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Thursday, December 2, 2010

The National Security State gets Personal

Almost ten years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, why are we doing pat-downs and full body scans? Why now? Why ever?

If the noise from Americans keeps up there might actually be a change in TSA policy. While that would be a marked improvement it still wouldn’t make up for yet another missed opportunity to have a public discussion about a problem in plain sight.

If it seems like every time a racial minority claims they have been mistreated and the elites tell us we’re supposed to have a conversation about race, why can’t probing invasions of travelers’ private parts elicit a discussion on foreign policy?

The full body scans and pat-downs are obvious violations of privacy, but these procedures didn’t appear ex nihilo. Americans have been subject to an increasing amount of security at airports and these controversial practices are only the logical outcome of what we’ve already been through.

Richard Reid hid explosives in his shoes and now we all have to take off our shoes. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab sowed a bomb into his underwear and now we have the “porno scanners.” Of course, these only help deter yesterday’s terror attempts.

The terror attacks of nine years ago were the ideal time to talk about foreign policy. Never before had Washington’s foreign policy come home in the way that it did on 9/11. President Bush declared that we were attacked for our freedoms of speech and religion to make sure nobody got the idea that Washington bore any responsibility for what happened. How the American people followed along.

After the shock of 9/11, and among a people largely isolated from the politics of the world, this can be understood. Nothing remotely like those attacks had ever happened in the lives of most Americans. But why is it that nine years later, more than enough time to absorb and reflect upon the events, are we not asking tougher questions about why this happened?

The “why” to this is relevant because every stroke up the thigh and every scan of underwear is a not-so-subtle reminder that we were attacked by terrorists using airplanes.

But this is done for our own good! This is done to keep us safe!

These excuses and all the others offered to us by the apologists of the national security apparatus all imply the same thing: terrorists do not attack us because of the effects of our foreign policy but because we are free and we should stop asking questions. How freedom exists in this garrison state is conspicuously absent.

If Americans believe that Muslim terrorists only hate us for our material well-being who will use any innovation to sneak explosives onto airliners, then full body scans and pat-downs become defensible mechanisms of security. After all, who doesn’t want to be safe?

But if Americans actually held a discussion on how Washington’s policy of meddling in the Middle East and uncritically supporting Israel serves as the catalyst for terrorism, it might just begin to weaken the rationale for the security state. And if Americans do that, they might begin to see these tactics at the airport as the unnecessary and unjustified invasions of privacy that they are.

Fortunately for the TSA, the flap over the full body scans and pat-downs does seem to be dying down. That’s a shame because this was a pristine opportunity to ask why we must endure these indignities. Instead of locating and identifying the disease, all we found were the symptoms.

Even if the pat-downs eventually disappear but the full body scans and prohibitions on shampoo remain, all we’ve done is left the door open for ten more parasites to enter.

After the French and Indian War, in which American colonists fought to expel the French from North America, King George issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The proclamation prevented Americans from emigrating west of the Appalachians, purportedly to protect them from the Indians in a land where Americans had just fought. A defiant people then, Americans did not take lightly the king’s proclamation that it was for their own good.

Somewhere King George is probably wondering where today’s class of Americans were when he could have used them.

Carl Wicklander,
Regular Columnist, THL
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