The war on our own citizens: Airport security
By Gennady Stolyarov II
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
I loathe terrorists. If I had my way, every single Islamic fundamentalist proven beyond doubt to be guilty of assailing innocent civilians or colluding with the assailants would be relentlessly hunted down, wherever in the world he might be, and dealt with as an enemy combatant during a hostile encounter—on the spot. But, I must admit, there is something I loathe far more than terrorists. However repugnant the terrorists' fanatical ideology of Wahhabist Islam, their hatred of the accomplishments of Western civilization, and their disdain for basic human liberties might be, not a single terrorist has ever harmed me directly. What has harmed me directly, however, was the alleged "response" to terrorism from the governments of the United States and Great Britain, a response which has nothing to do with hunting down terrorists, which will not achieve a single blow in the war against them, and which will only win the terrorists' campaign for them, by annihilating those very basic liberties the militants seek to wipe out.
To be clear, I do not necessarily oppose the foreign policy of the U.S. and British governments with regard to the War of Terror. I have supported the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the concerted campaign to arrest terror suspects overseas. The best defense against terrorism is a good offense, and the only way to be certain that terrorism does not recur is to wipe out the terrorists in their own enclaves. I will continue to advocate a more assertive foreign policy on behalf of Western governments, including a broadening of said governments' powers to covertly depose all foreign government officials proven to fund or collaborate in terrorist activities and to intervene militarily wherever the lives and property of Americans living abroad are threatened.
However, I would like to clarify another no less significant point: I am not a terrorist. Most people in America are not terrorists. Most Western tourists traveling abroad are not terrorists. To presume even the remotest likelihood of them being terrorists is insulting and absurd. Furthermore, acting on such a presumption is a costly, frivolous waste of resources that could far better be employed to hunt down and apprehend actual terror suspects.
Yet this bit of common sense seems to be lacking in those who enforce the domestic portion of the War on Terror, an endeavor which can more accurately be called the War on Our Own Citizens. I have been a victim of the War on Our Own Citizens on July 9, 2005, upon my departure from Frankfurt International Airport home to Chicago after a three-week stay in Europe.
Eighty-Year-Old Asian Terrorists?
When arriving in Frankfurt from Düsseldorf, with the intention of transferring to Chicago, I hoped for an extremely brief stay; my plane from Düsseldorf was already an hour behind schedule, and I would need to hurry to catch the Chicago flight. Relying on my capacity to run swiftly, I presumed that I would manage. Alas, what I did not foresee was a security situation much altered from the one I had experienced in late June, when I had arrived in Frankfurt from Chicago. My flight was scheduled to depart two days after the now infamous London attacks, a fact which was already giving me an ominous, foreshadowing fear—not of terrorists, but of my own government and its tendency to produce responses incommensurate with the original threat.
In the words of Milton Friedman, "The government solution to a problem is often worse than the original problem," and I had noticed already that, the more grievous a given problem, the more blunders a modern welfare state commits in addressing it. The London attacks had indeed been horrifying, and, upon hearing of them initially, and seeing footage of the wanton carnage militant Islamist fanatics had imposed on innocent, productive civilians, I was considerably strengthened in my desire to see every single terrorist criminal wiped off the face of the Earth.
However, unlike the welfare-state bureaucrats of today, I knew precisely why it is necessary to eradicate terrorists with a firm resolve: because terrorists threaten the founding principles of Western civilization, principles of individual rights, of free markets and free association, of sacred and inviolate life, liberty, property, and privacy. The very act of terrorism is an act opposing these principles, an act of coercion which imposes on innocent individuals a will not their own, a will that they perish for the sake of somebody else's jihadist delusions. I feared—rightfully, as it turned out—that Western governments, in the attempt to address this problem, would flout any understanding of the nature of the problem itself, and of the need to abstain at all costs from sacrificing these sacrosanct Western principles in the illusory hopes of thereby combating terrorism. The bureaucrats, as usual, did an excellent job in fulfilling my expectations of their harmful incompetence.
What I did not foresee upon arriving in Frankfurt were the specifics of the situation. En route to my boarding gate, I—and everyone else headed in my direction—received the pleasant company of border guards at passport control, twice. Now, a single passport control might be frustrating but understandable. Although I am a supporter of absolute worldwide open borders, I recognize that a country which does not adhere to such a policy can reasonably request to check the papers of those who would seek to enter and/or leave it—once. Looking at the same documents twice or more is not going to reveal suspicious terrorist inclinations. My passport does not have magic ink on it which appears only when the second border guard examines it. Furthermore, the entire practice presents absolutely no assistance in apprehending actual militant criminals before they strike. As the French commander in The Battle of Algiers, a classic 1966 film on the aims and methods of terror, remarked, "If anyone has his papers in order, it is the terrorist." Terrorists are fanatics who invest their entire lives' (and often deaths') work in the devastation they wreak. If they do not take elementary precautions, such as procuring proper documentation, prior to entering an airport, then they belong on the Darwin Awards and not in al Qaeda. Repeated passport controls will not identify a terrorist from a crowd and will result in nothing but a nuisance to travelers. This particular nuisance, however, contributed to my inability to board my flight on time.
Yet far worse than passport controls were the pat-down searches that everybody was indiscriminately subjected to. Any decent, privacy-respecting human being is appalled at the prospect of being approached by a random individual on the street and handled by that individual for half a minute. Why ought the situation be different if that individual is wearing the uniform of an airport security employee? If the search of one's home, without the suspicion of criminal activities, is unconstitutional, and would not be undertaken even under the Patriot Act (which still only warrants searches of homes of individuals suspected of terror connections), why should the search of one's own body, a far more private form of property, if anything, be warranted without any suspicion of criminality? Universal pat-down searches are as arbitrary and as invasive as the practices of a perverse street criminal who spies people from a corner and abducts every passerby to handle him or her for thirty seconds. Such a criminal would be put behind bars, and with good reason. Why does the same penalty not apply to the government bureaucrats who conceive of identical appalling measures?
The searches, needless to say, occupied far too much time—fifteen minutes, to be precise—for me to catch my transfer flight. Indirectly, the bureaucrats' atrocities cost me another two hours' time as I ran throughout the airport from one Lufthansa official to another in the hopes of arranging for a later flight that day on an already overbooked plane. It was through sheer luck that I was able to get the assistance of a Lufthansa employee who personally took care to ensure that I would be reserved a spot. Therein lies the difference between private service and government disservice. A private company is concerned about profits above all, and it would not be to its advantage to spend money on arranging for a hotel for me to stay in overnight. The employee recognized this and wisely came up with a solution optimal for us both; I would depart sooner, and Lufthansa would incur no additional costs. A government, on the other hand, is dominated by the monstrous ideologies of egalitarianism and one-size-fits-all. It would not dare take into account individual facts and circumstances to withhold unwarranted suspicions from those individuals. That would be "discriminatory" and characteristic of "unequal treatment," after all. If it must conduct searches, it must do so to everyone, so that everyone might become equally miserable and hindered. Furthermore, the government has a potentially infinite and inexhaustible fount of taxpayer funds to employ, so it absolutely disregards fiscal prudence as a criterion for determining what policies to use. If it must spend outrageous amounts to assure everyone's equal misery, it will do so.
I did not get rid of the bureaucrats just then, either. At the beginning of my trek to the various Lufthansa offices, I had to submit to passport control, again, because I was supposedly "entering" Germany now, after having "left" it during the prior passport controls. The third border guard, incredulous that I could have missed my flight after just being given clearance to leave Germany, eyed me maliciously and pretended not to understand either my English or my German explanations, even though they were quite obvious in their reasoning: I needed to enter the common zone of the airport so as to find my new gate! After five minutes, I at last managed to convince him that I would be leaving Germany (for real) on that same day, and he gave me clearance to proceed—but only after viewing stacks of other documentation.
To give credit to the German government, that was the extent to which its officials hindered me. Theirs was also an explicit response to the July 7 attacks, since all my prior encounters with German airport security had left me with the impression that it is far milder than that in the United States. But the War on Our Own Citizens certainly did not stop there. Just to my luck, after traveling to the area where my new boarding gate was located, I learned that all passengers to Britain and the United States were sorted into a special line and forced to go through another series of two successive pat-down searches, this time organized by the Land of the Formerly Free. Needless to say, everybody was screened. Children were screened. Upscale Caucasian women were screened. Even a quiet eighty-year-old Asian man who stood in front of me, about five feet tall and wearing a business suit, was screened. What absurdity! How much likelihood can there be that an eighty-year-old man, obviously of Far, not Middle Eastern origins, would ever commit an act of terrorism? And would he do it wearing the business suit, the clothing most symbolic of the West's characteristic free commerce and prosperity which terrorists seek to destroy? The screening was draconian, too. After he was searched, the Asian businessman sat down on a nearby chair and awaited the arrival of his belongings on the conveyer belt. As he reached to put his shoes back on (needless to say, shoes, belts, watches, and wallets were all temporarily confiscated from us during the procedure), the security guard firmly lowered his baton between the man's hand and his shoes, almost striking him, and pronouncing sternly: "Do not put your shoes on yet." Then he proceeded to scour inside the shoes as if wanting to find something suspicious within them.
After the pat-down searches came two more passport controls (which also, quite surprisingly, failed to find anything new in anybody's passport), one of them performed during entry to the individual gate itself. As a matter of fact, nobody was allowed into the gate lobby, where all the chairs were stationed, until passports were screened. Since the line was enormous, it occupied another thirty minutes of my time to wait for a final inspection of my already fourfold-examined papers. Whole rows of chairs remained empty during this time, while passengers were forced to stand in conditions as dismal and unaccommodating as those in bureaucrats' offices in the old Soviet Union. Even worse, there was no standard "line" for people to enter to wait to get cleared. Instead, the officials quite arbitrarily called out the names of passengers they already knew would be traveling (and somehow did not already know not to be terrorists), while the rest were scattered throughout the hallway, constantly needing to retain their attention on the proceedings, for fear that they might miss their summons. My name was among the last called, but I did get on the flight, as promised.
In summation, I was subjected to four pat-down searches, five passport controls, and six hours totally wasted at Frankfurt International Airport. Terrorists, however loathsome they are, have never taken from me anything of mine, not even to mention my life. Even making the generous assumption that I live to be 100 years old, and that six hours is a mere third of a waking day, the War on Our Own Citizens has already taken from me one 109,500th of my own life, self-righteously and without compensation, while humiliating me through invasive touching of my person and the insulting suspicion that I would ever inflict violence on anybody. The loss of human life due to terrorism was terrible, indeed, but what does our government accomplish by augmenting the loss by harming more of its own citizens? Does the "equal" nature of the harm done nullify the fact that it was a harm, and that it could have easily been avoided while focusing on the genuine task at hand: the offensive against terrorists abroad, not eighty-year-old Asian travelers in Frankfurt?
The Unequal Solution
The way to end the War on Our Own Citizens is so simple that only government could not have thought of it. It is to relentlessly pursue those who are terrorists, and even those suspected of being terrorists, while leaving alone absolutely everybody else. Applied to airports this could only mean one thing: selective screening. There is a fact which modern politically correct media and government are adamantly opposed to admitting, even though it is staring them in the face. That fact is: the War on Terror is a War on Islamic Terror. All acts of terrorism against American citizens, since September 11th and even before, have been the responsibility of fanatics following a specific ideology, a specific brand of Islam, namely, Wahhabism—a form of rabid reaction to Western civilization which arose in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century and has spread ever since. There have been other terrorists in past times, but incidents like the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh were considered—as they should be—plain crimes to be dealt with by the anti-criminal measures already within the grasp of federal, state, and local governments. They were certainly not the target of a "war", and they were effectively retaliated against prior to September 11th and the government policies that arose from it. Because the incentive for the Western world to begin a more comprehensive anti-terror effort came solely as a result of Wahhabi Islamist terror, said terror should be considered the sole target of any extraordinary government measures.
The implication of this principle is simple: anybody who is not a known Wahhabi Islamist should be left alone. Caucasians are not Wahhabi Islamists. Far Easterners are not Wahhabi Islamists. Africans and African-Americans are not Wahhabi Islamists. Some might belong to the Nation of Islam, but the Nation of Islam is not Wahhabism, and has not been assailing innocent citizens since the 1970s. Even moderate Muslims from the Middle East are not Wahhabi Islamists. If somebody does not look like a terrorist, if somebody does not have terrorist connections, then he or she is not a terrorist! Only government officials can have such superior wisdom and intelligence as to refuse to see this self-evident fact.
Applied to airports, this would mean that pat-down searches, repeated passport controls, or worse atrocities (like installing scanning machines capable of displaying a person's unclothed body), should not be imposed on anybody who is beyond doubt not a terror suspect. Such individuals should be subjected only to pre-September 11th security standards. Those who are to be searched should not be singled out solely because they appear Arabic. Most Arabic individuals are not terrorists, and I insist that this be recognized as well. To preempt stereotypical objections, I thus insist that my suggestion is not racist—almost all persons of Middle Eastern origin will be exempt from searches under it as well. But facts remain facts: all those who have committed acts of Wahhabi Islamist terror have been Middle Eastern. Thus, in ruling out non-Middle Easterners from airport screening and miscellaneous suspicions, we would be not racist, but reasonable. During World War II, it would have been as reasonable to suggest that all members of the kamikaze order were… Japanese, and most of them were in Japan! If the American military of that time had begun to randomly search, interrogate, and even apprehend non-Japanese individuals for fear of kamikaze activities, such actions would rightly be considered absurd and arbitrary. Would the typical person of Middle Eastern origin, for example, ever have been a kamikaze?
But, while my suggestion is not racist, it certainly is discriminatory. It discriminates against actual terror suspects and in favor of those not thus suspected. Instead of entertaining the frightening prospects of a national database for all citizens, the United States government should create a universal database for all terror suspects, which would then be shared with security personnel in all major airports of the world. Instead of wasting their time and taxpayer funds performing frivolous searches on those who could not possibly be terrorists, the security persons could be given training sessions where they would be acquainted with the names (and pseudonyms, if any), appearances, histories, and other known characteristics of a finite amount of terror suspects. The sole purpose of those personnel in their further work would be simple vigilance and readiness to apprehend somebody who resembles the descriptions they have learned and can refer to at any time via the terror suspects database. If such suspects are indeed located, they can be dealt with via methods far more comprehensive than the typical pat-down search.
Indeed, the only alternative to being discriminatory in everything, including government policy, is to be egalitarian—which means inflicting the same level of suffering and discomfort upon everybody. This is precisely the premise under which airport security has operated post-September 11th. It is time for the American public to ask policymakers a refreshingly insightful question: Why is the concept of "equality" held as a sacred cow when it necessarily means imposing greater harms on everybody? Americans should also recall the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson on how the false idol of equality had perpetrated a mass slaughter in his own time: "The deepest cause which made the French Revolution so disastrous to liberty was its theory of equality." "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" are not mutually consistent ideals. Fraternity can only be granted by private choice. As for liberty and equality, it is either-or.
Apologists for contemporary airport security might claim that, although, indeed, such measures do nothing to prevent terrorism, they offer a "psychological" security for people who wish to travel. I consider this argument highly flawed, more so even than the egalitarian claim.
First, there is one reality, and that reality is absolute. Either a threat exists in that absolute reality, or it does not. Either that threat gets addressed, or it does not. The consequences of that threat either materialize, or they do not. Mere wishing and hoping that the threat goes away, or pretending that it does not exist, cannot eliminate the threat. If anything, such mindsets aggravate it, for the threat can then develop a magnitude which might have been averted had it been actually addressed. Giving people the illusion of security through actions which do nothing to address the actual threat is a form of gross evasion, which then leads people to harbor the fond delusion that the threat has been at least mitigated and it is permissible to continue as usual, in spite of the fact that nothing effective has been done. Aside from the gross intrusiveness and inconvenience of uniformly applied airport security, it will indeed serve to mollify the population, away from pressing for more effective measures in the offensive against terror.
Second, psychology is not the government's job. The government's job is to shape policies, not minds; it is to affect the objective facts of reality in such a manner as to secure the rights of life, liberty, and property for all of its citizens. The realm of the individual mind must be completely free of government; just as government should not interfere with the products of the mind, such as speech and property, nor should it seek to affect its contents. What somebody's feelings, fears, wishes, whims, intuitions, stereotypes, and miscellaneous unwarranted mental associations might be is simply none of the government's concern. Its concern should be solely how to protect those individuals from criminal activity, foreign or domestic, so that the individuals thus protected are left being as rational or irrational as they personally choose. I understand that this statement defies the very essence of mob politics, shaped by pressure groups, opinion polls, and "approval ratings" as opposed to objective facts of reality. However, I prefer the objective facts of reality to mob politics. Personally, I would much rather prefer "feeling" insecure while all the terrorists are truly being hunted down, than "feeling" absolutely at ease while nothing is being done to retaliate against them.
Third, truly intelligent individuals see through all the pseudo-security measures taken to affect perception rather than reality. Aside from knowing that the threat of terror remains, and thus continuing to feel insecure, such individuals also come to feel deceived by their own government. As a result, the government which practices "psychological mollification" alienates from the anti-terror effort those persons whose knowledge, industry, and intelligence might be most beneficial to it.
The alternative for Western governments and citizens to face is stark: You either wage war on the terrorists, or on your own innocent citizens. You cannot do both effectively. Every dollar and every minute you spend screening an obviously innocent person is a dollar and a minute diverted from the effort to preempt actual atrocities. Every lofty pronouncement of egalitarian values or psychological "compassion" is an act of evading the menace posed by those who have no values and no compassion. And every violation of private property and private bodies you perform is tantamount to collusion with the terrorists, for you are thus trampling on the very principles that the terrorists seek to destroy, and which it is the sacred imperative of rational men to unconditionally defend.
G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to The Autonomist, Le Quebecois Libre, and The Liberal Institute. He is also Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator , a magazine championing the Western principles of reason, rights, and progress. Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's newest science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, here and his newest non-fiction treatise, A Rational Cosmology, here . Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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