Monday, January 5, 2009

No really, the US isn't racist at all. I swear.

Hi, my name is Erin, and I'd like to thank Renee for allowing me a brief word here.  As a little background, I'm a full time web developer who dabbles in security and activism.  Because of this, I've been very interested in the ways that people try to claim, "its for security" to justify their bias and fear.  A recent story is a perfect example of this.

9 Muslim passengers kicked off of flight after remark.
The remark? "Wow, the jets are right next to my window."

Because of this innocent remark, nine people were removed from the plane and handed over to the FBI who cleared them after questioning. When the group went back to AirTran to re-book, they were refused, and did not get a refund until after this story hit the national media. What kills me is mindsets like this:

Christopher White, a federal Transportation Security Administration spokesman, said the situation was handled appropriately.
White said the pilot, after being informed of the remarks, requested that two federal air marshals on board remove the individuals. TSA then alerted authorities, including the FBI, which conducted an investigation. Once authorities determined there was no threat, it was up to the airline whether to allow the family to reboard.
"If the pilot is uncomfortable with someone flying on their plane, that's their decision," White said.

The pilot's discomfort is what determines if you are on the plane? Really? When you have two Air Marshals in the actual passenger area of the plane who are better trained to make threat judgments? The pilot wasn't even there to hear the comments, and who knows what kind of mangled third or fourth hand version of what the comments they heard. The story does not specify if the pilot went and spoke with the family before requesting that the Air Marshals act, but knowing people I sorta doubt they bothered or did so in good faith without muscle waiting behind.

This kind of scheme is a perfect example of what is wrong with the security setup. It enforces fear and suspicion rather than reasoned examinations of threat. The group in question was wearing "traditional Muslim clothing" - whatever that might be. While my memory is notoriously flawed, the images I saw of the September 11th hijackers showed them in western clothing. I suspect the same was true of the initial bomb attack on the towers. They'd be stupid not too, wearing hijab or any form of ethnic dress is only going to attract attention, which is exactly what they do not want during the opening phases of any attack.

This does not mean that there is not the possibility of an attack being carried out by a person or persons in some form of Middle Eastern or Saharan African dress, which is what people usually associate with "Muslim" clothing. But it does make it unlikely that a group of 9 would do so. Most terrorist activities requiring that number of people would need to be fairly coordinated, and it is far less likely that a group of that capacity would make a stupid mistake like not dressing in western clothing and acting as unobtrusively as possible. This thought process was not what happened however. Instead, we enabled the racist and xenophobic fears about our current cultural bogeyman.

It kills me, because the last time I made a remark about sitting by the wings, they gave me a tour of the cockpit and a sucker.

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