Flying With the Enemy

It's time to get serious about airline security

When comedian Joan Rivers was booted off a flight from Costa Rica to Newark, N.J., this past weekend, it was not because she had perpetrated crimes against the human appearance. Rather, it was because she was a potential security risk.

In a recent column, my assertion that airport security should ignore most of us and focus on bad actors (not the Joan Rivers variety of bad actor, though one sympathizes), who tend to originate from disagreeable locales (not Hollywood) and affiliate themselves with a religious denomination (not Scientology), provoked a torrent of livid e-mails to land in my inbox.

One perturbed writer, an American Muslim, encapsulated the thoughts of many by accusing me of "encouraging ... racist profiling," calling that "inexcusable and ignorant." This sentiment also was found in the progressive blogosphere as a reaction to any mention of ethnic or religious profiling.

Evidently, the Obama administration—despite unleashing a barrage of euphemistic rationalizations—is also a nest of boorish, racist sentiment, as it instructed airports to profile travelers en route to the United States from 14 countries, most of which share some vague thematic connection. They include Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Saudi Arabia, et al.

It is a shame that anyone has to endure questioning or pat-downs or worse at airports, but the fact is that those who are behind terrorism have, by large margins, originated from these 14 nations. (Islam, incidentally, is not a race; it is a faith. So there is nothing "racist" about criticizing it or its adherents, most of whom—need it be repeated—are peaceful.)

No serious person in this nation has insinuated that Islamic religious freedoms should be infringed or curtailed. Yet if these indignant letter writers were interested in unearthing honest-to-goodness inexcusable ignorance, widespread dehumanization, and institutionalized xenophobia, they could find it in abundance in any run-of-the-mill Muslim theocracy, monocracy, or autocracy. There are many to choose from.

That reality, of course, is none of our business, as a matter of policy. Protecting citizens from foreign threats, on the other hand, is.

Understandably, this has unfurled a complex situation. Are we overreacting? What is an appropriate level of interrogation? When is war justified? What rights do enemy combatants have? Fair debates, no doubt.

But a person can oppose waterboarding or war or foreign entanglements or nation building and still accept that certain countries and religions harbor "militants"—even if such a militant makes a stopover in Frankfurt.

Yet ... the excuse-making. The tiptoeing. Terrorism is now a "man-caused disaster." The Fort Hood terrorist was just stressed out after learning about a deployment to Iraq—you know, after he voluntarily joined the Army.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the crotch bomber, was, according to the president, an "isolated extremist"—which is true, if he means the extremism is isolated to a few million people.

Obama went on to talk about the "crushing poverty" of Yemen, insinuating that neediness is a root of man-caused disasters—though the underwear bomber came from a wealthy and educated family and the "crushing poverty" of Haiti has yet to compel that nation's young men to stuff explosives down their pants.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee complained that singling out a group of people is "extreme and very dangerous. All of a sudden people are labeled as being related to terrorism just because of the nation they are from."

Well, I hate to break it to them, but Americans already relate terrorism to the nations that terrorists always seem to come from. And if there's a better way to keep extremists off planes, I'd love to hear it.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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