War On Terror ContinuesPublished: June 2, 2014
June is National Safety Month but CSULB’s Sabrina Alimahomed isn’t feeling any safer from terrorism despite a growing Homeland Security State.
Alimahomed, who shares a position between Sociology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, wrote her doctoral dissertation at UC Riverside on the war on terror as it relates to race and gender as well as publishing an article titled “Homeland Security Inc.” in a journal titled Race and Class: A Journal on Empire, Racism and Globalization.
Alimahomed earned her B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from UC Berkeley in 2001, her M.A. in Sociology from UC Riverside in 2005 and her doctorate in in Sociology from UC Riverside in 2011.
The Homeland Security State continues to grow, she explained.
“Before 9/11, Homeland Security represented only a small part of the national budget but, in the last 10 years, we have come to realize the Homeland Security Act of 2002 represents the largest reorganization of government since the 1940s,” she said.
The price of vigilance was investment. “We’ve seen the original 2002 budget of $16 billion rise to approximately $70 billion in 2011,” she said. “Scholars and public citizens should scrutinize a rise in spending like that. Where is the accountability?”
Members of the Homeland Security State have said the level of spending is ultimately unsustainable.
“Even former CIA Director Leon Panetta said so two years ago,” she said. “It was argued that to build an information factory was to find the leads that would thwart terror. Our challenge now is to make the information factory accountable.”
Although the mission of Homeland Security is to thwart terror, many of its 22 member agencies have little to do with it.
“FEMA and Immigration and Customs are two examples,” she said. “But the primary goal remains thwarting terrorism. Member agencies working on other things may relate their area’s importance to terror. That can mean revamping the police and suiting them out as counter-terrorism teams.”
The American population still rates terrorism very high among the nation’s problems. “It is easy to imagine terror as an ever-present threat that could happen any day to a monumental amount of people,” she said. “But when we look statistically at the last decade, even including thwarted attacks, we had more domestic terrorist conspiracies and attacks in the 1960s and 70s than we have post-9/11. I am interested in what has sustained this feeling of panic and fear.”
Alimahomed is particularly interested in how the U.S. Muslim community has been affected.
“The leaders of the U.S. Muslim community have become increasingly politicized since 9/11,” she said. “There was a shift in leadership around 2006 that coincided with a shift in the thinking of Homeland Security to understanding the homegrown Muslim population. There has been hands-on, eye-to-eye contact with government agencies such as the FBI and ICE. There are FBI agents hosting recruiting venues at Arab cultural festivals. Second-generation Muslim leaders feel their presence in their daily lives much more than the previous generation.”
Alimahomed sees parallels between the eventual fate of the Homeland Security State and the prison-industrial complex of the 1980s.
“There were approximately 200,000 people incarcerated in the 1970s. Today, there are 2 million. That is a huge expansion in 40 years,” she said. “Now we’re starting to realize as many as 50 percent of those convicted of drug-related, non-violent offenses have been in a lot longer than they need to have been. People of color have been disproportionally targeted. The same growing dissatisfaction with the prison-industrial complex may confront the Homeland Security State. A certain amount of time will pass before we realize that, although we will have collected a lot of information about people, what has been the outcome of surveillling an entire population?”
Dissatisfaction with Homeland Security has been reflected in growing friction between security agencies and their government overseers. “But if the Homeland Security Agency insists on this size of budget, they must expect oversight,” she concluded. “Because it grew so fast, there haven’t been many measures to see where that funding went. We are beginning to see the blunders that have been made in the wake of the (Edward) Snowden revelations.”
Alimahomed believes America will deal with the Homeland Security State for years to come. “The U.S. is one of the largest civil security markets in the world and we are recognized as a leader in civil security technology,” she said. “Until we start to correct some of those perceptions, we will be held in the limelight for them.”
As for herself, Alimahomed’s research has redefined for her the term “security.” “Many of us think of security in terms of defense against others who want to hurt us,” she said. “Now I think about security in terms of people’s access to lives free of structural violence and in terms of having access to education. It makes me re-think what I want for myself and for my family.”