Wednesday, January 06, 2010
We got to the airport two hours early. My daughter made fun of me. Maui is not a likely terrorist target. Then again, the president was about one minute away in Oahu, and so was Rush Limbaugh, so who’s to say for sure? The thing about terrorists is that they strike when and where you don’t expect them.
So we were fine. We had time to spare, while the old woman in front of us -- and when I say old, I mean much older, like over-80 older -- struggled with the clasp of her bracelet. I don’t wear bracelets like that for just this reason, but she had a husband, and my guess is she doesn’t travel much.
Unfortunately, the husband went through first, which may tell you something about life for the past 50 years. She was stuck on the other side with the bracelet stuck on her wrist. I have bad eyes. The woman next to me had bad nails. We all stood around.
They offered to screen her physically, or whatever you call it, “to get the wand,” but she kept saying she was sure she could get the bracelet, that it must be the clasp. And as we stood, trying and failing, the line backed up and I tried to smile, and people way behind me started wondering, I’m sure, whether a man on a one-way ticket from Nigeria with no luggage was holding up the line.
He wasn’t. Just the older lady with the gold bracelet and the sticky clasp and the husband on the wrong side of the divider. She was finally rescued by a tattooed hipster whose many piercings plainly led to a greater familiarity with all forms of jewelry fasteners than the rest of us.
What a complete and total waste of time. Was there one person in the universe who thought the woman in the wheelchair was a terrorist? Could there possibly be anybody else in that line -- say, someone whose father tried to tell us that he had been radicalized, someone about whom the British knew enough to deny a visa -- who was deserving of our scrutiny?
I’m a liberal. I’m a civil libertarian. But if the country were being threatened by middle-aged Jewish women, I’d open my purse and my pockets in a New York minute. It isn’t. Nor is it being threatened by elderly ladies in wheelchairs. The frightening part of the latest directive adding to the list of those warranting special scrutiny individuals who either are from or have been traveling in countries known to harbor terrorists is not that it unfairly profiles, but that we haven’t been doing that kind of screening up to this point.
Why not? Did we think folks traveling from the Middle East and East Africa were no more dangerous than those who hailed from Finland and Norway? Does anyone in their right mind think that young men who have recently visited from Yemen should be treated no different than old white ladies in wheelchairs?
We live in a dangerous world. We are not going to convince radicalized young men to put down their arms. The father who warned us about his own son understood it. The Jordanian doctor who was recruited to work with our intelligence officials and then turned into a suicide bomber proves it.
We can do everything reasonable to provide the security and stability that may reduce the attractions of radical ideology. But where it has already taken root, our only option is to root it out and destroy the threat. We will not do so successfully if we’re all wasting our time fidgeting with the clasp of an antique gold bracelet.
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See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich
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