27 December 2009

in a related story

I have a couple thoughts on the "war on terror"

or at least, some people have some thoughts

"Maybe the terrorists figure they win everytime we in the West spend millions of man-hours being hassled, inconvenienced, and generally put upon by a myriad of stupid security measures."

"When are we going to rebel and demand a sensible set of precautions?"

Also surprises me how well The Siege holds up as political commentary on this issue. From before 9-11 (by several years) and before all the irrational panic that brought us a regime willing to detain and torture people for no apparent gain to American sovereignty and the safety of its people or way of life.
A couple lines in particular:

"The time has come for one man to suffer in order to save hundreds of lives."
"One Man? What about two, huh? What about six? How about public executions?"
"What if what they really want is for us to herd our children into stadiums like we're doing? And put soldiers on the street and have Americans looking over their shoulders? Bend the law, shred the Constitution just a little bit? Because if we torture him, General, we do that and everything we have fought, and bled, and died for is over. And they've won. They've already won!"

Now I don't think that our Nigerian friend and his tenuous alliances with Yemeni terrorists had thought that line all the way out. I think on the ground floor like this the purpose is to hurt and to hit back at a perceived (and often genuine) oppressor of Muslim brothers around the globe (metaphorically speaking). But it occurs to me that the point of terrorism isn't really to kill people. It's to terrorize, to spread fear and mayhem, and yet somehow the response of governments for decades around the globe is to instill and entrench that fear, and to systemically deploy it themselves? On what variety of thinking does a system of irrational panic and hassle create security or even the illusion of it? It is perfectly rational after a robbery or a assault or a rape to feel a sense of violation and panic, to seek out strong measures to prevent, to protect, to insulate against future violations. But in those cases we have direct and plausible preventative tactics. We could take self-defence classes, buy home security systems, flee to the suburbs, or whatever. Those may be overreactions and be somewhat irrational in a long-term scale (balanced against other needs), but they will have demonstrative effects on the ability of people to purposefully commit harms against us or at least our own ability to resist those attacks. Our actual security will be measurably improved in addition to the considerable improvement in the illusory feeling of security.

I have not seen a demonstrative impact that taking shoes off at the airport or denying people pillows and blankets or personal diversions on the airplane actually prevents people from doing silly and dangerous things like attempting to blow up airplanes. Quite simply if harassing people on more or less unrelated things is the best we can come up with from a systemic viewpoint to react to a notional demand for more security (which I'm not even sure that this in and of itself exists either after events like this, at least not anymore), then we need to think more seriously about calling strongly and immediately for the abolition of most of our security measures and administrations. No decent security administration would have been concerned about this fellow's (read: our) footwear or his (read: our) ability to receive marginal comfort and rest on a transatlantic flight. You know what they would be concerned about? The fact that he disappeared into Yemen and was reputed to be "educated" amongst radical clerics there, that the British government denied him entry to the UK, things like that. If we have a bureaucracy that cannot get facts straight like this and is more worried about presenting appearances, then I think it would be fair to say we should scrap that bureaucracy and start over from scratch with at least some of the following questions as a basis:

1) What actually prevents or deters terrorist incidents on air travel? (if anything)
2) Who commits those acts, can we come up with a reasonable profile of who that might be and will that help us investigate and prevent action by focusing resources? Would that constitute racial profiling and thus be insensible to do or be merely criminal profiling, where is the boundary line between the two. Historically, terrorist acts involving airplanes (American ones that is) have taken a relatively ethnic character between Cubans and Muslims, however historical terrorism in America generally is rather ambivalent to any ethnic or religious considerations as far as a demonstrative pattern. Is our interest preventing terrorism or protecting corporate airlines?
3) What resources do we have available to gather information (via domestic police or international)?
4) Can we coordinate those resources with those of other nation-states or NGOs?
5) What is the maximum/minimum cost that travelers are willing to put up with in terms of hassle, time, and undue attention in order to have an expectation of security (or more to the point, why don't people have a present expectation of security in the relative absence of hostile acts)?
6) If the cost of providing security directly on airplanes exceeds the cost passengers are willing to pay, why subsidize air travel to disguise those costs from consumers?
7) If, in the end, the actual "best" security is to let passengers tackle hostile passengers with threatening intentions, then why all the fuss?
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