Thursday, August 10, 2006

New Developments in the "War on Terror"

It's all over the news today: the announcement of a plot to bring liquid explosives on board aircraft flying from Great Britain to the United States, and to detonate these explosives while the airplanes were over the Atlantic Ocean. According to the reports, six to ten aircraft flying for several airlines, were supposedly to be targeted. As of the last report I heard, some twenty-one people had been arrested; and perhaps as many as fifty were involved. News reporters and "expert" analyists alike were speculating as to whether this was a plot developed by Al Quaida. These discussions made reference to a plot, dating from the mid-1990's, to trigger in-flight explosions of U.S aircraft over the Pacific Ocean.

Who knows if all this is true? It may very well be true -- but we have no way of actually knowing if it is, or not. Here is what we do know to be true: New constraints are placed upon air travelers as a result of the discovery of the plot. In the United States, you will no longer be allowed to take liquids or gels through security checkpoints, although such items can be included with your checked baggage. In the United Kingdom, the restrictions are even more severe: no carry-on baggage is being permitted. The "terror level" indicator has been raised; more security personnel will be deployed in airports; and many airports will also be employing random "stop and search" checkpoints for vehicles traveling to the airport. Not only will travelers be unable to bring liquids and gels with them through the initial security checkpoints; if you purchase a cup of coffee or a bottle of soda or water while on the concourse of the airport, you will not be allowed to bring it on board the aircraft.

Exceptions will be made, we are told, for baby formula and medications, if the medication is in a bottle labeled by the issuing pharmacy in the name of the person with a valid ticket. This raises two immediate questions. First, what is to prevent a would-be terrorist from using just such a bottle to bring on board components needed to fabricate an explosive? Second, haven't we already seen women among the "suicide bombers" in the Middle East? What is to prevent a baby's bottle from being used to bring on board a liquid explosive, or a precursor component?

How long will it be before such questions are being asked openly by the media and the "experts" they flock to for their interviews? What will be the result of asking these questions? An increased level of apprehension among the general public? (And yes, I am as guilty of doing so as any member of the "regular" media...)

Maybe that's the point? To increase our level of fear? Because it is through the reality of our fear of being victims of terrorism that we are willing to accept restrictions upon our activities, and on our behavior. We will surrender our freedoms, allow the restriction of our liberty, to be set free from our fear. To trade freedom for security, we will think, is an acceptable transaction.

I can't help but go back to Orwell's novel, 1984. O'Brien, the Party member overseeing Winston Smith's "re-education" as he is being tortured, tells Smith a secret: the Party pursues power, not for the good of the people it rules, but for the sake of power. No one," O'Brien says, ever seeks to obtain power only to surrender it. The revolution takes place in order to establish the dictatorship. Moreover, the state of constant warfare that exists in the world of 1984 impoverishes the people of the nation-states; and that is the purpose of the state of perpetual conflict -- for an impoverished population is much more easily controlled than is one that is enjoying prosperity. Yet how ironic that it is our own state of prosperity that is being threatened by the potential acts of terrorists; and that we are willing to give it up, if only in part, in order to hang on to the remainder.