Thursday, May 19, 2011

Michael Barkun's "Chasing Phantoms"

Michael Barkun is professor emeritus of political science at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University and a former FBI consultant in domestic terrorism cases. His books include Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11, and reported the following:
My aim in writing Chasing Phantoms was to unpack some of the non-rational factors that affected responses to the September 11th attacks, and their effect on homeland security policies. By the time we reach page 99, I’m looking for concepts that tie together the observations made in the earlier pages. Page 99 is in the midst of a discussion of the idea of “moral panic,” a notion first developed by the British sociologist Stanley Cohen almost forty years ago. A moral panic occurs when a society suddenly awakens to a sense of severe and widespread threat. As I make clear on pages 98-99, the hallmark of a moral panic is that the reaction is always disproportionate to the danger, and that is precisely what happened after 9/11. As we can see in retrospect, the danger Al Qaeda posed was actually far less than was felt at the time, yet both the public and government decision-makers reacted as though the survival of the Republic was at stake. Much of the fear revolved around the possibility that terrorists would employ weapons of mass destruction, yet we now realize how unlikely such a scenario was. This exaggerated sense of crisis, understandable though it is in hindsight, had a distorting effect on policy, since many of the decisions made in the months that followed the attacks resulted in dysfunctional policies that remain nearly a decade later. Despite the immense resources poured into homeland security, the resulting apparatus is characterized by inefficiency and internal contradictions, problems glaringly displayed in the Hurricane Katrina fiasco.
Learn more about Chasing Phantoms at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue