photo credit: msmall

Terrorists are not admittedly intelligent individuals, by and large, though they seem to consistently outsmart those who have been tasked with ensuring this nation’s safety. At least, one easily comes to this conclusion by casually observing the responses enacted by politicians and their bureaucratic minions following any sort of threat or actual attack.

What is terrorism? Stripped of its fear-inducing layer of propaganda, it is little more than an attempt to incite panic. One dictionary defines it as “the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature”. In this post, I’ll leave aside the blatantly obvious fact that most acts of alleged terrorism are actually retaliatory responses to our own aggressive meddling in others’ lives, and simply assume that the things we label as “terrorism” have no historical context and are purely meant to induce fear.

9/11 happened. It happened using airplanes. And what followed was the implementation of a bureaucratic monstrosity that a third grader would propose. The creation of a new department at the federal government to “secure the homeland”, the increased scrutiny and regulation of liquids of all sizes by the newly-created TSA, the passage of the previously-written, unread, and rushed Patriot Act, and a slew of other hasty responses have all compounded together to produce an oppressive security state that does not, in reality, provide security.

Our recent so-called “underwear bomber” is the latest illustration of the thin veneer of reassurance that coats the government’s underlying ineptitude and inabilities. That false facade is expertly explained as follows:

“Security theater” refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security. An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards.

Airport-security examples include the National Guard troops stationed at U.S. airports in the months after 9/11 — their guns had no bullets. The U.S. color-coded system of threat levels, the pervasive harassment of photographers, and the metal detectors that are increasingly common in hotels and office buildings since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, are additional examples.

When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn’t truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn’t make any sense.

As a nation, we have sacrificed liberty for a safety that is not real. We have allowed ourselves to be oppressed, regulated, micromanaged, and restricted by a set of policies that do not and cannot work. And with each subsequent threat or attempt by a terrorist to attack a small group of people, we subjects ourselves to further mandates by the Washingtonian High Command.

Think about it: how much money, energy, and time are we spending on attaining security on airplanes? What good does all of that do when a terrorist chooses another venue, such as a bus, train, cruise liner, movie theater, school, sports arena, or any other location that includes a large number of people in close quarters?

Given how infrequently acts of airborne terrorism occur—you’re far more likely to be struck by lightning—are we willing to create the equivalent of a TSA for every other mode of transportation, and enable the DHS to provide security for every other high-density public location?

In the past decade we have seen the alarming extent to which our federal officials have been eager to punish the many to protect the few. Terrorism is about using a singular event to shape policy, and in that specific context those using it have been successful. This nation has been completely transformed as a result of the fear-based quest for security—a goal which has not been achieved, as last week’s incident demonstrates.

Americans are paying tens of billions of dollars in taxes to subject themselves to searches, seizures, regulations, and bureaucracy that does not work. The solution is simple: eliminate the TSA and DHS, repeal the Patriot Act, return the security of airplanes to those who own them, and allow individuals to weigh the risk factor of flying (or any method of travel) before choosing to participate. Government should be empowered only to accumulate and act upon intelligence of impending attacks, and prosecute and administer justice to those who have been able to commit a crime.

Above all, it is imperative that we refuse the temptation to spend more money, inflate the government, and clamp down on innocent individuals in the name of providing security that—like a 99 cent magic trick—is merely an illusion.


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