Time to stop visiting the United States

June 1, 2019

I’ve never been “anti-American.”

I work with (North) Americans every day at the Transnational Foundation and much of my academic training in both sociology and peace and conflict research has been heavily influenced by American scholarship.

I am a great admirer of American culture and arts – from the Abstract Impressionists to Pop Art- and of American movies, music – Bob Dylan in particular. John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” has sat with me ever since he stated it – in 1961 at his inaugural speech. I was ten, then.

Being “anti” any people, or “anti” a whole nation, is anyhow nonsense. All nations have some you may be pro to and some you may be anti to.

But I’ve been anti-Empire and anti-Warfare all my adult life. And the older I get, the more intensely so. Earlier, it was a kind of moral commitment and intellectual pledge.

After all the conflicts and/or war zones I have worked in – Somalia, the First Cold War in Europe, Yugoslavia, Georgia, Iraq, Burundi, Iran, Syria – and others I have worked with from a distance, or made short trips to, such as South Korea, Ukraine and Libya and living in Japan, I have a lifelong experience to back up that commitment and pledge with. And with even stronger determination.

Sadly, the United States has been a or the leading force in every one of them. And let me include Vietnam, the war that made me see that something deep down in that society was wrong.

That leads to the question, or rather enigma: How can such an interesting, innovative and dynamic society bent originally on human rights, freedom and societal liberty be the root of that Empire and that War culture?

We can point to its Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex (MIMAC); Dwight D. Eisenhower warned his citizens and the world about its malign effects in his farewell speech; he called it only MIC – the Military-Industrial Complex – and it has, since then, grown a cancer on the US society and the world.

We can point to the fact that the US is based on the extermination of its original population and then born on bloodshed and pain. Or, to its belief in itself as exceptionalist. To the hubris that comes with believing that you are God’s chosen people and own country. Or, to the attitude that you have a Mission Civilisatrice and that you are inherently Good, fighting Evil, and thus have a right to universalize your own values.

There may be many other reasons.

In spite of having thought quite a lot about this question and witnessed the progressive decay of all the US’s ideals and decency the last few decades, it remains enigmatic to me: How can a good society end up causing so much evil to others and increasingly also to itself?

But that’s not the issue here and now. Too big, too complex.

It is this article in The Hill“Government surveillance of social media related to immigration more extensive than you realize.”

It tells you how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can collect – do collect – social media data of people who enter the United States, of peaceful demonstrators and of lawyers, journalists and advocates, many of them US citizens:

DHS now uses social media in nearly every aspect of its immigration operations. Participants in the Visa Waiver Program, for instance – largely travelers from Western Europe – have been asked since late 2016 to voluntarily provide their social media handles.

The Department of State recently won approval to demand the same of all visa applicants, nearly 15 million people per year; this data will be vetted against DHS holdings.”

Notice “all visa applicants.” And:

While information from social media may not be the sole basis for denial, it could easily be combined with other factors to justify exclusion, a process that is likely to have a disproportionate impact on Muslim travelers and those coming from Latin America.

Travelers may have their social media data examined at the U.S. border as well, via warrantless searches of electronic devices undertaken by CBP and ICE. Between 2015 and 2017, the number of device searches carried out by CBP jumped more than threefold; one report suggests that about 20 percent are conducted on American travelers...

ICE operates under a decade-old policy allowing its agents to “search, detain, seize, retain, and share” electronic devices and any information on them — including social media – without individualized suspicion.

Note – “search, detain, seize, retain, and share” electronic devices and any information on them.” You may never see you phone or computer again.

Remarkably, ICE justifies this authority by pointing to centuries-old statutes, equating electronic devices with “merchandise” that customs inspectors were authorized to review under a 1790 Act passed by the First Congress.

This approach puts the agency out of step with the Supreme Court, which recently recognized that treating a search of a cell phone as identical to a search of a wallet or purse “is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon.”

This is as ugly as can be. It’s the opposite of what any normal person would associate with freedom and liberty. Virtually anyone can now be treated as a criminal without any reason and be denied entrance based also on what she or he may have published on social media.

It’s police state methods, incompatible by definition with democracy.

I myself have stamps in my passport from both Iran and Syria, due to my professional work as conflict analyst, as peace studies professor specialized in Gandhian nonviolence and an advocate of the UN Charter’s Article 1 that “peace shall be established by peaceful means.”

I am a citizen of Denmark – a member state of NATO – but I would not be able to go to the US Embassy in Copenhagen and obtain a visa to the US without being interrogated about my activities.

Further, I would risk that US authorities would seize/retain my computer, keep me waiting for their analysis of my social media activity – which they would probably consider a risk to US security or “anti-American” and I would risk being denied entry to God’s own country.

Having no criminal record, the only reason would be – yes, political censorship. I will not accept being treated as a criminal because I hold the values I do and have worked for more than 40 years for the noblest norm in our world that all governments have put their name under but ignore every single day: peace by peaceful means.

I will have none of it.

Fortunately, there are 192 other UN member states to visit. Apart from a few weird places and dictatorships, all are more friendly to “aliens” – visitors – than the United States.

My regrettable conclusion is clear and simple: Until the United States change these rules and regulations for the better, I boycott visiting it. Even if I am the only one.

If the US as a system is at all able at this stage to listen and reflect on its own policies and role, the only pressure that may help is the pressure that comes from friendly people and countries.

And my boycott is only an appropriate nonviolent action.

If one person can do it, many can do it. I encourage my readers to think of whether they should not, as principled and moral people, follow and boycott the United States of America.

And dear God, could you please consider what it means to bless this America?

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