egalitarianism for asses

Gerald Posner examines the horrendous bureaucratic flaws that allowed Nigerian terrorist bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to waltz onto an incoming flight to the United States, and asks a question on many people's minds:

How did someone whose father, the recently retired chairman of Nigeria's First Bank, apparently warned American embassy officials several weeks ago that his son's religious views had become increasingly extreme and militant, gain access to a plane heading to the United States?
How indeed.

It strikes me that preventing such people from ever getting near, much less on a plane to the United States ought to be priority number one for those entrusted with airline security. But instead of focusing on keeping dangerous people off planes, efforts seem to be directed towards further inconveniencing and penalizing ordinary travelers. It wasn't enough to confiscate your nearly empty toothpaste tube because the label said it once contained six ounces of toothpaste. Now they're talking about body scans, and even looking up your asshole electronically. Never mind the cost or inconvenience:

Douglas Laird, former security director for Northwest Airlines, is a proponent of the backscatter machine in airports worldwide. The device has sparked controversy by people who consider it an invasion of privacy.

Laird said the machines, which cost about $200,000, are a less-invasive -- and less risky -- alternative to devices so powerful they would show passengers' bones.

"With backscatter, when you scan, you'd see a silhouette of the body," said Laird, president of Nevada-based Laird & Associates, who advises airlines and governments about aviation security.

"You could see whatever was on the outside of the body, on the surface of the body or anything sewn into the lining of your coat. It would show up as kind of a gray mass."

He shrugs off privacy complaints.

"I believe we have to give up some rights for the safety of everybody," he said. "It's a real nerve that you touch when you mention that."

It's not so much the searches or the privacy issue that concerns me as it is the lack of focus on the reason for subjecting everyone who flies to ever more intrusive searches. This obsession with treating everyone equally seems to make people forget that the very reason for the intrusive searches is the fact that there are people like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who want to blow themselves up. If we're going to talk about giving up some rights for the safety of everybody, doesn't it seem logical that the fewer people who have to give up rights, the better?

Instead, there seems to be growing tacit acceptance of an absurd proposition -- that it is better to let people who want to blow themselves up fly and look up everyone's butthole than look up the buttholes only of people who want to blow themselves up.

What am I missing here?

Is the goal to move toward a world where people who believe in religious suicide have a right to fly, and to better facilitate this we will all bend over to accommodate them?

In the name of "safety"?

MORE: I should probably remind readers that when I refer to "those who believe in religious suicide," I do not mean to imply that all Muslims support religious suicide. Far from it. As Ali Eteraz points out, "25% of US Muslims under 30 support suicide bombings in some capacity," and the study he links reports that the numbers shrink with age.

Still, I think it's worth asking, should those who support suicide bombing have an automatic right to fly?

And if so, how far do the rest of us have to go in accommodating them?

MORE: Annie Jacobsen says "the TSA has a lot of explaining to do, starting with why Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was not placed on the U.S. no-fly list."

"According to the family members, Mutallab has been uncomfortable with the boy's extreme religious views and had six months ago reported his activities to United States' embassy, Abuja and Nigerian security agencies," reported Nigerian news outlet This Day.

If this is proves to be true, the TSA has a lot of explaining to do, starting with why Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was not placed on the U.S. no-fly list. And what qualified a radicalized engineering student for travel to the U.S. under a religious visa? The State Department, which grants visas, and the Department of Homeland Security, which participates in the review and approval of such visas, have a lot of explaining to do. That Mutallab began his Detroit-bound journey halfway across the world in Africa bringing with him only carry-on luggage raises long-ignored questions about transporting bombs and/or suicide bombers into the U.S. from flights originating at third-world airports. If a passenger such as Mutallab was so easily able to board an airplane with explosives in Africa, why would he not be re-screened in Schiphol before heading on to the United States?

I think the "explanation" is ultimately grounded in the idea that even extreme religious views should be no bar to getting a visa to the U.S. boarding a plane, or anything else.

Instead, according to the egalitarian spread-the-risk doctrine, it's everyone else who should be inconvenienced.

MORE: Incredibly, Janet Napolitano says "the system worked." Jonah Goldberg thinks she should be fired:

I watched her on three shows and each time she was more annoying, maddening and absurd than the pevious appearance. It is her basic position that the "system worked" because the bureaucrats responded properly after the attack. That the attack was "foiled" by a bad detonator and some civilian passengers is proof, she claims, that her agency is doing everything right. That is just about the dumbest thing she could say, on the merits and politically. I would wager that not one percent of Americans think the system is "working" when terrorists successfully get bombs onto planes (and succeed in activating them). Probably even fewer think it's fair that they have to take off their shoes, endure delays and madness while a known Islamic radical -- turned in by his own father -- can waltz onto a plane (and into the country). DHS had no role whatsoever in assuring that this bomb didn't go off. By her logic if the bomb had gone off, the system would have "worked" since it has done everything right.
I guess it depends on how you define "system," doesn't it?

posted by Eric on 12.27.09 at 11:59 AM


I greatly appreciate your open comment policy, especially when confronted with the absurd registration requirements at PJobM, Instaputz, and TNR WaPo, ATL and too many others.

Let's see how they spin this butthole stuff, shall we?

dr kill   ·  December 27, 2009 7:47 PM

Only 25% of US Muslims support suicide bombings? Break out the Champagne and roast a pig while we read The Satanic Verses - we can celebrate the moderation of Islam in America.
Hot damn!

Frank   ·  December 27, 2009 8:15 PM

Tsk-tsk. Everyone knows that Muslims are innocent victims of Western (especially, US) imperialism and aggression. It is perfectly understandable that they might, sometimes, go overboard a little. The only way to prevent future acts of self-defense would be to join the liberation forces in their just struggle against democracy, Barbie, dirty Jews and clean armpits.

Bleepless   ·  December 27, 2009 9:37 PM

In the wake of 9/11, several possible main philosophies of airport security were advanced and discussed.

It was determined, after careful study, that the proposal that gives us our current TSA butthole revue was the only proposal advanced that required the formation of an entire new department of national government AND mandated the hiring of vast new ranks of relatively unschooled and inexperienced union fodder. Several system proposals were reviewed that would have had a near-100% chance of detecting explosives or weapons, but these all failed the overriding "expansion of fed gov" base requirement.

It's both funny and sad that the old joke as we awaited our chance to Meet The TSA ("will they be happy and joking today, or will they drag me off and search me in the abandoned locker room below the terminal until I've missed my flight if I even attempt a humorous remark myself?") - the old joke as we tried to retie our shoelaces on the run was "I'm sure glad he was a shoe bomber and not an underwear bomber!"

Humor always seems to return to collect its own debts, I guess.

bobby b   ·  December 27, 2009 9:58 PM

There are times when I wished we had the same fervent adherence to our beliefs, as the Musslemen have towards theirs.

We have had an irreducible reliance upon rational thought as the starting point for modern Western Civ. That commitment to irreduction has given way to a new impulse, comparative value systems that deny the both an history of modern comparative thought and the evaluation of the impacts these comparative thought systems have had as an end result for those societies that have adopted them.

It makes one wonder whether or not history, as a college, is still taught as a field of inquiry in our schools and colleges. One is tempted to conclude that this is no longer the case.

OregonGuy   ·  December 27, 2009 11:59 PM

If they electronically search my asshole, can they just go ahead and take care of a colonoscopy while they're doing it?

If so, it might actually be worth it.

John Drake   ·  December 28, 2009 3:07 AM

The embassy officials probably ignored the warning because they took it for spam.

Hogan   ·  December 28, 2009 9:36 AM

Religious suicide or religious homicide?

gunther   ·  December 28, 2009 10:57 AM

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