Saturday, September 12, 2009

TSA: Our Tax Dollars at Work; Protecting the Public From Flash Cards

The TSA recently defended air travelers from a grave danger: An American student named Nick George and the Arabic flash cards he carried in his backpack.
"...George said that Transportation Security Administration officers kept him in the screening area for what seemed like 45 minutes. Eventually a woman from the TSA arrived and began asking more questions, like how he felt about 9/11.

" 'Do you know who did 9/11?' he said that the woman asked.

"George said that he told her that it was Osama bin Laden, and that she responded smugly, 'Do you know what language Osama bin Laden spoke?'

"Soon after that a Philadelphia police officer arrived and told George to put his hands behind his back. Without explanation, he slapped handcuffs on him and led him away...."
(Philadeplphia Daily News, via

Defending American Ignorance

In a way, the TSA's officers' and inquisitor's efforts are admirable.

In the face of a general awareness that foreigners are human beings, and easy communication with anyone on Earth through the Internet, they were valiantly striving to protect the air travelers from those who are so un-American as to actually learn something about those nasty Ay-rabs.

Nick George was a suspicious character, of course. Even though he looks like a "real American" (by, say, Timothy McVeigh's standards), Nick George had not only been in countries that weren't America, England, or (for the more tolerant "real Americans") France. George had been in Jordan, Egypt and Sudan.

And, Ay-rab words like "terrorist" and "explosion" were on his flash cards.

Nick George claimed that he had the flash cards so that he could learn to translate Al Jazeera - an Ay-rab news network.

What more proof did the TSA need? Here was someone who not only had been in places known to harbor Ay-rabs and other foreigners: he actually admitted to wanting to learn how to follow an Ay-rab television news network!

WASPs, "Real Americans," and the Rest of Us

Nick George is obviously not a "real American." Not by some standards.

For that matter, neither am I. By some standards.

Although I look 'Anglo,' and even have blue eyes, I'm no red, white, and blue-blooded WASP. Half my ancestors came from the British Isles - but they were Irish and Scots. One of them might have been deported from England - but that's another story. The rest of my forebears were from Norway - so by some standards, I'm simply not a "real American."

I can live with that.

Particularly since quite a substantial number of American citizens aren't WASPs - and don't even look the part. I'd like to think that the days when "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" and "American" were considered as synonyms by more than a few isolated crackpots are past - but incidents like Nick George's run-in with the TSA keep happening.

All-American Ignorance, Dangerous Knowledge, and the TSA

As I wrote in a post about dangerous technologies like LP gas and computers, "Knowledge is Power: and I Like Power."

I'm quite willing to believe that an American citizen might be interesting in learning Arabic - and even travel to the Middle East - without being a danger to others. Not physically dangerous, anyway. There's always the chance that someone like that might let others know that Ay-rabs were as human as "real Americans" are, weren't all terrorists, and weren't all Muslims.

"They're All Muslims," Nipple Rings, Flash Cards, and Common Sense

My guess is that quite a few TSA officers don't think that the flying public needs to be protected from nipple rings and flash cards. Or from the people who carry them.

On the other hand, in common with quite a few other Americans, some don't seem to realize that
  • Not all Arabs are Muslims
  • Not all Muslims are terrorists
  • Not all terrorists are
    • Arabs
    • Muslims
I realize that this isn't as easy to remember - or deal with - as the 'all foreigners are suspicious,' 'all Arabs are Muslims / all Muslims are terrorists,' and "they're all Muslims" belief system that some cherish.

It's a big, complex world out there. Cherishing ignorance isn't a viable option. Neither is hectoring people who try to expand their knowledge.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.