Airline Security or Passenger Annoyance? David C. Stolinsky Monday, June 17, 2002 Israel has had long experience with terrorism, though regrettably we may be catching up. So when a former airline security expert speaks, it is worth listening, especially since El Al has a perfect record in preventing terrorist attacks. In an interview, Shlomo Dror pointed out the differences between Israeli and American security methods. The Israelis search for weapons, but they concentrate on the passengers. Every passenger is checked against a list of potential terrorists. In addition, passengers are profiled. Suspicious-looking people are selected for questioning, with a view to identifying those with false identification or questionable reasons for traveling. Bags are searched, and armed agents are on most flights. In contrast, we ignore the passengers and concentrate on weapons. But what is a weapon? Prior to 9-11, box cutters would not have been included. And prior to would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid, nobody would have thought of examining shoes. Israelis concentrate on suspicious passengers, but we avoid profiling and search children and elderly ladies, while young Middle Eastern-appearing men often pass freely. Dror summarized the situation by stating that America does not have an airline security system â€“ it has a system for annoying passengers. Why should this be true? Why should we have to content ourselves with second-rate airline security? This question may be painful, but it requires an answer. In an effort to answer this real question, let me ask a hypothetical question. Kids enjoy scavenger hunts, where the winner is the one who collects the most articles on the list. Suppose you were on a scavenger hunt. Suppose the list of things to be collected included "evil." Where would you go to find it? If you were a liberal, you would head directly for the nearest gun shop. Of course, you would have to look it up in the Yellow Pages. As a good liberal, you would have no idea where it was. Once there, you would look first at handguns as the most "evil," and then at rifles and shotguns. As with anything unfamiliar, they would all look strange and threatening. You would have gotten your notion of guns from movies and TV, where guns are so powerful that someone who is shot is lifted off his feet and flies backward. Not having taken high school physics, filmmakers are unaware of Newton's Third Law. If a gun were powerful enough to lift the victim off his feet, it would do the same to the shooter. No matter â€“ it makes for dramatic film and subtle anti-gun propaganda. But your search wouldn't end there. After all, you want to win the competition by collecting the most "evil." So where would you go next? A hardware store is a likely choice. There you would find knives, box cutters, axes, hammers, ice picks, chainsaws, drills and assorted sharp objects. Surely each of them has been used by criminals. That means the objects are "evil," doesn't it? Next you might go to a drug store, where you would find scissors, nail files, tweezers and other objects no longer allowed on airliners. Or you might find yourself at an auto dealership, where "evil" SUVs that cause global warming would catch your eye. Then you might visit the poor part of town. Everyone "knows" that poverty causes crime. And you might visit an upscale suburb. Capitalism and greed also cause crime. Everyone "knows" that, too. The contradiction eludes many people. Finally you might wind up at an electronics store checking out violent computer games, or perhaps a movie theater watching a violent film, or even a newsstand reading magazines about guns and hunting or â€“ perish the thought! â€“ military matters. Yes, as a liberal you could spend the whole day going around town, picking up "evil" objects. With such a large collection, you would feel sure of winning. But what a disappointment it would be if you arrived, loaded down with loot, only to find that a conservative had already won the scavenger hunt. And you would be even more irritated to learn that he had not spent the day exhausting himself, running all over town as you had. In fact, he had stayed home. He had simply looked in the mirror. That is the source of evil â€“ ourselves. Not guns. Not knives. Not box cutters. Not nail clippers or shoes. No, the source of evil is us. And that is why America has a second-rate airline security system. For all our wealth, technical expertise and military strength, we are fools. We are searching in the wrong places. Or course we must continue to search for weapons. But as the shoe bomber showed, we cannot recognize all weapons. If a shoe could be a bomb, a necktie or a belt could be a garrote. Shall we insist that businessmen arrive at their destinations tieless and with their pants falling down? Books, laptops or bags could be clubs. Eyeglasses could be broken and yield sharp pieces of glass. A shirt could be pulled off and used to tie up a cabin attendant. In order to be sure passengers are not carrying weapons, we could insist that they travel nude. But what if they were experts in martial arts? In fact, there is no way to be sure, because the most dangerous weapon is the human mind. If we spent less time searching elderly ladies for crochet hooks and more time scrutinizing likely terrorists, we could make air travel safer and less annoying. But to do that, we would have to admit that the underlying belief system of liberalism is false. Evil is not an external influence, something outside ourselves that forces us to perform bad acts. People don't kill because they have a gun, a knife or a box cutter. People don't kill because they are poor. Most of the 9-11 hijackers were from upper-middle-class families, and bin Laden is a multi-millionaire. People kill because they have bad values. They kill because they lack the inhibitions that good values produce. They kill because they have never been taught that anything is superior to their own desires. They kill because they want to, and often because they enjoy it. If 9-11 was not a sufficiently strong lesson, it is difficult to imagine what would be. Will it take a nuclear blast or a release of Ebola virus to cure us of our delusion that inanimate objects can be evil? Some time ago, the 72-year-old wife of a rabbi attempted to board a plane in her wheelchair. She was searched, then ordered to remove her shoes for inspection, which she did despite pain. No doubt the passengers on her flight felt much safer. Recently a man was prevented from taking a "suspicious object" onto an airliner. The 86-year-old Joe Foss, a former governor of South Dakota, was carrying his Medal of Honor, awarded personally by President Roosevelt for heroism in World War II. Now there's a shady character requiring close scrutiny. Foss had the medal with him to show the cadets at West Point, where he was to speak. But the five-pointed metal object looked suspicious to someone. Of course, the "security" guards may not have been citizens, and even if they were, their education probably had not included anything about the Medal of Honor. The first time I recall seeing one was in the film "Fort Apache," when I was 14-years old. But I was luckier than today's kids. My education transmitted my heritage and didn't rob me of it. The medal wouldn't have looked like a suspicious object to me. Perhaps the worst effect of liberalism is that it accustoms us to ignoring facts that refute our biases. We heard that guns are used much more often to thwart crimes than to commit them. But we didn't listen. We heard that when law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry guns after proper training, violent crime falls. But we didn't listen. We pretend that these statistics don't exist and that guns have only negative effects. Now we hear that we are under attack by young Middle Eastern men. Again we don't listen. We pretend that we have as much to fear from all ethnic, religious, age and gender groups. But ignoring facts can be dangerous. Indeed, it can be fatal. We rightly condemn suicide bombers and airline hijackers, whose perverted fanaticism requires human sacrifice. But let us take care not to imitate them. Aren't "civil liberties" fanatics doing exactly that? Don't they claim that another terrorist attack is preferable to profiling? Aren't they demanding that we offer human sacrifices to their pagan gods of liberalism and multiculturalism? Of course our freedoms are precious. But what do you suppose will happen if our inaction allows another 9-11 to occur? Public pressure for extreme measures will be irresistible. If we aren't careful, we will get the worst possible result. Our current timidity will allow many thousands to die in a nuclear, biologic or chemical attack. Then people will demand the equivalent of martial law. We will lose lives, and freedom as well. If we truly love freedom, we will protect it with reasonable measures now, rather than risk losing it completely after a horrible attack occurs because of our weakness. Well, which will it be? Will we continue to search 86-year-old heroes, elderly ladies in wheelchairs, and young children? Will we fear to offend anyone even more than we fear mass murder? Or will we awaken from our peaceful slumber while there is still time? Will we continue to search for weapons but concentrate on the real source of evil â€“ evil people? This will require us to give up some strongly held beliefs. But which is more precious, liberal beliefs or human life? You decide. But do it quickly. Dr. Stolinsky is retired after 25 years of teaching in medical school. He writes from Los Angeles on political and social issues. He may be contacted at [email protected].