WASHINGTON ― Just like children forced to take castor oil hated the experience, millions of Americans loathed the intrusive body-scan and pat-down security measures imposed at U.S. airports last fall.
Surprisingly, though, the revulsion period was briefer than first assumed as travelers realized the added security rules may, after all, be good for them.
The real question is, of course, how much safety is too much safety in this decade-long war on terror? The only sane answer is that we don’t know.
One thing, though, is clear: militant jihadist groups exist on our continent, hate America and, by extension, all Western civilization.
Underlying the hatred is a perversion of religious faith that drives jihadists to die in order to kill and terrorize others.
We also know that, in addition to the United States and Canada, ultra-radical Muslims are living in Great Britain, Australia and the other democracies of the European Union.
Soon after the tragedy of 9/11, the newly formed Department of Homeland Security estimated there were 6,000 three- to four-man sleeper cells in the United States and Canada alone ― waiting for the signal to let out the snakes of terror.
This may have been an exaggerated count, but there have been enough attacks, disrupted plots and arrests to justify the assumption that most of those cells hide out in our midst.
That’s why I accept the screenings and pat-downs before boarding a plane. I see them as a reasonable price to pay for living in a society that doesn’t issue death fatwahs on cartoonists and writers who exercise their right to free speech ― no matter how vigorously.
I also harbor some sympathy for the men and women who serve at the TSA checkpoints day after day ― and bear the occasional insults and smirks from disgruntled passengers. Far too many of these watchdogs are poorly trained and don’t have the state-of-the-art equipment that would make their jobs easier and more effective.
What’s more, federal bureaucrats charged with responsibility for airport safety spend time codifying rules when they should be thinking of what may work better.
But what hobbles the TSA most is its determination to put political correctness ahead of good sense.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, for example, seems so squeamish about profiling potential terrorists, she puts little old ladies with walkers in the same category as young men from conflict areas such as the Middle East, Pakistan and East Africa.
Much of her timidity, it appears, may be linked to the vigorous attention of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization known for its energetic protests every time a Muslim is singled out for screening.
CAIR maintains that full-body scanners violate Muslims’ “religious and privacy rights” and that Muslim women should only be patted down by other Muslim women.
This position ignores the near-certain resentments on the part of other passengers submitting to the full range of procedures; and is willfully blind to the fact that most terrorists today are young Islamist jihadists.
Memories of commandeered jetliners piloted by Islamists into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on 9/11 are seared into the psyches of Americans.
Body scans and pat-downs are odious, but ignoring the possibility of being blown up to smithereens while landing in, say, Detroit is reckless.
To be sure, civil libertarians have a point: airport screenings infringe on privacy rights and conflict with the American constitution. Sadly, they will be necessary until the pseudo-religious extremists killing and maiming to impose their cruel ways on us get their just deserts.
By Bogdan Kipling
Bogdan Kipling is a Canadian columnist in Washington. Readers may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. ― Ed.
(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)