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Friday, August 25, 2006

Yesterday's terrorists

This afternoon, I bought a bottle of water at an airport newstand in Toronto. The lady looked at me sheepishly and said that she hopes I don't mind, but she will have to put the water in a paper cup for me. Having seen the signs all over the shop that all drinks must be poured into cups before leaving the shop, I said that I didn't mind. But then I told her something with which she agreed and I'd like to expand on it a bit for all of you.

I told her that the way the 'war on terror' is being fought outside of Israel is mistaken. I told her of two articles I had read in the American press earlier this week. One by Jeff Jacoby and the other by Daniel Pipes. Both articles point out the same thing - that in the western world, security focuses on finding things while in Israel, security focuses on finding people, i.e. terrorists. Both articles called for profiling: while not all Muslims are terrorists, an inordinate number of terrorists (including all Islamic terrorists) are Muslims. The lady, who appeared to be 'South Asian', agreed with me.

Since I had to spend nearly six hours in Toronto's airport tonight, because I checked my bag before asking about getting on an earlier flight, I had a lot of time to reflect on my conversation in the airport shop. And since Air Canada decided to do a 'security check' on our luggage after it arrived in Boston, I had some time to discuss my theories with average Americans in ultra-liberal Massachusetts to see how they would react to my politically incorrect thoughts. No one said I was wrong. In fact, one man said to me, "look at all those carry-on bags. I cannot believe that none of those bags has any liquids or gels in them."

I'm very nervous about being in the US. Maybe not for the reasons you think. You see, the state of security here in the US is such that you are always chasing yesterday's terrorists. The 9/11 hijackers used box cutters, so you cannot carry sharp objects onto planes. Richard Reid tried to put explosives in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight to the US a few years back, so now you all dutifully remove your shoes when you get to the security check. Suicide bombers walk around with heavy coats in warm weather, so you all take your coats off at the security check. Some belt buckles set off the metal detectors, so you take off your belts at the security check. Do you really think the terrorists are that stupid? Do you think they aren't thinking of new ways to carry out terror attacks?

In Israel, I was warned to check the toothpaste rather than have it in my carry-on bag, "because they will give you a hard time about it in the US." My 'security check' consisted of a trained guard asking me (before they let me get near the counter to check my bags) where I came from in Jerusalem, what neighborhood, who packed my bags, did anyone give me something to take on the plane (and did I know why he was asking me) and what where the names of my children. I didn't have to take off my shoes nor my belt nor my jacket nor my hat. But the Arabs were invited to a side table where they had to open their suitcases and take every single item out. Then the suitcases were taken away and checked for false bottoms and compartments. And you can bet that they were searched before they left that table. That's why there has never been a successful hijacking from Ben Gurion Airport. Bli ayin hara!

What's worse: if a certain type of terror attack hasn't happened outside of Israel, for the most part, no one is prepared for it. So yes, my Red Sox tickets for next week say "No bags or items larger than 16 x 16 x 8, coolers, cans, bottles, flagpoles, firearms or fireworks will be permitted into the ballpark." (So much for the days of the picnic lunch in the bleachers). And the ticket says that you are subject to search: but they'll search my father and me, and they won't search a 21-year old Muslim because that would be 'profiling'. And I will still walk into shopping malls or large stores tomorrow, and no one will search my bags - or anyone else's - because no American shopping mall has ever been attacked by a suicide bomber. No one will search me on my way into a movie theater until the first time someone with a political agenda shoots up a movie theater. And no one will search me going into Sbarros (which I cannot do here because they are not Kosher) or any other restaurant until a suicide bomber blows up a restaurant. In Israel, you cannot walk into an enclosed public space without being searched.

Moreover, who works in security? At Ben Gurion Airport, the youngest security people are post-army university students, many of them psychology majors. It's one of the toughest security jobs in the country to get (I had a friend who worked there in the early 80's, and I know someone else who worked there in the late 80's). Other security positions in Israel are also filled by post-army people. Until recently, when a plethora of security guards were required as a result of the Oslo War, nearly all of the security guards in Israel had served in combat units. I can no longer tell you for certain that is the case, although most of the ads you see in the papers for security guards still ask for 'bogrei yechidot kraviyot' (combat unit graduates). At least in Israel, the security guards know what they are looking for. Many security guards in North America barely speak English. Many probably never finished high school. And they are told to search people randomly.... That's why I don't feel safe here - my safety is in the hands of high school dropouts who don't speak the language and aren't being told what to look for.

As one person in Toronto said to me today, "once you get on the plane, the passengers are the security guards." That may be true, but let's at least give them a head start. By refusing to profile, by focusing on things rather than terrorists, all of your lives - all of our lives - are being endangered. Are you willing to endanger your life for political correctness?


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