A few reflections on the terrorist attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253:
1. What happened to “man-caused disasters”? I thought that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told us that we weren’t going to call it terrorism anymore? Or is the response to the Christmas Day terror attempt a sign (just like the Nobel acceptance speech) that the administration is finally embracing reality after the hopey-changey first few months? In fact, unlike in the case of the Fort Hood attack, there also has been no hesitancy from the press to call this latest incident terror. Why the difference?
I’m guessing that, as ridiculous as it looked for them to deny jihadism in the case of the murderous major, it would have been completely untenable in this case. Major Nidal Malik Hasan was an American after all, albeit a treasonous one, and they had the pre-post-traumatic-stress straw to grasp, at least until they finally got laughed off the stage. But when someone from Nigeria named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is lighting his pants in the window seat, it’s pretty hard to kick the litter over the turd, no matter how desperately the urge to be politically correct and avoid reality.
2. Once again, airline passengers 1, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) 0.
And the response of the TSA?
To further punish the passengers, of course. I see that now no one will be allowed to leave their seats one hour prior to landing or have items in their laps, including laptops and pillows. And of course, as usual, the new measures, hastily put into place because something happened, will be measures that would likely have had no effect on what happened. But since they already had measures in place, and something happened anyway, they have to do something new to keep the curtains open in the theater. What next? In addition to deshoeing ourselves, will we have to drop trou in security? It’s ironic that on the day commemorating the birth of a lone man who was supposed to die for all of our sins, a little over two millennia later, we are now going to all have to suffer for the sin of another lone man.
We will probably double down on the stupidity, as indicated above. We won’t trust passengers to defend themselves and their airplane, but we will continue with failed gun/knife/bomb-control policies. We will continue to be politically correct and refuse to profile properly. The Israelis, who understand this problem better than anyone, will continue to laugh and/or cry, as we continue to look for weapons, while they continue to look for, and find, terrorists. And little old ladies and babies will continue to be wanded.
3. If the goal is to blow up, as opposed to hijack, an airplane, the weak link remains checked luggage. When will we figure out that the best approach to this is to separate luggage from passengers on different flights? It would be more inconvenient (requiring advance planning and pickup, a la Fed Ex) and probably more costly, but I’d feel a lot more secure knowing that all of that luggage was now a) an unattractive target, because there’s not much terror in blowing up an airplane full of luggage (except for the crew who knew the job was dangerous when they took it) and b) not sharing an airplane with me.
4. This is the most depressing thought. It’s a hell of a lot easier to blow something up than to build it, because it’s always been and always will be easier to increase than to decrease entropy. There are an infinite number of ways to arrange matter in ways that are worthless, and many fewer to do so to create value. So statistically, without active effort, there will be more crud than cream. As long as there are people who revel in destruction, it is going to be impossible to prevent them from doing so. We can at best minimize it, and we are in a vicious technological arms race in which the offense in that regard will probably always be ahead of the defense. The only thing that has kept terrorists from killing many more of us is their rank incompetence, as exemplified by Richard Reid. We have been fortunate in our enemies so far, but as technology continues to advance, even people with sub-room-temperature IQs may get the capacity to do real damage.
We are not at war with bombs of any particular design, or guns, or rusty knives for the hacking off of heads, or even “terror” itself. We are at war with a totalitarian political ideology masquerading as a religion. Its adherents want to subjugate all who are not of them to their will, or kill them. That is, us. And as long as that belief system has many millions of adherents (and it does), even if only a small percentage of them have sufficient competence to kill the millions that they hope to in order to achieve their goals, they will, as technology continues to advance, succeed.
The world does not fear Nazis today, not because we destroyed their weapons, but because we broke the back of their belief system. And this new totalitarian enemy is much more dangerous, because it doesn’t just worship power. It revels in death and destruction, even its own. We are at war with jihad, and that war will not end until radical Islam has no more adherents. How to achieve that end is unknown, but few of the possibilities seem very palatable.
5. This all has a feeling of deja vu to it. We are going to spend the next days and weeks discussing all the things that we discussed eight years ago. The same stupid arguments will be made that are refuted by politically incorrect reality, but at the end, airline travel will be even more onerous, fewer will choose to fly for short trips, the airlines will take it in the shorts again (and probably need another bailout), and the incompetents at the TSA will be rewarded. We will be less free and, in that hoary old phrase, the terrorists will have won, without blowing up a single plane.
I hope that at least this time that TSA will provide us with statues of Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab while we stand in line, so we when we take off our shoes and belts we can, as James Lileks has colorfully suggested, “hit them in the yarbles” with them. Perhaps it will help us vent our rage and reduce the chances that we will instead turn it on the hapless actors in the ongoing security theater.