Every time you get groped, the terrorists win

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s been a decade since religious fanatics murdered 3,000 Americans by attacking the world trade center towers and the pentagon with hijacked airplanes. Since that time, we’ve witnessed a rapid erosion of our freedoms, ostensibly in the name of fighting “terror”. While it’s obvious to most that you can neither declare war on — nor fight — a tactic, our government does not see it that way. And why should they? The government has infringed on our rights with new “anti-terror” policies at every opportunity by playing on public fears of another terrorist attack. They’ve presented the public with a false dichotomy of choosing between the tyrannical policy de jure or facing death at the hands of terrorists. In short: the government has used the public’s fear to further control our lives. I hear you asking “but isn’t that, like, Terrorism?” To quote SouthPark, that’s “not like terrorism — it is terrorism!”[1]

Patriot acts contrast
The irony of government policies that capitalize on public fear to expand power is compounded by the notion that the terrorists supposedly hate us (and attack us) because we are “free”. Most thinking people recognize that this is nonsense, of course, but the government is hardly revered for its intellectual prowess. I suppose the government strategy is to simply remove those freedoms that the terrorists supposedly hate us for, thereby reducing the chance for an attack; to launch a pre-emptive strike on liberty! As anyone who has read or heard anything published or stated by Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups knows, however, the terrorists “hate” us because we are occupying their lands with our military bases, meddling in their affairs, and supporting their religious enemies.[2] Ten years later, we can add drone strikes, the killing of civilians during war operations (i.e. collateral damage), and new sanctions imposed on countries like Iran to their list of arguably legitimate grievances.

So what freedoms have we given up in the name of fighting these enemies that want to destroy our… freedoms? The most visible loss of freedoms is apparent at the airport, where travelers are herded like cattle through security checkpoints and are then subjected to a humiliating, sexually suggestive search process. Travelers are treated like criminals merely because they wish to travel for business or see their families. At the airport, they must choose between being seen naked or sexually assaulted before boarding a plane. And, of course, the screening process is ineffective anyway. Stories of people getting on board with fake boarding passes, bags full of sharp knives, and even firearms appear on an almost monthly basis. Of the prohibited items, many of these were accidentally left in luggage by everyday travelers — imagine what a determined group of criminals could accomplish. Compounding the stupidity of this process, the security checkpoint creates a bottleneck in human traffic, forcing hundreds of people to congregate in one small area waiting to enter the security checkpoint. A terrorist doesn’t even have to go through the trouble of trying to bypass security to kill hundreds of people. He could just walk in the middle of this crowd with a couple of bombs in his luggage and kill at least as many as he could on a plane.

Osama was no doubt amused by the TSA

It's hard to conceive of a terrorist plot more sinister than ensuring that every American man, woman, and child is sexually assaulted, humiliated, and treated like a criminal before getting on an airplane

In addition to the absurdities we deal with at an airport, we’ve also lost far more important freedoms in far more sinister ways. Certainly, the PATRIOT Act is the most well known of these abuses. The PATRIOT Act gives the government permission to violate the 4th amendment rights of American citizens in a number of ways: sneak-and-peak warrants, roving wiretaps, and access to business and banking records without a warrant. Even more alarming then the PATRIOT act was the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and accompanying legislation, court battles, and executive orders. The premise behind this power grab is that the government can designate someone an enemy combatant and then hold him indefinitely without a trial, without access to a lawyer, or without even informing him of the charges he faces. While this suspect is held at Guantanamo Bay or some secret overseas prison, he will likely be deprived of the most basic human rights, let alone his ability to petition for a writ of habeas corpus or have any recourse against a potentially illegal detainment. Given the US government’s track record of heavy-handed ineptitude[3] , it’s hard to believe that terrorists present a greater threat to your life or liberty than governments and law enforcement agents.

Government vs. Terrorism

Yeah, pretty much.

All these manifestations of eroded freedoms, of course, stem from sacrificing the very principles that define the United States. Key components of a free society are protection of private property rights and personal liberties, rule of law, and due process, among others. If our country is defined by a set of principles, and we abandon those principles in the name of defending our country, have we not abandoned our country? The United States is not the “greatest, freest country in the world” just because we say it is; it is great and free only so long as we value and live by the principles of a free society. The extent that we depart from those principles is the extent to which we have surrendered our country. What is the point of fighting to save a country if our methods of fighting destroy its philosophical foundation? By abandoning our ideals, we are doing far more damage to our country than violent criminals ever could.

To really make things worse, does anyone really believe we are safer now than we were prior to the attacks? We’ve not only continued, but furthered, many of the same policies given as reasons for the violence. We’ve put tens of thousands of our troops in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, losing 6,000 in the process — more than double the number of civilian lives lost in the attacks themselves. No doubt our enhanced presence in Arab states and the high civilian death toll as a result of our operations is raising a new generation of people that will seek to avenge what they perceive as injustice. Law enforcement abuses of powers granted in the name of fighting terrorism are commonplace, as are complaints against the TSA. By all accounts, you’re more likely to suffer abuse at the hands of terror-fighting law enforcement than you are to be a victim of terrorism. If the choice was between getting groped by the TSA or getting attacked by terrorists — and I assure you that it isn’t — I’ll take my chances with the terrorists.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Episode: Carton Wars Part II, from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/South_Park/Season_10
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motives_for_the_September_11_attacks
  3. The Waco seige, The Ruby Ridge incident, and every botched paramilitary drug raid

2 Responses to “Every time you get groped, the terrorists win”

  1. Sackett says:

    Good stuff for the most part. I agree that we’re giving up our rights in the name of “security”, but are you really so naive as to think that if tomorrow we no longer meddled with, looked at, spoke to, or existed near a muslim nation that they’d suddenly leave us alone?

    Do you think if we withdrew support for Israel (a perfectly legal and internationally recognized sovereign state) that the Islamofascists would suddenly be our friends and accept our way of life as equal and sharing the same legitimacy as their own? Or even further do you believe that if only Israel didn’t exist at all and all the Jews were magically transported to Mars the jihad set would suddenly hold hands and sing Kumbaya (what the fuck ever spelling) with all the infidels in the world?

    I agree we’ve over extended ourselves militarily but I reject that this has somehow forced the actions of the Death Cult (Islam) against us. I’m all for bringing troops home, especially from all the bullshit places we provide security to (Korea, Japan, Europe, etc.) and I reject that it is our role to build nations and bring democracy to places where the culture (esp. religious culture) is incompatible with free society; but can’t we stop pretending that they don’t like us because we’re hanging out in their neighborhood? Can’t we be a bit more honest and say that it’s because their fucking religion dictates that they hate us (and all the other non-muslims and indeed muslims of other sects; see N. Africa).

    Aside from this “it’s our fault” premise of yours, the rest of the piece is kick ass.

    (Posted here by special request.)

  2. Keenan says:

    First, I’d like to respond that I don’t think — and don’t believe I stated — that it was “our fault”. The point of this article was really just the domestic side of it, though I was hoping to address the foreign policy aspect this week or next.

    I think we face a very real threat from religious fundamentalists, but I think the magnitude of that threat is blown out of proportion and I also think that our foreign policy serves to provoke additional anger and retaliation above and beyond what we already would face. Certainly, we’ve lost many more Americans *because* of our forays abroad. It is much easier for the terrorists to target us there, and if we did remove all our troops from Arab lands they would have fewer targets and a much tougher time getting to us.

    I don’t believe the scale of danger presented by terrorism would be absolute if we continue our policies and non-existent if we stopped. I think, realistically, our danger level is “9” out of 10 if we keep up our policies and maybe a “3” if we don’t. It’s not either/or — there is a range of dangers that we face.

    I should also add that the things that we’re doing in terms of foreign policy directly contradict our principles. The constitution requires a congressional declaration of war, yet we don’t have one for any of the countries we have troops in. One aspect of free markets is free trade, yet we placed protectionist economic sanctions against Iran. Our founders warned us not to get involved with other countries, yet we offer military support to Israel and most of Europe.

    I don’t think that if we withdrew support from Israel (who, with an elite fighting force and dozens of nukes can take perfectly good care of themselves) that the extremists would suddenly stop trying to attack us. But I believe that they would be somewhat less likely to attack us. And doing that would not be capitulating to their demands; it would be a return to what we claim to stand for. Most of all, I think that we need to end sanctions with Iran and start trading, immediately, with countries that harbor terrorists. The Cold war didn’t end due to military spending — it ended when the communists got a taste of the freedoms and prosperity that we can provide. By contrast, we’ve kept an embargo on Cuba and it’s still a communist stronghold. It’s also important to realize that extremism doesn’t do well when people are free and prosperous: http://reason.com/archives/2011/09/08/who-really-kept-us-safe-after

    If we want to stop the terrorist threat, we need to immediately *reverse* our policies and begin trading and communicating with those Arab countries as much as possible. Will some still want to attack us in the mean time? I have no doubt — constant vigilance is the price of freedom. Let’s continue to be alert for domestic attacks using legal means of surveillance. But I think free trade and peace are the answers in the long run and will do far more to diffuse extremism than more aggression.

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