Things seemed crazy in the US and Canada last week, with a shooting on normally tranquil Parliament Hill in Ottawa and a grisly hatchet attack on two New York City policemen.
Add in an American doctor who returned to the big city from Ebola-stricken West Africa and proceeded to run around all over town – from the Bronx to the west Village to a bowling alley in Brooklyn – just as he was coming down with the dreaded sickness. New Yorkers are a pretty tough bunch, so panic was mild, but in this crowded city, it was still a big scare.
Because of this alarm, imposing quarantine on arrivals from disease-ridden West Africa seemed to make more and more sense. The governors of New York and New Jersey just called for such a sensible safety procedure. The Obama administration has opposed quarantines, likely for fear of angering black voters.
Promoting national hysteria over ISIS infiltration of the US – a lurid fantasy of the low-IQ, rural right wing – while allowing people who might have Ebola to fly in, as the good doctor in New York City, and take taxis and subways, does not appear to make sense.
Selling fear is useful politics; selling prevention is not.
The North American gun attacks were blamed on “Islamic terrorists” driven to a murderous frenzy ignited by inflammatory Muslim war calls on the internet. In fact, both cases involved mentally ill petty criminals, not some nefarious Mideast plot.
Unfortunately, both crimes are being seized upon by the hard right, Islam-haters and neocons in both nations to promote calls for more security surveillance of the public, more curbs on freedom of speech, and tighter government controls of the internet – one of the last venues of free expression in our society where media is increasingly “guided” by the state or special interest groups.