On Wednesday, September 21, the state of Georgia murdered Troy Anthony Davis by poisoning him to death in front of a small audience. Despite overwhelming doubt about his guilt, his murderers, in the name of justice and the citizens of Georgia, held that he killed a white police officer in 1989. The world was horrified – everyone from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to former FBI chief William Sessions to the Pope called for Davis’s reprieve. But their cries fell on deaf ears, leaving thousands in grief over the injustice that took place at 11:08 PM that night.
No group took more interest in the case than American progressives, especially those from minority communities who saw Troy’s execution as a legalized lynching. As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, the racial inequality and hatred with which this country was born – stained with the blood of slavery – has not disappeared no matter who happens to be in the White House.
And it just so happens that the man sitting in the White House, the first African American president of the United States, carried out a murder of another US citizen just one short week after the state of Georgia. He didn’t poison anyone to death, no; he was thousands of miles away from the crime scene. But he ordered a hit sometime before January 2010, and it was carried out last Friday, September 30.
The victim was Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. Citizen of Yemeni descent living in exile in Yemen. He was an imam of the Islamic faith who was once called into the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11 to advise U.S. officials on how to promote moderate over extremist Islam. But as has since become evident, whatever advice those clerics gave to U.S. war-planners was not followed. Two murderous invasions and occupations, replete with atrocities against innocent civilians, have recruited scores of Muslims to fight fanaticism with fanaticism. Among them Anwar al-Awlaki.
He became radicalized as the so-called War on Terror turned many Muslim countries into hellish war zones. Being a native-born U.S. citizen, he had the English-speaking skills and the background with which a wide audience of Muslims in the West could empathize. His English sermons were put online and he became something of an icon amidst a limited audience. Allegedly (there has been no evidence released to confirm official accusations), his audience included the “underwear bomber” Faruq Abdulmutallab, the Fort Hood gunman Nidal Hasan, and the man who loaded an SUV with gasoline tanks and car batteries near Times Square and was made out to be a terrorist mastermind.
If ideological motivation of criminal acts were itself an offense warranting execution, the Norwegian government would be justified in sending drones to New York to execute Jihad Watch co-creators Robert Spencer and Pam Gellar, and neoconservative ideologue Daniel Pipes – all cited numerous times in the manifesto of Anders Behring Brevik. Brevik’s 76 kills far outnumber the total body count attributed to al-Awlaki’s alleged followers (13 at Fort Hood), but that clearly doesn’t matter.
The number of innocent civilians killed by individual terrorists or state terrorism always takes second seat to global power politics. As the death toll of the Yemeni government’s crackdown on peaceful democratic protestors surpasses 500, the Obama administration continues cooperating with dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. Indeed, according to the New York Times, “the Obama administration’s top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, said recent cooperation with Yemen was better than it has ever been.” (The Times pulled the paragraphs referencing U.S.-Saleh cooperation from their website, hence the link to Truthout.)
Nor does it matter that al-Awlaki was a U.S. citizen with full protection as such under the constitution. He was a dark-skinned Arab wearing a turban and a long beard living in Yemen, where he spoke out against the United States.
In a nation at war obsessed with appearance and ideological conformity, it wouldn’t be surprising if after denying citizenship to people born in the U.S. to undocumented parents, the right-wing forces that wield extraordinary power in this country were to go after those who criticize it.
The United States propaganda machine turned al-Awlaki into a real bogeyman, claiming – again without evidence – that he was a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and posed a direct threat to U.S. National Security. So the president ordered him killed. No trial, no official charges, just a quick death that could be broadcast to the media as a victory in the ongoing war against terror.
The large community that supported Troy Davis in his last hours, rightly decrying the injustice inherent in killing an innocent man, was an inspiration for all who seek a more equitable justice system. But will that movement be equally outraged by the murder of Anwar al-Awlaki?
The inclusion of African Americans into the nationalist myth of the United States, despite continued racism and some of the highest levels of inequality on record, serves the agenda of demonizing an outside threat in the form of Arab Muslims, which is used to give the government – indeed the president alone – the power to kill whomever he wishes, anywhere in the world. That is illegal, inhuman and downright frightening.
For characteristically spot-on analysis of the Awlaki case, please check out Glenn Greenwald on the matter.
Noah Gimbel is currently working on a book on Universities and Empire and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.