Monday, February 15, 2010

the rigidity of 'security' paranoia

the security imperative takes the simple-minded idea that certain things -- words or objects -- are in themselves dangerous. while seeming to be merely a rigidly equal approach that avoids ethnic profiling -- 'we confiscate all sharp objects, not just those carried by ethnic-looking men' -- in fact this rigidity opens the door to utter paranoia and unreason, stoked by ethnic fear.

there have been several instances where men speaking a foreign language on a plane (israeli business men, in one case) or doing anything that appeared vaguely 'muslim' -- have been hauled off the plane. people seem to forget that if someone really wanted to hijack a plane, they do not announce themselves as different: don't you remember the bland polo shirts and forgettable appearances of the 9/11 hijackers? only in the cartoon worlds of '24' or 'NCIS' do bad guys oblige us by playing the part, announcing themselves via menacing facial hair and accents.

last week i read of a college student not allowed to board his plane because he had arabic flash cards in his bag. the foreign alphabet itself was thus invested with a magically dangerous power. and paranoia can hide behind vague pronouncements about 'an abundance of caution.' but no one ever takes responsibility for these panicked absurdities.

facial hair, arabic alphabet, ritual prayers: the presence of one or all of these things does not indicate terrorism. but panic in their presence does indicate terror. the terrorists have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams -- rather than us having the confidence in our own good judgment and alertness (that young nigerian guy, jittery and hiding under a blanket, seems suspicious), we resort to absurder and absurder bans on particular acts or objects. therefore, a child may not hold a teddy bear in his lap. passengers may not use the bathroom -- even that grandmother with the Readers Digest -- for the last hour of flight. are our 'guardians' determined to make flying completely intolerable?

let's hear it for alert, reasonable, flexible responses. 'flagging' certain objects, words, or people as inherently dangerous, regardless of circumstances, is worse than stupid -- its insane.

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