So I’m watching 24 last night, and at one point one of the Muslim characters who works for CTU (Counter-Terrorism Unit for those who don’t watch the show) is flagged by the Department of Homeland Security, and she is then unable to do her job properly because she has to work around having her security clearance . . . hampered with. It really wasn’t clear how it was changed because she could still do what she needed to do, it was just taking too long for the urgency of the matter at hand (four suitcase nukes out in the nation, about to detonated at any second). This got me thinking about the job of the Department of Homeland Security, and you know what? I wouldn’t want the top job in that department.
Just think about what it means: you’d have to negotiate between keeping the country safe and ensuring civil rights are not violated; you’d have to ensure that terrorists were unable to carry out plots against us (us being any and all Americans, civilian or not), but you’d have to do so without impinging on anyone’s “freedoms”*–in effect, you have to know what people are doing but you have no way to know because finding out will violate someone somewhere’s rights; you’d have to understand what happened before, so that it not happen again, plus you’d have to know what might happen, what’s likely to happen, and what will probably happen and all without benefit of a crystal ball; and you’d have to find some way to disrupt terrorist communications, money filtering, and what all else. Somehow.
Just how on earth would you do that? Again, not a job I’d want.
Furthermore, the repercussions of failure are incredible. All those people who told you that you couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that will be the very first to howl when the next terrorist act takes place. They’ll howl longest and loudest. HOW could you let this happen? How could you be so blind and ineffective? What? Did you do it on purpose? Did you plan it yourself? You can’t do your job, but you can’t fail at it, either.
What a horrible position to be in.
And lest it’s not clear, I AM implying (um, pretty much cold stating) that we tie the hands of these agencies and then we blame them when they fail. Yep, that’s what I’m saying, and what’s the answer? I just don’t have it, I’m afraid, but I do know that if we buy into the hype and fear that the media instills in us about “Big Brother” listening in or staking us out or stealing our freedoms, we’re complicit in the next terrorist attack. And when, not if, that happens, all we can do is cherish and celebrate our freedom from phone tapping and profiling and not being forced to have a “national i.d.” and not bother with the fact that we’ve suffered another blow, been taken once more to our knees. And we certainly cannot blame the agencies who are charged with our safety, right? I mean, how can we? Isn’t that hypocritical?
I don’t know what’s worse helping the terrorists harm us or keeping our “right” to the illusion of privacy (does anyone REALLY think anything we say or do or spend is private?). But I do know that I lean more toward some sort of compromise by which I don’t relinquish all my rights but I don’t bow down to the backlash of fear of terrorism and give the terrorists free reign to tear us apart.
By “backlash of fear of terrorism” I mean to use the term “backlash” as occurs when the pendulum swings too far the other way (this is a crazy reductive definition, but it’ll do for an opinion-based blog). Backlash of fear of terrorism works as follows: Some people, myself included, feel it’s okay to sacrifice a freedom we don’t really have in the first place if doing so will unearth a terrorist plot or help in the disarming of one, but other people argue that we feel this way only because we’ve bought into the hyped fear of terror, the “terror” of “terrorism.” This latter scenario is a bit like this: In order to combat terrorism, I hereby give the government free and total reign and control over every aspect of my life and being, all my bank accounts, phones, belongings, internet communications, even my very thoughts are now no longer mine but the government’s. Has anyone heard anyone say this? It’s a ridiculous and a completely false reading.
I contend that it’s an equally ridiculous and false fear, hyped by the same media and bought into by the backlashed, that all of our freedoms will be stripped from us if we allow a bit of freedom to the people whose job it is to keep us safe. That scenario is a bit like this: Once we trade in our drivers license/passport/social security card for one “national i.d.” we may as well just don grey and black striped clothing, adopt a neutral robotic expression, and bend over.
Maybe BOTH sides are too reactionary, too paranoid? It’s possible. That’s why a compromise works for me. But hey, that’s just me.
Back to what happened on 24, the lead CTU guy ended up logging on to the Muslim woman’s computer with his own creds so that she can do her job efficiently. I would have done the same thing. Of course, this is television, so she’ll end up being a terrorist or being made to do the terrorists’ bidding because they have her puppy held hostage, or hey, she may end up being a mandroid (nudge-y wink at Tally).
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to impinge on anyone’s right to do their job simply because they are Muslim or whatever else might flag at Homeland Security, but I also wouldn’t want to ignore people who flag at Homeland Security, either. What’s the compromise to be made? No one seems interested in one; it’s my way or the highway on both sides, so we have a stalemate, and I feel pretty confident that this frozen posture is just the thing to help the terrorists plan and carry out their next act. Nothing reactionary about that: Anyone here think there are no terrorists currently planning some attack on Americans, raise your hand . . . .
* people have a “right” to the freedom of all sorts of things in all the various and amusing misreadings of the Constitution that float around; illegal immigrants sue because their “right” to a drivers’ license is violated. Um, sorry, but no one has a “right” to drive, much less to own a piece of plastic saying one can do so.