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When Prevention Becomes Paranoia

by Bernd Greiner Monday, Nov. 04, 2013 at 4:39 AM

According to Bernd Greiner, more Americans die annually from deadly bee stings than from terrorism. The 68-antiwar movement should have taught us to redefine security, health, strength and happiness and not fall into the traps of militarism or financialization. Jobs create true security.


Political scientist Bernd Greiner regards the security-thinking and acting of the US as “excessive”

[This interview published on 10/28/2013 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

[In the US the environment and outside world are viewed with “constitutional mistrust” says Bernd Greiner of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. The question whether or not parts of this thought pattern are adopted in Germany must be raised.]

dradio: The historian and political scientist Bernd Greiner researches at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. In 2011 he caused a sensation with his book “9/11 – The Day, the Fear and the Consequences.” These consequences assume increasingly grotesque forms. The French recently discovered that the American NSA eavesdrops on half the world. That Angela Merkel’s cell phone is now stored on a NSA server has provoked confrontations and arguments between the allies. Welcome Bernd Greiner on Germany Radio!

Bernd Greiner: Good afternoon!

dradio: What did you think, Mr. Greiner, when Angela Merkel’s cell phone was suddenly the focus of public attention? Did the chancellor react rightly by first acting as though nothing happened and then getting excited?

Greiner: There is no reason for malice or snide remarks although people could be annoyed about the fact that half the republic or the whole republic is monitored with its Internet data, that this was treated liker a trivial matter in the summer and now the excitement is obviously great since the chancellor’s cell phone is involved. But there is no reason for maliciousness. The problem is too serious to be settled with superficial arguments.

dradio: Isn’t the NSA something like Al-Qaida’s willing executor? The NSAQ does what the terrorists intended, undermines the West and sows discord.

Greiner: Al-Qaida contributed to far-reaching changes with its attacks in the West. Whether that was part of their strategic calculus or not can be left undecided. What we witness is an excessiveness of political thinking and political action at least in the US, partly also in Europe but mainly in the US that a whole society and its political elites are quasi taken hostage by a security thinking that has lost all proportion, becomes irrationally strict and damages the foundations that hold this society together and constitute its strength.

dradio: Everyone now asks what did the most powerful man of the world know and when did he know it. It really seems Barack Obama has long not been master of the house. His secret services do what they want. Is that your opinion?

Greiner: Secret services like military machines and all big institutions tend to constantly expand their own terrain at others’ expense, asserting their definitional power over their political field and over adjacent political fields. This is nothing new and is not especially true for secret services. In the US, politics and institutions cross. The institutional structure goes hand in hand with political praxis. There is also the principle of so-called plausible deniability. This means the president can be kept from embarrassing activities or activities that damage him. In part, the president does not want to be informed. He announces the great course and does not want to be told about details. If he knew these details, he could be held liable in cases of doubt.

dradio: So he can plausibly deny so to speak… Obama cannot talk his way out.

Greiner: In any case he can plausibly deny it. This is a policy blessed and discussed in advance by all actors and is not a subsequent excuse. Therefore Barack Obama cannot wiggle his way out of this and say I don’t know anything about that. He may have known nothing but the operative details but he certainly agreed with the foundations of the policy.

dradio: All these listening measures, this gigantic logistic and the gigantic personnel team created since 9/11 are always seen and represented as prevention, Mr. Greiner. Terror should be contained in advance and attacks prevented. In the past, all governments are or were agreed. This is a false policy, this kind of prevention that only creates mutual mistrust at the end.

Greiner: No policy can be criticized that creates security, strives to contain the space of terrorists and limit the danger of terrorist activities. There is good reason to criticize a policy that has lost all sense of proportion. Since 9/11 the US has moved increasingly in a security-mania. People imagine terrorism can be nipped in the bud with the right funding and can be erased from the world. More Americans die every year of deadly bee stings than of terrorist activities in the US and abroad. This is completely ignored. This can be proven statistically. Billions upon billions are spent on activities unconnected with the stated goal. At the end the foundations of the rule of law are undermined. Relations to alliance partners are strained to the limit. The whole stability of the domestic- and foreign policy structure is tottering. This policy that I describe as excessive loses sight of its own goal, the correlation between means and ends.

dradio: In your book you describe the security changes directly after the attacks of September 11 as a chain of democracy-endangering decisions of the US. This includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the Patriot Act. Whenever the United States is attacked, basic rights are eviscerated. This has become a tradition. That is the unfortunate conclusion.

Greiner: This has become a tradition at least since the First World War. Real threats cannot be denied. Historians, political scientists and sociologists grapple with excess. They argue over the question why these surges occur again and again and why these surges last so long. The US is a society unsure of itself, a society deeply alarmed at its core. What is the cause? Many arguments circulate. One argument could be that the US understands itself as the last and best hope of humanity. Barack Obama also said this. Whoever has this self-image tends to define the rest of the world from the start as a hostile power. A monkey-wrench is thrown into the works for this model America. This environment and outside world is encountered with a constitutional mistrust. This basic sense is always actualized so to speak when something goes off course, when something is no longer under control or when one cannot do justice to one’s self-image as the strongest leader. Many psychological factors of power are involved that have to do with our own outward view.

dradio: Mr. Greiner, we asked our hearers, how we should answer from the German and European side. What is your response?

Greiner: The most realistic possibility is asking self-critically in one’s country and at one’s front door whether or not we have adopted parts of this American way of thinking. Think of the boundless discussion about data storage or the attempt to store all possible data up front even without concrete initial suspicion. In a surprising way, this policy resembles the American way of thinking. It is time to scrutinize this policy of unlimited data storage, making a full stop and saying: Stop it! We think more highly of the private sphere of citizens, their right to privacy and their right to individual freedom than the state desire to document everything. Starting here would be much more important than fumbling at some free trade agreements that damage the economy more than they tackle burning problems.

dradio: When prevention loses all proportion, it is only paranoia. Bernd Greiner of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research is the author of the book “9/11 – The Day, the Fear and the Consequences.” Mr. Greiner thanks for the visit!

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