Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 57 seconds

On the Americanization of Freedom in “Little Brother”

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 57 seconds

Before I begin my postcolonial rant on this book, let me first say this:

I’m loving this novel, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. It’s great sci fi on how government and internet surveillance is getting really out of hand. I love that I am learning a lot of really interesting things (such as how ridiculous it is to have false positives of 1% on something that is as rare as 1 in a million – that’s 10,000 false positives per million), and about encryption, etc. I love how it’s making me realize how political and media rhetoric misrepresent reality to cause propaganda. I love how it makes me rethink many of my online choices, my daily choices.

I also love love love how every chapter is dedicated to one of the author’s fave booksellers. If i ever write a book all my own, I’ll do dedications ๐Ÿ™‚ haha shoulda dedicated each chapter of my thesis ๐Ÿ™‚

Let me also say i am not yet done with the book, so it’s possible the author might change the direction he’s going in, but at the moment, I feel the author has sort of given America (and he’s Canadian so this is even more annoying) some sort of “claim” on freedom.


First, whenever people get arrested unjustly in the novel, they claim their Americanness, their American citizenship as a defense. Really? Is that to say that anyone non-American deserves to be suspected of terrorism? (My experience as a woman who wears headscarf is that i get stopped for a “random check” 50% of the time i travel in the West. Nothing random about it. Also, last time i was in England, the airport security lady put her hands in my underwear while patting me down… I was seething, and my poor two-year old at the time was so confused by seeing me that angry). The other question is: can’t a US citizen be a terrorist?

Of course, to be fair, part of the argument of the novel is that the real terrorist is the STATE, Homeland Security, and the way they are terrorizing people in order to control them, exaggerating threats and behaving aggressively and violently in the name of the war on terror. So I guess the author doesn’t really mean that US citizens can’t be terrorists, but still…

Second, the whole constitution discussion grated on my nerves. Marcus’ mom is originally English and he makes fun of the fact that Britain has no written constitution and apparently some shady laws. He goes nuts in class when some teacher (pro-State) questions the sanctity of the constitution. We’re supposed to agree with Marcus that, no, the constitution is above all else? We’re supposed to disagree with his dad (I’m usually NOT on his dad’s side) when he says the constitution was never meant as religious doctrine. Duh. It isn’t, and no document written by man should ever be. Why would it be? (And yes, i am Muslim but even religious doctrine reaches humans through humans – it’s open to questioning, too, just maybe with more reverence if you’re more religious).

So there’s this part in a virtual press conference where Marcus says he believes in freedom and the US constitution.

Aaaarrrggggh … And I just had to write this post.

I’m hoping this book takes a turn somewhere, because America never really had the patent on freedom (hello, slavery? Done by same ppl who wrote that constitution? Hello?), maybe just the strongest rhetoric on it these days.

Will stop now and try to finish this novel before Eid starts ๐Ÿ™‚


7 thoughts on “On the Americanization of Freedom in “Little Brother”

  1. “First, whenever people get arrested unjustly in the novel, they claim their Americanness, their American citizenship as a defense…Is that to say that anyone non-American deserves to be suspected of terrorism?…The other question is: canโ€™t a US citizen be a terrorist?”

    This is a really valid objection: put another way, it’s the implication that only Americans (or Westerners) are worthy of human rights. We can add that to the fact that who gets to be an “American” is problematic: people of color, women, and persons of non-hetero sexual orientation, e.g., often do not have the same access to “American rights” as white male etc.

    I’m also reminded of how no one thought that Christians were terrorists when McVeigh, a Christian, killed over 100 people; on the other hand, after 9/11, Muslims (and even people who “looked like Muslims,” like my friend, a Hindu from Detroit whose family is from South India) were the target of verbal harassment, profiling, and, at times, violence.

    More recently, noted demagogue Ted Cruz wrote a bill that would strip citizenship from any American who joined ISIS. I’m no fan of ISIS, of course, but I’m waiting for Mr. Cruz to propose stripping the citizenship of, say, Everest Wilhelmsen, leader of the Christian American Patriots Militia, who has literally offered a “reward for the capture” of President Obama.

    1. Good points, Michael. It reminds me that the novel explicitly talks about how non-Whites are at more risk

    2. I can appreciate the reaction to what reads like asserting Anerican as freedom. Having been a few years since reading the novel, I ought to refer to the source before commenting…

      But I’m not convinced Doctorow is suggesting this. The novel takes place in Anerica. Put it somewhere else and someone would make the assertion– it’s not about asserting Anericans, it’s about asserting ones status as a (persecuted) citizen.

      But as a white male American I also am privileged to not be suspect at first glance. I am also embarrassingly aware of this, and really cannot imagine beyond some wild empathy guessing what it feels like. Sadly as we always are physically, culturally different, it’s hard to imagine this changing. What we can change is our own attitudes.

      1. I agree, CogDog, with your points about privilege. As a white male heterosexual US citizen, I believe it’s my ethical imperative to act as an ally to people of color, women, people of different sexual orientation, people w/o citizenship or documents. One way to begin to do this is as you suggest – by acknowledging that it’s unfair that you & I are not suspects in the airport, at a border crossing, while driving, and so forth.

        I also think it’s really important simply to listen to the people whom we wish to support, which is a lesson I learned from following activists on Twitter and seeing how people react to them (eg the ‘not all white people…’ objection to critiques of structural racism).

        1. My passport photo is me glaring grimly I thought I looked terrifying but no one thinks so at the gate. Lovely flying domestic in New Zealand- no security checks or scans. Just walk right on the plane

      2. Ur right, Alan. If someone wrote an Egyptian version, and tried to make ppl’s reactions close to reality, they’d be as Egyptian-centric as this novel, as in, “Egyptians wouldn’t do this to each other, wouldn’t hurt Egypt” etc., and all the refugees from Palestine, Syria, Sudan would be suspect.
        I guess it’s also a lot to expect a 17-year old to think beyond the constitution And about humanity (it’s a pretty mature viewpoint and one not all adults even reach, assuming it’s even a higher level of maturity than other ways of thinking). I’m almost done with the book… Will see how it ends and come back ๐Ÿ™‚

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