The quest to prevent future terrorist attacks upon and/or via airplanes has several fronts. One is in Afghanistan and other terrorist strongholds where such attacks can be planned and coordinated, as they were on 9/11. There, U.S. troops endure isolation from family and friends and put themselves at great physical risk. That risk includes having their gentials blown up.
The other major front is U.S. airports. There, the U.S. government has used different methods to prevent terrorists from boarding airplanes. One method is profiling. This may involve certain Americans, usually Muslims, being isolated from their fellow passengers for a few minutes while they are questioned and searched. Some Muslims — and organizations that purport to represent them — have vociferously complained that this is unacceptable.
Lately the government has employed a new approach to airline security. It involves a machine that apparently enables a security employee to see a passenger’s genitals. If passengers object to the machine, or are physically unable to undergo it, they are subjected to intrusive patdown searches in which the genital area apparently may be touched. Some Americans are vociferously complaining that this is unacceptable.
With our troops risking not just their genitals but their lives to prevent 9/11 style attacks, I find the more extreme protests of both Muslims (to profiling) and members of the general population (to the new machine) a bit jarring. To be sure, people who are singled out for special procedures for no good reason have a legitimate gripe. So do people whose privacy is momentarily invaded to no legitimate end.
But most of the bitching I hear tends not to focus with clarity on the extent to which profiling or use of the machine advances the goal of preventing terrorist attacks. It focuses instead on the fact that the complaining party simply doesn’t like what is being done to him or her. That’s not surprising given the grievance oriented state of our society, but it’s not reassuring either.
In defense of those who are bitching about the new machines, I agree with Charles Krauthammer that some of the irritation probably springs from (1) the obvious senselessness of subjecting certain types of people to the intrusion (airline pilots are the obvious example, but not the only one) and (2) the sense that the machines are being used in lieu of profiling, not in the name of best practices, but rather in homage to political correctness.
But it’s possible that profiling alone is not enough, and that widespread (though not universal) use of machines will make an important contribution to airline security. It is here, I think, that the debate should focus. To my knowledge, it has not.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill
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