With airport security methods, more than modesty is at stake

For those of you who are upset about the prospect of passing through a full-body scanner or undergoing an enhanced pat-down, do you realize that determined men and women are working persistently to bring down an airplane full of ­passengers?

Last week, one of my students paraphrased Ben Franklin’s famous quote about those who are willing to relinquish essential liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety; they deserve neither liberty nor safety. Well said. But maybe today Franklin would have called safe air travel a sort of liberty in its own right.

Since the threat is real, why are we so exercised over increased efforts to protect us?

Some of it has to do with the nature of modern political discourse. It thrives on indignation and its lifeblood is outrage. Both are constantly needled into paranoia on talk radio and partisan news channels. It is the persistent agitation of the notion that someone is constantly besieging us, in this case faceless bureaucrats at the Transportation Security Administration and, by extension, President Barack Obama’s administration.

Our consternation over violations of our modesty is puzzling. Our country is saturated in sex and we are used to hearing our most private bodily functions discussed in public. We use sex to sell everything. We allow strangers on television to discuss erectile dysfunction and hemorrhoids during dinner, but when someone tries to breastfeed in public and when we go to the airport, we suddenly turn into Puritans.

I was thinking about this as I was having my prostate examined last week. The details are not important, but clearly we already submit ourselves to humiliating indignities in the interest of our health and safety. So why do we stumble over an indistinct and anonymous full-body scan? Why are we not more willing to tolerate a little more inconvenience and indignity for the sake of safety?

After all, a lot is at stake — more than a planeload or two of air passengers.

The 9/11 hijackers cannot have imagined the far-reaching damage their actions would inflict on our nation.

Because of 9/11, we started a mostly justifiable war in Afghanistan. But after nearly a decade, that war has lost its way and probably is now doing more harm than good. We used 9/11 as an excuse to start an unnecessary war in Iraq. The most optimistic and ideological among us would like to consider that war a success, but the odds of Iraq morphing into a stable, livable democracy do not look good. However, neither of these dubious wars has done much to undermine our overconfidence in military solutions to complicated problems.

Unfortunately, the 9/11 hijackers still threaten to change our nation. It is disconcerting to see our government — and many of us — accept torture as a weapon against terror. Furthermore, while squandering the international sympathy and feelings of mutual humanity that arose spontaneously after 9/11, we have managed to alienate some 1.3 billion Muslims and undermine some of the world’s confidence in our global leadership. At home, our nation seems more insular, less generous, more angry and more afraid.

In short, our country does not feel like quite the same place since 9/11. If we are willing to fight wars and to torture to prevent another 9/11, then let us be willing to suffer the inconvenience and indignity of a scan or pat-down. A lot more is riding on this than just our modesty.

John M. Crisp teaches English at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.

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