ESSAY- Greater evil: Why we get airport pat-downs

For the second time in three days recently, a gruff man in a uniform touched my crouch. Behind a curtain, hands were running all over my wife's body.

To see the Taj Mahal in a nation scarred by 26/11– the Mumbai hotel attacks– you have a simple choice. You are either body searched or you don't get close to the amazing work of art.

There might be a third option– you might get shot by the other gruff Indian men with machine pistols– but we succumbed to option number one without pushing our luck. Voluntarily, we were going through a second search, this time to see the world's most famous architecture against the mist of dawn.

We'd already undergone an electronic full body scanning in a German Airport and would again in flying back to the States. We arrived home in time to hear the uproar about TSA's latest attempts to protect American jet liners from terror attacks. After NPR told us about pilot worries of undergoing so much radiation during daily full-body scans– a rational concern– we learned that a San Diego passenger ‘s "junk" became a national icon for refusing a pat down and read a half dozen rants from Americans who seem to think TSA employees get a kick out of patting down and scanning airline passengers.

I hope those rants don't get overseas. People around this world must wonder if we Americans exist on the same planet. We produce so many tempests in teapots that it must seem that we have little connection with reality.

Don't get me wrong. I wish greatly that my senator, Jim Webb, could walk into the airport with his pistol (who once inadvertently saw a staffer arrested for trying to carry it into the Russell Senate Office Building). I would love to go back to the moment of my first airplane flight when I wondered without fear about the smoke trailing from the propeller engine. I'd give anything to be able to wear my hiking boots when I'm flying to places where I'll be doing a lot of walking.

But there's this real, modern world out there where terrorists, or freedom fighters, or crazies or revolutionaries, or whatever name you wish to give them, have proven their determination to kill us. Right or wrong, good or bad, the Al-Qaeda of that "religion of peace" are still showing no qualms about any method of bumping off some of the Democratic peoples on this planet.

The Al-Qaedas of this world are in conflict with Christians, Jews, Hindus, Bahais and even Buddhists. They've not only taken down planes and taken off hands, noses and other body parts, they've dynamited the great Buddhas of Afghanistan, bombed Spaniards crammed on commuter trains, machine-gunned Aussies on vacation, massacred Somalis in refugee camps, gassed Russians at the ballet, and blown-up Brits on buses.

Unbelievably, in a Sunday front page story December 5, the Washington Post reported that FBI agents "do not target Muslims" in an effort to identify Muslim terrorist cells. Someone in America will call me a bigot for pointing out that the common thread in all that is the word "Muslim," but the rest of the world must wonder about our inability to face blatant reality.

Instead of blaming, or "targeting," the reason for the searches, we blame the poor guy or gal whose unbelievably boring job is to watch a X-ray screen in hopes of heading off future attacks. 

While my wife and I were still in India, a young woman was hailed a national hero for asking President Obama why he didn't declare Pakistan a terrorist nation. After four wars– with another one looming over Kashmir– and the horrifying 26/11 attacks which India is convinced were orchestrated by intelligence services of Muslim Pakistan, the Indians aren't so politically correct that they are scared of facing the possible truth that some Muslims want to kill Hindus. 

The primarily Hindu Indians are certainly not blameless– and neither are we– but they recognize, and accept, that there's a group of Muslims for whom nothing is out of bounds; whose rules don't include anything related to human compassion; who believe that cold-blooded murder is a ticket to heaven. 

Not all Muslims, of course, but enough to be in conflict around the globe.

In an English-language publication, an Al-Qaeda affiliate announced only three weeks ago the intention to keep promoting small scale attacks against the West, such as the recently foiled cargo jet bombs, because it's "a good bargain" for the haters to get more and more potential terrorists to utilize less and less resource-intensive attack methods. 

But here, media coverage implies that we Americans are more terrified of the poor TSA screener whose job is to watch hazy electronic images than we are of chemical bombs in the underwear of the determined. We apparently fear that the screener might be some kind of pervert more than we fear specifically announced murder intentions.

Americans should recognize that we live on the same planet as the rest of the world. Pat downs and full-body scans are, unfortunately, a necessary evil in hopes of holding off much greater evil.


A former journalism teacher at Virginia Union University, Randy Salzman is the transportation researcher who, back in April (before BP's blunder), penned the prescient essay predicting a massive underwater oil platform leak.