Youth and the Politics of Domestic Terrorism: In a Post-September 11 Era

By Giroux, Henry A. | Tikkun, November/December 2002 | Go to article overview

Youth and the Politics of Domestic Terrorism: In a Post-September 11 Era


Giroux, Henry A., Tikkun


In a post-September 11 Era AIready imperiled before the terrorist attacks on Septem

ber 11, democracy appears even more fragile in the United States in this time of civic and political crisis. This is especially true for young people. Critics have had a great deal to say about new anti-terrorist laws that, in the name of "homeland security," make it easier to undermine the basic civil liberties that protec individuals against invasive and potentially repressive government actions. Yet there has been nothing but thunderous silence on the part of many critics and academics regarding the ongoing insecurity and injustice experienced by young people in this country, particularly as the state increasingly resorts to repressive and punitive social policies. Our society's single-minded association of the terms "terrorism" and "security" with a violent attack against property and persons ignores the forms of domestic terrorism suffered by children who are homeless, poor, hungry, neglected, lack decent medical care, or suffer physical abuse by adults.

To some degree, children have been this summer's media sensation. The relentless focus on the kidnapping of young girls-incidents of which, as the national media networks have pointed out, are actually in decline even if media interest has recently skyrocketedave exposed one aspect of children's vulnerability. But the media's emphasis on these extraordinary acts has simultaneously obscured the more ordinary but no less horrific indices of children's plight. Twenty percent of children are poor during the first three years of life and over 13.3 million live in poverty; 9.2 million children lack health insurance; millions lack affordable child care and decent early childhood education; in many states, more money is being spent on prison construction than on education; and the infant mortality rate in the United States is the highest of any other industrialized nation.

When broken down along racial categories, the figures become even more despairing. For example, "In 1998,36 percent of black and 34 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty, compared with 14 percent of white children. In some states, such as the District of Columbia, the child poverty rate is as high as 45 percent." (These figures are taken from Child Research Briefs, "Poverty, Welfare, and Children: A Summary of the Data," available online at www.childtrends.org, and Childhood Poverty Research Brief 2, "Child Poverty in the States: Levels and Trends From 1979 to 1998," available online at www.nccp.org.) While the United States ranks first in military technology, military exports, defense expenditures and the number of millionaires and billionaires, it is ranked eighteenth in the gap between rich and poor children, twelfth in the percent of children in poverty, seventeenth in the efforts to lift children out of poverty, and twenty-third in infant mortality. (These figures largely come from Children's Defense Fund, The State of Children in America's Union: A 2002 Action Guide to Leave No Child Behind.) One of the most shameful figures on youth, as reported by New York Times writer Jennifer Egan, indicates that "1.4 million children are homeless in America for a time in any given year ... and these children make up 40 percent of the nation's homeless population." Jennifer Egan, "To Be Young and Homeless," The New York Times Magazine.) Unfortunately, for the nation's children, the disappearance of social safety nets, crumbling public education, widespread homelessness, poverty, and disease make for bad TV.

Children have fewer rights than almost any other group; consequently, their voices and needs are almost completely absent from the debates, policies, and legislative practices that are constructed in terms of their needs. In the last election, for example, candidate George W. Bush appeared to give some support to children when he insisted that "the biggest percentage of our budget should go to children's education. …

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