FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fear of Terrorism is Making Us Crazy, Especially in the US

When I lived in China, there was a story going around about a China Airlines flight in which both the pilot and the co-pilot had left the cockpit and then, on their return, found the door locked. They reportedly got a fire ax, and with the whole planeload of freaked out passengers watching in horror, started wailing in the metal door. The co-pilot then turned, and seeing the panic developing, calmly drew the curtain across the aisle, hiding their work from view. The axe’s bashing continued until they broke the latch and got back to the controls.

Lucky this was before the 9-11 attacks! Now, because some terrorists forced their way into crew cabins and took over a few planes, virtually all aircraft have reinforced cabin doors that cannot be broken into. Predictably, this panicky response has led to a new kind of risk: mass passenger deaths by pilot suicide. A young Lufthansa pilot, apparently with a death wish but wanting to have his demise make a murderous impact, waited until the pilot had left for the loo, then locked him out and sent the plane into the side of a French Alp.

So what do we do now? Put a toilet in the cabin of every plane so that neither pilot or co-pilot ever has to leave her or his colleague alone in the cabin during a flight?

Of course, we’ve already got a problem since another solution that the FAA came up with to terrorists on planes commandeering a flight was to allow pilots, most of whom are retired military pilots, to bring a gun on board. Of course that is only a good idea if the pilot is mentally stable and a good shot. What if the pilot is the whack job? The gun just makes the job of destroying the plane that much easier.

It is certainly a tragedy that 149 innocent people including a class of 16-year-olds and a couple of babies, went to their doom along with the deranged Lufthansa co-pilot, but the disaster shows how nuts our societies have become because of overblown fears of terrorism.

Just think about the insane delays, the fraught confrontations, the needless X-rays, the missed flights and the sheer nuttiness of the post-9-11 security screenings — especially in the US. We have to remove our shoes because one guy tried to light up a “shoe bomb” that probably wouldn’t have done anything to the plane anyhow. I remember waiting in line once as a TSA inspector removed the booties from a three-month-old baby in a carrier at Chicago O’Hare because the rules said shoes had to come off and go through the X-ray machine. Never mind that a dedicated bomber could down a plane by bringing in six 3 oz bottles of nitro in a sealed plastic bag without any problem — enough to blow out the side of the plane from his seat. (Thankfully, fears touted by the government two years back of alleged terrorist plans to stuff explosives up their colons for detonation in flight never materialized, or we’d all be getting proctological exams now before boarding!)

There are so many ways someone could get through any kind of screening and onto a plane with either a weapon or a bomb it’s ridiculous.

Recently my daughter arrived from London on a Virgin flight to Orlando with a connection to Chicago. The flight arrived too late for her to get through customs and make her connecting flight so she had to spend the night and take another flight in the morning. But her bag was sent on ahead of her on the original connecting flight! So if she’d been a terrorist, that bag could have taken down the plane and she could have disappeared. Nice job TSA. I’ve also been on flights where my baggage got left behind and was then sent on to me later. That kind of thing would be easy for a terrorist to arrange to happen.

It got so bad that for a while, after the “underwear bomber” episode, that for a while some of us who Homeland Security had it in for found ourselves having to strip to underwear before boarding a plane. Screening algorithms also led to people being barred from flights because they had a common name: Muhammad Islam, for example, the arab equivalent of John Doe. Or Ted Kennedy. One 75-year-old nun kept finding herself on a no-fly list because she regularly flew down to Ft. Benning Georgia to protest the activities of the US Army’s School of the Americas (a “school” that for years has, ironically, trained government terrorists in Latin America).

I’ve also watched suppliers wheeling goods for the terminal shops right past security — boxes of foodstuffs, stacks of bundled newspapers and magazines, tourist goods, etc. If someone wanted to smuggle a weapon on a plane, all they’d need to do would be slip it into one of those supply trolleys, or even get a job as an airport worker. I’m sure there are plenty of ways that could be done by a ground crew worker too, who deals with loading baggage or prepping the plane.

What it boils down to is acceptance of risk, and how much we want to do to try and reduce it.

The US has gone way too far in my view. Of course the worst thing is the obsessive Big Brother spying that the government has been ramping up ever since 9-11, from the NSA’s efforts to “sweep up” all communications to the Patriot Act, with its wholesale evisceration of the Bill of Rights. But there are many other costs that we are now paying for this obsessive fear of terror.

Air travel is just one example of this madness.

Take our recently built YMCA. It has five locker rooms. Really, five. Why? Because there’s such a fear these days of predatory pedophiles abroad in the land that the planners of the new building thought they’s best have male and female locker rooms for adults over 18, then separate male and female locker rooms for boys and girls under 18, and a family locker room with large stalls and doors for families with small children (If we get a case somewhere in the US or a 16-year-old abusing a nine-year-old, the Y will probably have to add two more locker rooms, so they can have two for teens and two for pre-teens). You’d never see such a thing happen in Europe, where women go to the beach topless and children run around naked without a fuss, and where there’s usually some woman sitting in the public men’s room by the urinal collecting tips for keeping the place clean while they guys relieve themselves.

It can get pretty crazy. I recently brought a house guest — a visitor from Spain in town to perform a keyboard recital — to the local Y with me, so he could use swim some laps. He had come with just a bathing suit and a towel, but no wallet, figuring he wouldn’t have to worry about leaving it in a locker. But the staff wouldn’t let him in without a photo ID! When I said he was a guest at my house, and I am a Y member, they said that didn’t matter. “Rules are rules,” was the line. We had to return home to get his wallet and passport.

Music teachers at universities who teach children under 18 these days need to send their fingerprints to the FBI, again for fear they may be pedophiles (this while faculty sexual predators of students are often ignored). Some excellent musicians refuse to teach at such schools because of this absurd requirement. Who loses then? The kids.

And then there’s my pet peeve — police repression of hitch-hiking, a once-venerable practice that helped level society and allowed people to get to know each other across the land, as well as to help those without the money for a car to get places. It’s so bad lately that I’ve been threatened with jail by a thuggish local cop from a neighboring town who first lied that it was illegal to hitchhike in Pennsylvania, and then threatened to arrest me if I argued with him (actually it is only illegal to hitch in the state on a controlled access highway, or by standing in the roadway obstructing traffic). These days, the public is so terrified of hitchhiking that when I try it, usually the only people who pick me up are immigrants, who are used to hitchhikers. The joke is that police who are honest will confirm that society today in America is much much safer than it was back in the 1960s and 1970s, when I hitchhiked all over the country, and almost all the time, whether it was getting to class in college or going to visit a friend at a neighboring school.

Fear of terrorism, and miscellaneous dangers like pedophiles, pickpockets and foreigners, means we miss out on a lot in America. Few Americans travel anymore. The favored vacation is on a cruise ship, where the tourists are carefully insulated from the locals. And many countries are just blackballed because there might be a terrorist targeting Americans there.

Of course, foreigners are increasingly staying away from the US too. In part this is because of our own government’s intrusive vetting of them before granting a visa (as happened to the A-list British pop singer Cat Stevens, who was barred entry a while back. In part it’s because foreigners are afraid of the militarized police here in the US, who can be pretty brutal to people who don’t speak the language. Recall the harmless elderly Indian man who was viciously thrown face down on the sidewalk of suburban Madison, Alabama by a cop because he kept saying “No speak English” as the cop shouted at him incoherently. That poor fellow, who had just come from India to babysit his new grandchild so that his son, legally working in the US as an engineer, could go to work. The victim. who had been walking through the neighborhood admiring the houses, suffered a broken neck and paralysis that could reportedly be permanent. He’s not alone either. US police assaults on innocent tourists have been all too common.

The American nuttiness about and irrational fear of terrorism also has led to deaths. Police are quick to shoot and kill people that they “think” might be armed. Usually the victims of these shootings, which number over 1000 a year and are rising, are generally dark skinned, fitting the preconception of “terrorist,” though most acts of terror committed in the US have historically been the handiwork of white people.

It’s also expensive. There are over 2 million people in prison in America, and millions more who have prison records and so now cannot get decent jobs, or go to college. The cost of incarcerating people we’re afraid of, often for lengthy terms or for life, and of providing subsistence help to those whom we have tarred as felons and then left unemployable, is incalculable.

I attribute this rampant and corrosive fear in America to a combination of guilt and isolation. We know our country has too much stuff and too much power, and that we throw our weight and our bombs around and piss a lot of people off around the world, and so we fear those people. Here at home, those of us who have it good fear those who don’t, again not just because we are afraid they might take stuff from us, but because we feel guilty that we don’t do much to help them, instead fighting for lower taxes and fewer programs that provide help or relief for those in need. Meanwhile, we spend so much of our time inside a bubble, whether it’s our house and TV, our car, or our little work cubicle, that we don’t know or care about anyone outside our small circle of family and friends. When you don’t know people, and you also feel guilty, it leads to fear.

Terrorism plays to that fear. And political charlatans shamelessly play on it. Now we’re all paying the price, just as those 149 passengers and crew on the doomed Germanwings plane paid for the madness of giving it an unopenable terror-proof cabin door.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail