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Anthrax Scare Spreads New Worries In USA
THE UNITED States is now dominated by the growing anthrax scare. It started in Florida, spread to New York City and reached Washington DC with 31 US Senate workers testing positive for anthrax exposure as a result of a letter mailed to Senate majority leader Tom Daschle's office.
Philip Locker, Socialist Alternative, The Socialist's sister organisation in the USA
This prompted an unprecedented step, closing down the House of Representatives and several giant US Congressional buildings. At the same time a new anthrax case was reported in New York, in an office of Governor George Pataki.
These developments have caused widespread fear and panic throughout the country, and will have tremendous political implications.
Coming after the massive terrorist attacks of 11 September, the anthrax attacks have increased the calls for even more drastic action, further restrictions on democratic rights and civil liberties and expanding the US war on Afghanistan to Iraq.
Immediately speculation focused on Iraq and Saddam Hussein as being responsible for the terrorist attack. If clear evidence emerges linking the Iraqi government to these attacks, the Bush administration will feel tremendous pressure to lash out and widen the war to also include Iraq.
But any such move could be fatal for Bush's extremely fragile international coalition. Attacks on Iraq would greatly stiffen Arab opposition to the war and lead to massive popular mobilisations, threatening many of the reactionary governments in the region currently backing Bush's war.
The anthrax attacks have also added fuel to politicians' demands for further measures to "crack down" on the terrorist threat in the US by undermining democratic rights further and giving increased powers to the police.
The real meaning of this assault on democratic rights is revealed in recent reports about the over 600 people - overwhelmingly immigrants - immediately detained following the 11 September terrorist attacks.
200 of the 600 arrested remain in detention, yet not one has been charged with any involvement in the terrorist attacks. They are detained on the flimsiest of grounds, usually for trivial immigration infractions or traffic violations.
Clearly their main crime is that they "looked" like a possible terrorist, i.e. Arab or Muslim. This strengthening of police powers will do nothing to stop future terrorist attacks - as the anthrax attacks so unfortunately show - but will be used primarily to repress any challenge to the power of big business, whether by unions or the anti-globalisation movement.
In The Socialist 26 October 2001: