I’ve been dreading the upcoming 10 year mark since September 11 for some time now, completely certain that the Onion’s spoof article, “DHS Announces Racial Profiling Free-For-All This September 11” would prove to be far too close to the truth for comfort.
I commiserated with a friend about ridiculous airport experiences last week, and recounted how when I was in O’Hare airport over the 4th of July this year, I watched as unit of TSA officers marched through the airport in their dress uniforms, solemnly holding rifles and an American flag while seemingly everyone but me clapped and cheered for them.
It was all I could do to keep in a sarcastic, “Whoopee, I’m so glad you groped my genitals twenty minutes ago. That’s how we make the world safe for democracy!”
Because among the many other things people have collectively forgotten (in no small part due to an enormous propaganda campaign on the part of the United States government) is that 9.11 wasn’t an anomaly event. It wasn’t the first time someone had hijacked a plane, attacked the World Trade Center, or set eyes on the Pentagon.
Acts of “terrorism”–a tricky word I don’t like using because it has no real definition–have been happening for a long time. And just like the 9.11 attacks were used to justify the now decade-old so-called War on Terror, “terrorist” attacks in the past were also used to justify imperialist, racist policies that flagrantly violated human rights (even though it was usually imperialist, racist policies that flagrantly violated human rights that prompted the attacks, directly or indirectly, in the first place).
No, 9.11 wasn’t the first time someone hijacked a plane. And just because it hasn’t happened again since 2001 doesn’t mean that the consistent stripping of our civil liberties and Constitutional rights has made us safer. Frankly, people just don’t hijack planes all that often. “Terrorists” after all, make up the most incredibly miniscule part of the world’s population, and they have nowhere near the resources of the real terrorists, the United States government.
Sure, people are found trying to get onto planes with illicit things all the time. Of course, it probably happens a lot more now since 4 ounces of shampoo has been classified as a potential WMD.
There have even been cases like the so-called “pants bomber” of Christmas 2009. But these are blown out of all proportion by the media. It’s not that botched attacks never happened before, but they weren’t so widely reported, or the people weren’t caught. Either way, it wasn’t used as an excuse for the TSA to stick their fingers in my vagina.
Because groping people’s genitals does not make flying safer. Neither does subjecting them to radiation, or pat downs, or strip searches. And that’s not to say anything of what happens to our Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters when they fly and are treated like second-class citizens who are considered guilty even when they are obviously innocent.
The whole debacle with the body scanners was portrayed in the media as an issue that consumers had with a product, but that was only covering the story in way attempted to depoliticize it. What it was really about was people reaching a tipping point.
The fear mongering that followed 9.11 encouraged people to give up their civil liberties in the name of security. Some did it willingly, others grudgingly. Everyone else faced harassment from the TSA and FBI and who knows what else. There was no movement strong enough to counter the attack, and the legal strategy failed miserably as the courts again and again ruled against human rights. By and large though, all the immediate post 9.11 acts were passed through by exploiting people’s fear–the very fear that had been cultivated through racism and sensationalism in the media.
10 years have passed now. The story’s a lot different. It’s increasingly difficult to convince people that “terrorists are out to get them”–even with the overt racism of the Tea Party and rampant Islamophobia. And the infractions into people’s civil liberties have not tapered off. No. They’ve gotten worse as searches become more invasive and rules for flying more strict. The body scanner debate showed that people have had enough. Flying in the United States is no longer a mode of transportation. It’s a violation of human dignity.
Getting our civil liberties back now presents an uphill battle, particularly when the courts have shown again and again that they will side with the state on these matters.
However, people’s anger over the body scanners showed just how much power we actually have to control which of our rights are taken away. Just when the TSA seemed all powerful, they were forced to reconsider the implementation of the scanners, and while the program was not canceled entirely, it was scaled back and made slightly less invasive.
Imagine what we could have done if we were organized!
Clearly, this is the way to fight the infractions against our rights. The civil liberties situation is not the “reality of a post 9.11 world” despite what Homeland Security would have us think. Neither is the administration-supported discrimination against Arabs and Muslims.
Man, I can’t wait for the reality of a post-racist, post-capitalist world.