Snarky Behavior

TSA Mythbusters

June 17, 2007 · Leave a Comment

I just saw this story about a woman who was detained and humiliated by TSA because she forgot to empty her son’s sippy-cup before entering the screening process. Here’s the short of it, in her own words:

I explained that the sippy cup water was filtered tap water. The sippy cup was seized as my son was pointing and crying for his cup. I asked if I could drink the water to get the cup back, and was advised that I would have to leave security and come back through with an empty cup in order to retain the cup. As I was escorted out of security by TSA and a police officer, I unscrewed the cup to drink the water, which accidentally spilled because I was so upset with the situation.

Obviously TSA is an easy target for criticism because they represent a tremendous burden and inconvenience for travelers. When incidents like this occur it’s really easy for people (like me) to pile on, because we’ve all been there to some degree.

Of course you can play devil’s advocate and say “that’s the cost of freedom” or “that’s the reality of today’s environment.” Well, actually… it’s not. Let me explain:

You know the made-up-on-the-spot statistic people always cite about how it’s much safer to fly than it is to drive? That kind of common-sense knowledge really helps to alleviate a LOT of people’s fears when they get on a plane.

Well, why doesn’t that same perspective apply for acts of terror?

Terror can happen any time, anywhere. In any given year, in “today’s environment,” the “reality” is that an American is more likely to die of a bee-sting than an act of terror.

Now I’m not naive… I realize this could (and most likely will) change. Most experts will tell you that a post-9/11 terrorist attack is eminent; a question of when, not if. And to some degree George Bush’s assertion that we’re “fighting terror in the streets of Baghdad so we don’t have to fight it at home” is true (although the strategic failure emboldens the jihadi movement and threatens our security in the long run).

That said, is it really worth changing the way we live? Why are we so willing to sacrifice our rights, or in this instance, our application of common sense and decency?

Why don’t we ever instead consider conceding a small piece of mind?

Is it that crazy to suggest that we as Americans tolerate a small degree of terrorism? Or at least treat it as a rational fear instead of an irrational one?

Consider the political motivations behind the jihadi movement. Most people don’t get that far. Jihadis are categorically framed as adherents to a distorted and perverted version of fundamentalist Islam. The War on Terror is framed in the context of the Crusades, and the debate is between “liberalism” and “Islamism.”

The element that frequently (and oftentimes deliberately) gets neglected from this context is the political motivation of terror. And it’s not just about Israel, although that’s the most visible issue. It’s about anti-imperialism. The fundamental appeal of jihad is “driving out the infidel,” which, in the parlance of our times, would translate to nationalizing natural resources and industries, defaulting on insufferable foreign debt, organizing labor… the steps necessary for a sovereign nation to determine it’s own political destiny.

So how do acts of terror achieve these ends? Well, abroad, it’s pretty straight-forward. The lesson learned in Afghanistan (and Vietnam) was that a well-trained, well-armed, well-financed resistance movement can bring a super-power to its knees. Foreign Al-Qaeda operatives continue to instigate acts of terror in Iraq, banking on the waning resolve of an American democracy.

The less obvious (but arguably more profound) outcome of terror is its unfailing tendency to provoke an establishment to adopt increasingly repressive policies. This tendency is especially pervasive in democratic societies. Though very few Americans are at risk of a targeted terrorist attack, all Americans are subjected to the policy decisions made in the name of counter-terrorism.

The creation of the Patriot Act, the suspension of habeas corpus, the “preemptive” invasion of Iraq, the withdrawal from the Geneva Accords (and the resulting outcomes at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo)… these are all decisions we made for ourselves. We can blame the terrorists all we want, but if we truly believed in the superiority of liberalism over Islamism, than our commitment to the fundamental institutions of law should have been enough to protect and sustain us.

Which brings us back to this situation at Ronald Reagan. TSA is there to ensure our safety before we enter an aircraft. Period. They are not there to protect the terminal itself. The terminal is inherently at risk, just like any train station is always at risk, just like any university or court house, or even the steps of Congress, is at risk.

The fact that this woman was harassed and detained for spilling water (even if it was intentional), is complete and utter bullshit.

If I have to choose between living in a respectful society with infrequent and random acts of terror, or a society of irrational fear, suspicion, and overly-empowered police and security, I’ll gladly take the former.

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