Sunday, October 22, 2006

Behind the Fear Curtain Again

What a shock to be back behind the fear curtain. Beijing was bustling, the airport shops were busy, but you got your first hint: outside every duty-free shop was a big sign saying that "according to the latest information," you can take things you buy in the duty-free zone -- that is, in the secured part of the airport -- into the United States. They couldn't promise, felt they had to warn you it might not work, would hate to lose your business.

No other country. Flights to any place in the Middle East, to African countries, Indonesia, anywhere, no problem. The US? The fear is palpable.

At security in Beijing there are sixteen lines. Lines 1-12 are for international travel, and 13-16 are for Americans. Why? Because we have so many more restrictions than anybody in the world. In the world. A guy in line up ahead of me tried to drink half a bottle of Jack Daniels before they took it away from him. And ... why would they take it away from him? Because it might blow up? Come on. The lady immediately ahead of me had all her makeup in a plastic bag, just like you're supposed to, but they took it away from her because it was "too full." And what -- her makeup is a bomb? Only the USA would think that. It's absurd.

But it was landing that really got you. Look, I've been flying around China, a repressive country that does not claim to be "free" or democratic, doesn't even try. They x-ray your stuff, they pat you down, and then you're in. Flying into Newark, USA, you take off your shoes, your coat, your belt. You put them in a tray. Our line had to walk over behind the table to pick up our trays, but other lines had them at the front of the table. So a kid -- you know, early twenties -- went over and got a stack of trays for us and put them by our table. This TSA lady told him to get back in line. He said, "I was just getting some trays." She said, "Get in line, I don't need no shit from nobody." Hey, welcome to America.

The guy at the metal detector was telling everyone he's an "expert at screening." He said, "I know everything there is to know about screening." You wanted to ask, yes sir, and how many terrorists have you caught? Because ... this isn't about terrorism, it's about humiliating people, it's about scaring people. Everybody in line just stood there with their mouths shut, too afraid to complain. You can't ask questions, and of course you can't joke about it. You have to pretend to take it seriously. Even if you aren't actually intimidated by reality, you have to act like you are. Mission accomplished.

This poor old couple. The old man was senile as a post. But something in his bag had set off an alarm of some sort, and they had pulled him aside and were searching him. He was so confused, he didn't know what was happening, and his wife was trying to calm him down. I compare that to the old man in Hefei who came through security with a big, stout, wooden cane. When he came to the gate, everyone let him go first. They helped him onto the shuttle to take us out to the plane. They weren't afraid of his cane. He needed it. People just wanted to make sure that he was okay.

If I may say so: those are family values.

And then, in Newark, as I walked through the corridors of the airport to my gate, you heard nothing but announcements about how you can't trust anybody. Don't take anybody's bag, report any suspicious behavior or unattended packages. Unbelievable cynicism, right out of 1984.

We accept this as if it were a necessity, as if we are under such a constant threat that we need to remain suspicious all the time. But ... let's say there is a threat of terrorism. What are the chances that you or I are going to spot something that prevents a terrorist attack? The probabilities are so low that, well, so far they're zero. The only person I can think of who ever spotted something that (nearly) prevented a terrorist attack was Richard Jewell, and the FBI and media hassled him for years about that, until he sued all the news agencies and made a pretty penny off it. Other than that, nothing. We have agencies and experts to monitor the terrorists, and the idea that citizens should abandon their trust of one another, on the off-chance that someday somebody will prevent a terrorist attack, is ridiculous. The point is not protection, it is fear: a fearful populace is obedient, subservient, easy to control. This isn't about protection, it does not make us any safer. It only drives us apart, makes us afraid of one another.

People, how far do you want to take this? Do not delude yourself that "the world is a different place" now. It's not. The world is doing fine. People are happy and living their lives. America is a different place. We are a country cowering behind a curtain of fear that cuts us off from all the rest of humanity.

How far do you want to take this? Is it time for a change yet?


Blogger andrea said...

I heard last night that this administration has not pressed Sudan on Darfur because the Sudanese killers(the gov't) are supposedly providing us with information on terrorists. Now seeing how well the war is going(yeah, right, creating terrorists) and how we captured Osama who spent 5 years in Sudan(oh, we didn't, did we)- this administration is consorting with a gov't that is guilty of genocide in Darfur- for nothing.

And PLEASE one of you rightwingers who buys all this hook line and sinker- why does TSA toss out your ziplock bag if it is smaller than the quart size??? I read that yesterday and I know personally that TSA is confused. Flying out of DC, the concerns are liquids and gels - flying out of Chicago, it is liquids and gels and lotions. This despite TSA's own signs saying "liquids and gels" in O'Hare. In DC, my tiny hand lotion wasn't a problem but it was at O'Hare.

October 23, 2006 1:34 PM  

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