[Written in response to the disconnect between this poll and this poll]
[…] Many Americans can (a) say that they oppose the targeted killings of Americans on foreign soil while simultaneously (b) supporting the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen because, for them, the term “Americans” doesn’t include people like Anwar al-Awlaki. “Americans” means their aunts and uncles, their nice neighbors down the street, and anyone else who looks like them, who looks and seems “American”. They don’t think those people- Americans - should be killed without charges by the US government if they travel on vacation to Paris or go to study for a semester in London. But the concept of “Americans” most definitely does not include people with foreign and Muslim-ish names like “Anwar al-Awlaki” who wear the white robes of a Muslim imam and spend time in a place like Yemen.
Legally - which is the only way that matters for this question - the New-Mexico-born Awlaki was every bit as much of an American citizen as the nice couple down the street. His citizenship was never legally revoked. He never formally renounced it. He was never charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime that could lead to the revocation of citizenship. No court ever considered revoking his citizenship, let alone did so. From a legal and constitutional perspective, there was not a single person “more American” than he. That’s because those gradations of citizenship do not exist. One is either an American citizen or one is not. There is no such thing as “more American” or “less American”, nor can one’s citizenship be revoked by presidential decree. This does not exist.
But the effort to depict Muslims as something other than “real Americans” has long been a centerpiece of the US political climate in the era of the War on Terror. When it was first revealed in 2005 that the Bush administration was spying on the communications of Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law, a Bush White House spokesman sought to assure everyone that this wasn’t targeting Real Americans, but only those Bad Ones that should be surveilled (meaning Muslims the Bush administration decided, without due process, were guilty):
“This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings and churches.”
Identically, when the Israelis attacked the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010 and killed 9 people including the US-born teenager Furkan Dogan, some conservatives insisted that he was not a Real American because his parents were Turkish and he grew up in Turkey (“it is silly to call him an ‘American of Turkish descent’. He, like the other members of his family, was a Turk”). The stark contrast in reactions between the sustained fury of the Turkish government over the killing of their citizens by the Israelis versus the support for those killings given by the US government was accounted for in part by the blind US support for whatever Israel does (including killing Americans), but also by the belief that Dogan wasn’t really an American, not the Real Kind you get upset about.
This decade-long Othering of Muslims - a process necessary to sustain public support for their continuous killing, imprisonment, and various forms of rights abridgments - has taken its toll. I’m most certainly not suggesting that anyone who supports Awlaki’s killing is driven by racism or anti-Muslim bigotry. I am suggesting that the belief that Muslims are somehow less American, or even less human, is widespread, and is a substantial factor in explaining the discrepancy I began by identifying.
Does anyone doubt that if Obama’s bombs were killing nice white British teeangers or smiling blond Swiss infants - rather than unnamed Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and Somalis - that the reaction to this sustained killing would be drastically different? Does anyone doubt that if his overhead buzzing drones were terrorizing Western European nations rather than predominantly Muslim ones, the horror of them would be much easier to grasp?
Does it really take any debate to know that if the 16-year-old American suspiciously killed by the US government two weeks after killing his father had been Jimmy Martin in Sweden rather than Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in Yemen, the media interest and public outcry would be far more substantial, and Robert Gibbs would have been widely scorned if he had offered this vile blame-the-victim justification for killing Jimmy rather than Abdulrahman? It is indisputably true that - just as conservatives argued that Furkan Dogan was not a Real American - large numbers of Americans believe the same about the Denver-born teenager named Abdulrahman. This ugly mindset is not the only factor that leads the US public to support more than a decade of US killing and rights abridgments aimed primarily at Muslims, including their fellow citizens, but it is certainly a significant one.
Amazingly, some Democratic partisans, in order to belittle these injustices, like to claim that only those who enjoy the luxury of racial and socioeconomic privilege would care so much about these issues. That claim is supremely ironic. It reverses reality. That type of privilege is not what leads one to care about and work against these injustices. To the contrary, it’s exactly that privilege that causes one to dismiss concerns over these injustices and mock and scorn those who work against them. The people who insist that these abuses are insignificant and get too much attention are not the ones affected by them, because they’re not Muslim, and thus do not care.
The perception that the state violence, rights abridgments and expansions of government power ushered in by the War on Terror affect only Muslims long ago stopped being true. But ensuring that people continue to believe that is the key reason why it has been permitted to continue for so long.