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“The Skies Belong to Us” – Part III

In her latest post, Tricia wrote:

For all of the zaniness of the different hijacking plots, this is a book that invites us to think of how national crises manifest themselves in a country’s citizens—especially those citizens whose feelings of disenfranchisement chip away at their sense of moral duty.

In other words, ceci n’est pas un livre sur le détournement d’avion.

This is not a book about airplane hijacking.  Like Magritte’s pipe, it is a representation:  in this case, of the constructed nature of the law, and how it is used to respond to threats to the state.

Three years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Cheryl Harris, law professor and critical race scholar at UCLA, speak at a conference.  Of the many things she said that struck me, this one has stayed with me to this day:  “If nothing else, the law is an instrument of state power.”  I kept coming back to that as I read about Roger and Cathy’s experiences in the two countries that offered them exile, and the wheeling and dealing that those countries, plus the United States, engaged in – not only as a matter of upholding laws and preserving national security, but also as a matter of optics, of representation.

Without giving too much away, the American government is none too happy about the countries that welcome Roger and Cathy with (mostly) open arms.  They demand that Roger and Cathy be extradited back to the U.S.  As far as they are concerned, all of the objective evidence indicates that extradition is perfectly, and legally, warranted.  When an American ambassador questions the foreign court’s decision not to allow the extradition, one of its ambassadors explains that the court was influenced by “philosophical concepts”, and that this approach to justice is “difficult for Anglo-Saxons to understand”.* That the American ambassador wrote, in his summary of this conversation, “Judgments tend to be based more on subjective considerations than on careful sifting of evidence”, underscored for me that responses to a moral, civic, or political panic are only as “objective” as the point of view of those doing the panicking.  This is not to say that Roger and Cathy shouldn’t be held accountable for their crime; only that their story is highlighting for me that the state (via its actors) is as subject to its own fears and insecurities as individuals are.

I only have about 30 pages left of Skies to read and, at this point, I almost (almost) don’t care about what happens to Roger and Cathy.  I’m much more interested in what the American government decides to do… especially since, from my 21st-century vantage point, I think I already know.


* When I read that line, I actually exclaimed, “HA!”

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