated to his own writings) on attitudes, media, propaganda, sociology, political theory, discourse studies, and so forth. For instance, since so much of the work on scapegoating relies upon how ideas are disseminated, he works through an array of discursive practices, contributing to our understanding of informal communication like rumors, "negative emotional language," "empty language," blame, and the logic behind linking concrete acts of violence to mystical or quasi-religious acts to either justify or demonize them, depending upon the outcome sought. He then moves into a more academically informed realm of explanation, referencing moral panic theory and risk society literature as he looks at crucial events which provide a sense of where we've been and, more worrisome still, where we're headed: ethnic profiling, detention, hate crimes, state crimes, torture, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and falsely reported claims of legitimacy and effectiveness. The powerful side of this book is Welch's linking together of varying government efforts aimed at keeping us in fear, on the one hand, and reassured, on the other, as military spending, scapegoats, imminent threats, and the weakness of other alternatives are brought up simultaneously. The net effect is a thorough and well-informed work on the growing horrors of contemporary us government practices, and the amazing effectiveness of blatant tactics on a population that is wooed by quasi-mystical rhetoric.
--Robert F. Barsky, Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and French, Vanderbilt University, reviewed in Labour/Le Travail.

Scapegoats of September 11th, by Michael Welch, presents a thought-provoking discussion of important issues related to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 (9/11). It introduces a reader to the inquisitive nature of the critical criminology perspective. . .

The 10 chapters, well grounded in theory, critique events within American society and government, which followed the 9/11 attacks. The author's objective for this book is not to specifically challenge the U.S. response to those attacks but rather to focus readers' thoughts on the reality of the adverse consequences of the war on terror as they relate to scapegoats and American society. . .

The author warns readers to be wary of politicians and governments that perpetuate the politics of fear and culture of denial in the name of threats to national security. Welch asserts that they will play this like a trump card and have us looking under every rock for evildoers, subtly transferring our fears to other spheres of society. This is an important lesson in a period before national elections.
--Professors D. Lee Gilbertson & Mario L. Hesse, Saint Cloud State University, Minnesota, reviewed in Criminal Justice Review(2008).

In this book, Welch retraces the emergence of the discourse that emerged after 9/11 that ultimately materialized into the apparatus of the War on Terror, grounded in religious dichotomy of good versus evil, and provided the basis for scapegoating. Such scapegoating had very real consequences in terms of both domestic and foreign policy: hate crimes, profiling, erosion of privacy and civil liberties, torture, renditions and other state crimes. Welch then analyzes both these policies and the discourse sustaining them.

The strongest aspect of the book, in my view, lies in Welch’s mobilizing sociological and social-psychological theories and concepts to address the larger cultural aspects of the GWOT, and how the administration was successful in building up cultural support for its policies and creating a culture of denial, facilitating scapegoating.

Similarly, Welch argues that the reaction to 9/11 can be best explained through the lenses of both moral panic framework and that of risk society . . . In the case of 9/11, the dominant theme that emerged and eclipsed all the other is that of safety and security. What can make America secure and Americans safe? For Welch, security and safety became the major sites of social anxiety (a major precondition for moral panic). But this fits very well as well with the risk society approach where risks are man-made (terrorism) and the solution is neither clear nor clear-cut: what is security, after all? What is safety?

This is an important book for the obvious: its topic. It is a one-stop shop regarding all the policies of the Bush administration and all the ways in which scapegoating became policy and trickled down into the culture, where hate crime and state crime coexist. From my narrower perspective, it is also a book that neatly weaves together sociological theory and research with real world stuff and shows the explanatory power of sociological theories and concepts to real-life phenomenon.
--reviewed by Global Sociology