On Christmas Day there was a potential airline terrorist incident here in the United States. My in-laws, a retired couple living in Wyoming, were flying from Billings, Mont., to New York. After stripping them of their coats, belts, and shoes, an alert Federal TSA security officer spotted a 6-ounce tub of yogurt with live active enzymes. Loath to throw out a perfectly good container of Greek God, fig-flavored, acidophilus-infused yogurt with a fig at the bottom, my mother-in-law dug the plastic spoon out of her backpack (I'm surprised they were going to let her on the plane with a potentially deadly plastic spoon) and defiantly indulged herself before getting back in line.
We can all feel safer knowing that every reasonable precaution is being taken to ensure our flight safety in a terror-free America.
In a separate, unrelated incident, a 23-year old Nigerian man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a plane as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam using a pouch of chemicals sewn inside his underwear. Thankfully, despite his engineering degree from University College London, he only set himself aflame.
TSA immediately announced security measures even more personally invasive and humiliating than we currently suffer. "Every passenger flying into an American airport will now be subjected to an extra 'pat-down' body search and will have their hand luggage examined at terminal gates by airline staff just before they board," The Sunday Times of London reported.
But brace yourself, travelers. That's just the initial, reflexive response. Since Richard Reid attempted to blow up a plane over the Atlantic Ocean by lighting an explosive in his shoe, we've had to remove our shoes and belts before boarding a plane or entering a federal building. In the future, you should expect to have to remove your pants, too. So please be mindful of this, and make everyone's progress through security as quick and efficient as possible by remembering to wear flight-appropriate clothing: a T-shirt and sweatpants, or perhaps even a surgical gown, if you're comfortable with that.
Charles Hurt of the New York Post had this reflection on our absurd airport security situation:
Adding insult to this very scary injury is to think of the thousands of honest Americans who boarded airplanes during the holidays and endured so much more intrusive security than Abdulmutallab.
Sure as the sun rose, grandmothers were groped. Mothers were jerked aside and forced to take a swig of their baby's milk to ensure neither they nor their infant had terroristic motives in flying from Akron to Chicago.
But a sketchy Muslim from Nigeria who has been reported dangerous? Welcome aboard! And welcome to a country where only your dignity will be protected at all costs.
The absurdity, of course, is the notion that my sweet, retired, quintessentially New England in-laws would be contemplating blowing up the plane, whether by enhanced yogurt container or any other means. The Washington Post quotes Ken Dunlap, security director of the International Air Transport Association, who said what everyone is thinking: "We've spent eight years looking for little scissors and toenail clippers. . . . Perhaps the emphasis should be looking for bad people."
But as Jennifer Rubin at Commentary pointed out, that would require the political indecency of explicitly identifying particular "profiles" of who the bad people are. It is only the frantic political left, however, that considers applying such profiles indecent, and even atrocious. But they are shrill and extremely intimidating. The Bush administration feared giving any appearance of discrimination, and the Obama administration would allow almost anything to happen rather than make---much less declare---such judgments.
Of course, while we should be frank about the demographics of 21st-century terrorism, prudent airline security need not target everyone with a Muslim name for enhanced pre-boarding scrutiny. In addition to the coordinated and adequately staffed efforts of the CIA and FBI, a combination of new screening technologies with the latest insights in behavioral assessments can allow a much freer concourse of ordinary travelers at airports.
In our efforts to address the domestic terror threat, our problem is that we are hobbled by unjustified political sensitivities growing out of a morally aggressive political ideology that denies reality, and therefore does not alleviate but instead causes human suffering.
And so while a TSA security officer was escorting my mother-in-law out of the security-check area, holding the terror-threat yogurt away from his body as though it might explode at any moment, and only once outside of the checkpoint area returning it to the passenger (as, no doubt, regulations require), Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, having been actively involved with radicals in London and Yemen, his name on an FBI watch list, carrying a U.S. visa but no passport, was setting himself on fire on a Northwest Airlines jet over Detroit in an attempt to blow it out of the sky.
D.C. Innes is an assistant professor of politics at The King's College in New York City.