Author Archives: shawnsingh1

Law, Sovereign Power, and States of Exception

The case study I have will review that provides the invocation of a state of exception is the 9/11 terrorists attack on the United States. On September 11, 2001 a terrorist group hijacked four planes, two of which they flew into two skyscrapers in New York City, another plane into the Pentagon destroying a part of it, and the fourth plan crashed in Pennsylvania. The death toll amounted to nearly 3,000 people in the 9/11 attacks. The President of the United States at the time of attack was George W. Bush and as a result Bush declared a state of emergency, “Now, therefore, I, George W. Bush, President of the United States of American, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the law of the United States, I hereby declare that the national emergency has existed since September 11, 2001” (Washington’s Blog, 2010).

This historical case of a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States demonstrates the exercise of sovereign power and the creation of a state of exception firstly by the public’s understanding that once President Bush proclaimed a national emergency he active some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law. These provisions include enough authority to rule the country without reference to normal constitutional processes, enabling the President to “assign military forces abroad; institute martial law; restrict travel; and in a plethora of particular ways, control the lives of all American Citizens” (Washington’s Blog, 2010).

President Bush launched the war on terrorism on September 20, 2001; he launched 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan to deal with terrorist groups Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The President also established an office of Homeland Security within the presidential Executive Office, leading to Homeland Security creating a Terrorism Screening Center to “consolidate the Government’s approach to terrorism screening.” As a result the No Fly List has been increasing with names of people preventing them from flying because they are now on the Terrorist Watch List, primarily due to having an Arabic sounding name. Homeland Security has also increased the security screenings ongoing at the airport, and there have been multiple expensive additions to ensure the likes of 9/11 do not repeat. I strongly believe that since the President has the power to decide on an exception, such as declaring a state of emergency, I argue that the President either intentionally or unintentionally created international racism towards Muslims, Sikhs, Hindu’s, and other South Asian races. This was executed by declaring publicly that Muslim faith was directly associated and valued by the terrorists, on international television about Muslim belief’s, and how these terrorists were believers of Allah, but besmirched Allah. The President did state that Muslim religion was respected and practiced amongst many in the world including the United States, but this created tension moreover solving the issue and placed blame and slandered the religion and it’s followers. This is a display of sovereign power, starting from George Bush and leading to mass incarcerations of Muslim’s, new stereotypes being created, innocent people placed on no fly lists, and the general society around the entire world gaining a new negative perception of Muslim’s and people who they believed are of Muslim faith. It would never be possible to generalize a certain race on such harsh assumptions until a sovereign declared so, thus leading to the term terrorist and Muslim becoming synonymous around the world after this state of emergency was declared.

Through this exercise of sovereign power and creation of a state of exception the President created a United States military prison, referred to as Guantanamo Bay, located in Cuba that was established to detain dangerous prisoners, interrogate them and prosecute prisoners for war crimes. A prison run by the United States placed in Cuba by state of exception by the President of the United States. This prison was also a forefront of punishment to captives believed to be associated with terrorists groups, they were detained, stripped of their bare life; homo sacer essentially losing all their rights. Detainee’s could be held indefinitely, they had lost their status, basically creating a legal black hole where the detainee’s had no choice but to do as they were told by the United States government officials, until they had enough information to release these individuals.

This sovereign power was justified rhetorically through an appeal of necessity, from the President at the time George W. Bush stating “I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you and the people who knocked these building down will hear all of us soon.” On September 11, 2001 George Bush was told “American is under attack,” and Bush said he then thought “They had declared war on us, and I made up my mind at that moment that we were going to war” (Walsh, 2008). This sole sentence portrays sovereign power, one individual waging war against terrorism and immediately initiating tactics such as sending U.S. troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and approving harsh interrogation techniques.

In a conference broadcasted around the world, I have provided a YouTube link for the speech where President Bush states to the Taliban publically to deliver to the United States authorities, all the leaders of Al Qaeda who hide in their land and to also hand over every terrorist and in their support structure to the appropriate authorities. President Bush states “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people,” (Patriotic quotes, 2001) I enjoy this quote because it clearly depicts the issue of declaring a state of emergency and the simplicity of declaring a war on terror by Mr. Bush himself in comparison to a permission slip, that elementary students get filled out by their parents to go on a field trip, this comparison is directly linked to George Bush as sovereign power and does not need to seek permission, he can do as he pleases simply by stating national emergency for U.S. troops and sending them on a “field trip” to Afghanistan and Iraq.

YouTube links:



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Durkheim states that the visible social facts that mark social solidarity and the collective conscience of society is law. Law reproduces the “principal forms of social solidarity, we have only to classify the different types of law to find therefrom the different types of social solidarity which correspond to it”  (Class notes; Mike Larsen). From social solidarity the collective conscience (consciousness) is produced which then creates a division of labor, seen by Durkheim as functional.

Since law is essentially the glue in which holds society together and pieces the community together to continuously progress ourselves in this world, Pavlich questions Durkheim’s explanation of law and examines if law functions in ways that stifle, rather than promotes collective solidarity.

My take on Pavlich’s question is yes; law does stifle collective solidarity rather than promoting it at times. Law according to Durkheim functions to promote collective solidarity, which refers to “the unity, integration, and cohesiveness of a group, class, or society” (Class notes; Mike Larsen). This collective conscience is composed of beliefs and sentiments pertaining to the average members of a society, in other words the norms or moral ethics of society, but this collective conscience can be corrupt and lead society to have mistaken beliefs, that instead of letting society flourish suppresses the people, in turn leading to a collective suppression by a certain group on another group, this could very well fall into the division of labor. These inequalities are represented by Durkheim as natural and functional for society to unify and flourish, because the sense of “othering” and belonging are functional characteristics.

“Durkheim argues that a given act is criminal because it offends [the collective] consciousness. We do not condemn it because it is a crime, but it is a crime because we condemn it” (Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society). If there is a sense of “othering” by society and a division of labor is created, leading to certain individuals to be more influential than others, therefore leaving these individuals to carry more power than the average person, and if these people in power want to maintain power they will cater to the majority public in a way that serves them but more importantly will serve themselves and like people so they remain more powerful and in control of society. This can become the norm over time as people become more accustom to the idea of having a few leaders that represent the public, and begin to have their views guided to a similar direction and interests as those in power.

When members of society refrain from the typical norms they are portrayed as a threat by the government. We have let the government regulate our lives and given them tremendous powers, they have the power to find out every single detail of your life, and it has become a norm that this is not as surprising to an individual as it should be, privacy should be fought for. As the government begins to grow with the trust of society by convincing members with amenities such as courts, lawyer, and even welfare cheque’s on the surface supporting each individual, but more importantly collecting support from more individuals within society.

One law in specific that I think sets certain individuals in society for failure and also continuous scrutiny by majority of society is the law on welfare support, which carries a stigma over for the welfare recipient that they are lazy, underserving, and cheaters of the system. Support from the government is praised by the middle class society, but welfare recipients are looked down upon which essentially creates a division of labor but also shapes social construction on these recipients. We live in a world that is seen as a shadow of the United States and our collective conscience has been shaped to the ideology of the government, to the extend where many of us refrain from demanding free education, free health care, and the need for everyone to live comfortably. The norm that I speak up that has been created is what I’d like to label the “western norm.”


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