Monday, January 4, 2010

Stopping Terror

I just returned from a short trip to visit my parents in St. Louis.  I traveled through the airports with relative ease despite the increased security following the attempted terror attack in Detroit.  My bag was searched by hand at Laguardia and my tubes of shaving cream and toothpaste were confiscated.  (I always forget that four ounce rule.)  Herein lies the problem with our current system.  We make new regulations and restrictions in response to each thwarted (thank God!) attack.  We have to take off our shoes.  We can't carry on toothpaste.  But our approach is backwards.  We are so wrapped up in individual rights and so worried about trampling on them that we are left to regulating objects and things.  Unfortunately our enemies are individuals not things.  Terrorism is an instrument used by hate filled individuals.  People whose hearts are so steeped in hate will find whatever things they can place their hands on to cause damage, destruction, fear and terror.  So we need to worry more about the individuals who would cause us harm.  We need to call such individuals our enemies.  We need to identify them before they board a plane.  One clear and decisive rule would be this.  If a father alerts authorities about his son's increasing radical views then he should be placed on an immediate no-fly list.  If your dad turns you in then you are really headed for trouble.  I can't imagine doing something so terrible that  my dad would call the police first.  But this very bewilderment explains why I went to St. Louis in the first place.  And one final point.  Regulating things creates the illusion that we can fashion a system that is 100% effective.  All you have to do is design a better machine to detect my potentially harmful five ounce tube of  toothpaste.  (See David Brook's recent column for more about this point.)  This illusion keeps us from the more important task of identifying hate-filled individuals before they can cause us harm.  Unfortunately you can never keep out all of our enemies.  Terrorism will be a part of our landscape for a long time to come.  But you can prevent it from creeping into your hearts.  You can prevent it from sowing hate.  That, and that alone, is 100% in our hands.  

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