Thursday, August 31, 2006

This is the domestic terror threat?

A recent essay in the influential Foreign Affairs journal argues that the domestic terrorist threat is over. The author argues that the reasonable -- but rarely heard -- explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.

This raised hackles of fury from the perpetual war crowd who, in the absence of a serious counterargument, resorted to the usual intonation of the numbers 9 and 11.

I'm not sure if the domestic terrorist threat is really over. Given the explosion of anti-American hatred created by the Bush administration's disastrous policies, it's hard to believe that the will isn't there. Perhaps the means are there but then again, the last terrorist attack in the US required not fancy weaponry, but box cutters.

Then again, we've certainly sacrificed our own freedoms in response to the perceived threat to a far greater extent than the terrorists would ever be able to achieve directly. The self-imposed hysteria is so fanatical, it makes you wonder if the actual threat isn't really minimal.

Just look at some of the hysteria in the news. I read for example that a human rights activist was banned from boarding a plane. Not because he said some weapons or chemicals. But because he was wearing a t-shirt. The t-shirt had words in Arabic and English. Not 'Death to America' or 'Hail Osama.'

The English words were "We will not be silent." The Arabic words said the same thing.

Apparently the presence of Arabic letters freaked out some of the other passangers and officials.

One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (or Islamofacists or Muslim Barbarians or whatever the vapid fearmongering catchphrase of the day happens to be) has arrived and he was wearing an anti-war t-shirt.

Send him to Gitmo!

One of the morons in charge of 'security' reportedly told the passenger that "going to an airport with a T-shirt in Arabic script is like going to a bank and wearing a T-shirt that says, `I'm a robber.'"

I know 'we will not be silent' is a radical statement in a country where silent obedience to a 'war president' was the social expectation for several years. (Or since the administration's insistent demands for imperial powers, perhaps it's only the word president that should be in quotes)

However, if the most dangerous thing airport security people have to worry about is some inoncuous t-shirt, then are we really on the verge of Armageddon? All these millions spent on security and they're going after a guy wearing a t-shirt?

I suppose it sounds coherent enough to be a plan of this administration. I'm sure Bush apologists will praise the 'restraint' of officials for not summarily executing the guy on the spot.

Admittedly, I'm not a security expert. But if people really are trying to blow up planes, I don't think they'd be able to hide them in the silk-screen printing of Arabic (but not English) letters on a t-shirt.

What's next? Are they going to arrest someone for wearing a 'Peace on Earth' t-shirt? Oh wait, that's already happened.

If you want to convince me that there's a real terror threat to citizens in this country, you're going to have to find something more substantive than a darker skinned guy wearing a human rights t-shirt with squiggly letters.


Update: A friend of mine, who travels a lot internationally, took issue with parts of this essay. He pointed out a suspicious incident that he'd observed while in German airport that was dealt with by officials there. One of the important differences between what he witnessed was suspicious ACTIONS by a passenger while the above essay deals with a t-shirt.

Recently, I read an article in
The Boston Globe on airport security in Israel, which of course has a lot of experience in combatting potential terrorism. Israeli officials don't deal in RACIAL profiling. This makes sense because terrorists are nothing if not adaptable and will use non-Arabs if Arabs only are profiled. After all, Richard Reed was an Anglo and Jose Padilla a Hispanic.

Instead, they use COMPORTEMENT profiling. Focusing not on people who look suspicious but people who ACT suspicious. That makes far more sense. Israel's pristine record on airline security seems to back that up.

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