Little Green Footballs

Friday, September 15, 2006

More airline madness (5)

Oh, about all that hysteria last month...

Never mind.

Patrick Smith, a professional pilot who writes Salon's superb "Ask the Pilot" column, and who is not an Islamomexohomodemofascist by any stretch of the imagination, has spent the past few weeks asking serious questions about the airline anxiety that has been so deftly exploited by dime-store demagogues like Charles Johnson.

The answers are not ones that are likely to make the aforementioned C. Johnson very happy, or to contribute to his bottom line. Nor are the questions they raise:

Ultimately this is isn't an airline controversy -- it's a national security controversy. And that's what makes it all the more frustrating that aside from Greene's essay and the Times article, almost nobody seems to care. Considering the important questions and contradictions screaming out for address, why has the fourth estate chosen to stay silent on what deserves to be a gigantic story? (The Times undermined its own good work when, several days later, it ran an abominably idiotic editorial calling for -- are you ready? -- the abolishment of carry-on luggage entirely.)

There's plenty of blame to be divvied up among obvious suspects: a shortsighted airline industry, the TSA and its welter of pedantic foolery, and a strangely recalcitrant press. But these are symptoms and not the disease. The disease has a name, and that name is fear. I'm generally not a conspiratorial sort but I urge you to reevaluate just who, exactly, is responsible for terrorizing the American public over the past month? Was it the failed London cabal, or your own government, with an eye toward elections and beholden to pollsters and those who stand to profit from billions of dollars poured into the gullet of the Homeland Security beast?

America has been scare-mongered into submission, and it's tough to tell who is more pleased, the foreign evildoers in their caves and distant laboratories or America's own leaders with their upcoming elections and color-coded instruments of control. Have we become a nation run by a faction of war profiteers, exploiting the fears of its own citizens?

Depriving passengers of their Dasani won't make us any safer, but neither will demonizing dark-skinned people, as is pointed out by one of Smith's correspondents in a postscript:
To add some nuance to the incident in which several passengers were removed from a Northwest flight preparing to depart from Amsterdam to Mumbai, a majority of the passengers, not just the 12 men taken away in handcuffs, were South Asian. The men were variously "Urdu speaking," "bearded," or "dressed in salwar-kameezes" -- all signifiers of Indian/Pakistani Muslims. This makes it the first incident of aggressive profiling by and of South Asian passengers. This doesn't surprise me in the least, given the rampant anti-Muslim prejudice among middle-class Indians, especially expatriates. The BBC carried a report on the reactions of the 12 detainees and their families. It's clear they were 1) Muslim and 2) not exactly middle class. They were returning from a trade fair loaded up with electronic goodies, and they were loud. Class, as much as race or religion, is a critical factor here. Those who were taken off the plane belong to a new class of small-business people who work the "export-import" trade between South Asia and outside markets. They typically have minimal English-language skills, they don't dress all that well, and their manners are not what you and I might consider sophisticated. They don't know, or always follow, the niceties of air travel. They behave like they're on a country bus, which is the form of transportation they would have taken a few years ago. They're annoying as co-passengers, but they're not terrorists. Air marshals and crew need to better recognize these variables.

But don't expect to see much of this sort of reality-based reportage in lizard-land. It's bad for business.

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