December 01, 2010

“€¢ It’s the Muslims, stupid: Why are we pussyfooting around here? This is a problem of Muslim terrorists. Profile Muslims like crazy. Better yet, don’t let them fly on planes in our airspace.

I’m not unsympathetic to this argument. It has clearly been a mistake for Western nations to allow large-scale settlement of foreign Muslims in our countries. Muslims have, after all, 57 countries of their own to roam around in”€”enough to suit any taste or need, I would have thought. After 9/11 it would have been entirely reasonable of the U.S.A. to bar any further entry to citizens of Muslim countries and to ask those currently here to leave.

Unfortunately this doesn’t meet the case, as I have pointed out previously in this space. And in the longer view, the kind of insane malignancy that today we associate exclusively with Muslim extremists can show up elsewhere. The anarchist movement that plagued the Western world 100 years ago and numbered a U.S. president among its victims was a similar phenomenon. For all we know the Muslim menace might have subsided twenty years from now and the anarchist movement re-energized itself, or some unthought-of new lunatic cult come up. Nor is insane malignancy necessarily cultic. It can be an entirely private affair.

“€¢ The Israeli solution: El Al, Israel’s national carrier, conducts skillful quick-fire interviews of passengers meeting certain profiles. Why not just do what they do?

Setting aside the fact that the sky would fall and the oceans boil if we were to do any kind of passenger profiling, there are matters of scale. El Al has 40 aircraft. The U.S.A.‘s four largest carriers alone have over 2,000 planes between them.

Nor is El Al’s screening infallible. Richard Reid again: Apparently he talked his way through it as a sort of jihadi final exam.

Then there is the delicate matter of employee standards. Possibly our Transportation Security Administration employs the kind of ingenious, quick-witted, superb verbalizers that the El Al interrogators must surely be. I’ve never met such a one, though, and I’ve racked up some frequent-flyer miles. On a word-association test with “TSA employee,” I don’t think many of us would respond with “verbal agility” or “mind like a steel trap.” This is federal employment, and”€”see above”€”it probably has to be. Federal employment has its own logic, which does not, in the TSA or anywhere, correspond very closely to the real world’s requirements. Oh, you’ve noticed that?

So what the heck do we do here? Just what we are doing, I suppose. And then some terrorist slips through anyway and we suffer what, in the morbid argot of air traffic controllers, is I believe known as “€œan aluminum shower.”€ And then some.

Off with the shirt, kid. Spread your legs wider, ma’am. If Evelyn Waugh were still among us he’d be enjoying the spectacle mightily.



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