Saturday, May 7, 2016

Flying While Visible

The woman wasn’t really sick at all! Instead this quick-thinking traveler had Seen Something, and so she had Said Something.
Ivy League economist ethnically profiled, interrogated for doing math on American Airlines flight
The whole point behind an ethos of "see something/say something" is that a terrorist could literally be anywhere, and that anything out of the ordinary could be the clue needed to prevent the next attack, which could come at literally any time. And that's how: "This not-quite -White-enough guy is doing something that I don't understand, and he doesn't want to talk to me" comes to equal "suspected of terrorism." I've lived in places where, by that logic, you couldn't cross the street without becoming a suspect.

It's easy to point and laugh at whomever this woman was, but in the end, the story really isn't about her, despite the Washington Post's desire to make a laughingstock of her. It's about the fact that we're running around too busy being afraid of terrorism (and terrorists) to have a workable understanding of what the risks actually are, and therefore what we (as the public) should be doing.

In the end terrorism isn't much of a threat to us, as members of the general public. As much as groups like al Queda and Islamic State are portrayed as willing to stop at nothing to exterminate us all, the fact of the matter is that Mara Salvatrucha likely has been doing a much better job of prematurely ending the lives of Americans than either of those groups have. The destruction of the World Trade Center was splashy and attention grabbing, but it was a singular event, that would be hard to repeat in any event. Gang warfare, on the other hand grimly marches on. It's just that it marches on in neighborhoods that most national politicians will never visit or rely on for votes.

It's more likely that we'd save many more lives if some amount of the money we spend fighting the War on Terror (and the War on Drugs, for that matter) were applied to simply making driving safer. But the fact of the matter is that most of us don't hold the tens of thousands of fatalities that occur on our roads and highways every year as a problem that government should be fixing - even though it likely has at least some ability to do so. But people in government understand that if a bomb goes off in an airplane and terrorists turn out to be the culprit, heads are going to roll, in much the same way that people expect that there's a government policy that will keep their children away from drugs.

And here we are, because of it.

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