when musicians attack
July 20, 2004 10:35 PM   Subscribe

Patrick "Ask a Pilot" Smith opines on "Terror in the Skies, Again?" Smith: I, for one, fully admit that certain acts of airborne crime and treachery may indeed open the channels to a debate on civil liberties. Pray tell, what happened? Gunfight at 37,000 feet? Valiant passengers wrestle a grenade from a suicidal operative? Hero pilots beat back a cockpit takeover? Well, no. As a matter of fact, nothing happened. Turns out the Syrians are part of a musical ensemble hired to play at a hotel. The men talk to one another. They glance around. They pee. That's it? That's it.
posted by skallas (68 comments total)
 
Wow, a single, agenda-based link to an op-ed piece on a pay-to-read site. Truly, the best of the web. I salute you, skallas.
posted by keswick at 10:47 PM on July 20, 2004


*looks at keswick, wonders why the chimp is gibbering*
posted by quonsar at 10:58 PM on July 20, 2004


This is a follow up to this thread five days ago, which itself was a single link to an op-ed piece. And as much as this is an op-ed, the author at least has the courtesy of doing some fact checking. The last comment in that thread, from 8:08 pm today, is in fact a link to the very same article. Also from the previous thread, this site contains more information and a lot of user comments.

And Salon.com isn't pay to read, it's watch a commercial for a few seconds to read if you don't want to pay to read.
posted by sequential at 11:10 PM on July 20, 2004


Anytime, keswick. Because the Terror in the Sky piece was hardly pushing the politics of fear for its own agenda, namely advocating race-based policies because someone got scared of some musicians. Naww, it was a "Fair and Balanced" piece that does not need a rebuttal from, say, an experienced pilot and air industry writer.
posted by skallas at 11:13 PM on July 20, 2004


Terror in the Skies, Again: Part Two by Annie Jacobsen.
posted by Ljubljana at 11:17 PM on July 20, 2004


Has anyone actually verified whether or not this truly was a band hired to play Vegas? Just seems odd, with all the talent available locally, that someone paid to bring a group in from Syria to play.

And I'll reiterate, the security at Detroit Metro is lax, bordering on non-existant.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:23 PM on July 20, 2004


OA: Has anyone actually verified whether or not this truly was a band hired to play Vegas? Just seems odd, with all the talent available locally, that someone paid to bring a group in from Syria to play.

Why not? If a recording group is going on tour, why not Vegas?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:59 PM on July 20, 2004


Could someone link to someone who's done a whole bunch of hard research on this story?

I think Pat Smith pretty much hits the nail on the head. I didn't read the Annie Jacobson followup yet because what was quoted by Smith just pissed me off. I'll read it later.

However, I'd like to reiterate that if what Jacobson described actually happened and actually happened the way she claimed it did—in all her details—than I strongly suspect that almost all of us would have been very suspicious and/or scared. That doesn't make her conclusion correct, of course.

The bottom line, though, is that all of this, 9/11 onward, is blown out of proportion. 3,000 people were killed on 9/11. One of those 3,000 was my then-girlfriend's brother. It was awful, it was serious, and it was a tragedy for many people. I know this personally. But it was still only 3,000 people out of a nation of 250 million. And yet people have been scared ever since.

They should be more scared—much more scared—of driving on the freeway.

Yet our whole society has been transformed, in both obvious and subtle ways. I can think of few examples which demonstrate more clearly how truly irrational most people's risk/benefit analysis is.

Finally, it would be monumentally stupid for Al Qaeda, at least, to attempt another airliner based attack. They may have lots of eager recruits; but they don't have a large supply of people that are relatively trained, speak English, and can get into and out of the US. Every operation they attempt is a risk to their infrastructure. I can think of five different novel terrorist attacks off the top of my head that would be, relatively, low-risk. Okay, sure, monumental stupidity has never stopped anyone. But I submit that if there's risk to we citizens, it's almost certainly less likely in the form of another plane hijacking.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:28 AM on July 21, 2004


these days, whenever I have to fly to or from the USA, I'm tempted to dye my black hair a cool shade of platinum blond.
posted by matteo at 3:22 AM on July 21, 2004


"it would be monumentally stupid for Al Qaeda, at least, to attempt another airliner based attack"

probably yes -- but it would be much easier and most effective to just bring down, say, 20 commercial planes around the US in the same instant by shooting them with a rocket launcher as they take off. you can't protect airports like that. the Brits were scared shitless that the IRA was going to try to pull a stunt like that in the 80's, but thankfully they weren't insane enough
posted by matteo at 3:25 AM on July 21, 2004


Just seems odd, with all the talent available locally, that someone paid to bring a group in from Syria to play.


What came to mind when I originally read they were a band heading to Vegas was that maybe the Aladdin hired them as part of the theme.

That would be very amusing in light of what happened to Linda Ronstadt there.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:10 AM on July 21, 2004


It seems like what many (most?) Americans are -unsurprisingly- facing is fear of the unknown. And yet asking questions about the current admin's policy on the matter is often seen as unpatriotic.

Bravo!
posted by magullo at 5:39 AM on July 21, 2004


Terror in the Skies, Again: Part Two by Annie Jacobsen

Bore I start on another interminable Journey into Gibberish with Ms Jacobsen, has anyone reached the end of this one? How many pages am I looking at; 10, 100?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 5:45 AM on July 21, 2004


It's shorter than the original. Not less infuriating though. Don't miss the kicker.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:08 AM on July 21, 2004


It seems like what many (most?) Americans are -unsurprisingly- facing is fear of the unknown.

Or, you know, fear of dying in a terrorist attack. Which is not an entirely irrational fear.

I'm not saying that those fears justify any of the shit currently going on, but blithely dismissing the emotions behind it as "fear of the unknown," is condescending and insulting.
posted by jonmc at 6:16 AM on July 21, 2004


Has anyone actually verified whether or not this truly was a band hired to play Vegas? Just seems odd, with all the talent available locally, that someone paid to bring a group in from Syria to play.

Yes, think of all the unemployed musicians who live in the States that play traditional music from Syria... Those men are experts in their genre, it's not music that anybody could play. There is no absolutely no reason to suggest otherwise.

The original piece was amazing - racism in it's purest form.
posted by hoskala at 6:30 AM on July 21, 2004


Or, you know, fear of dying in a terrorist attack. Which is not an entirely irrational fear.

But it is an almost entirely irrational fear for a large majority of the population. I live in a little town in Pennsylvania; my parents (my mother in paticular) are complete wingers, Fox News patrons by and by. And they are, at heart, terrified. Every day we get new and ominous news in the war on terror; Fox in particular makes sure we all know what the threat level is on any given day; then all of a sudden we're talking about suspending elections in the event of a terror attack, which is deemed likely.

If I lived in LA or New York or some similar major city/inviting target, maybe I'd be actively worried. But the chances of falling victim to a terror attack in this little town, particularly given the fact that my parents haven't flown in some 20 years and have no plans to, are almost zero.

You cannot convince them of this, though. Because fear is not a rational thing; it's the opposite. And so they are motivated - their thought process; their voting process - largely by this fear of what might happen, though even if it does happen is it unlikely to involve them or anyone they know.

I'd venture to say a large chunk of the population is in a similar situation. We are terrorized. And, as a result, susceptible.

That's how a democracy corrodes from the inside out.
posted by kgasmart at 6:47 AM on July 21, 2004


Remember how right after 9/11 everyone bought flags, as if it would affect terrorists the way garlic affects vampires? This irrational fear's getting out of hand. Yes, we might have another terrorist attack. We might have another spell of tornadoes in the Midwest, too, but you don't see people fleeing trailer parks.

People are terrified of a Middle Eastern man in an airport, yet have no problem eating a sandwich made during the Carter administration from a refrigerator in a truck stop. As EB said earlier, you have a much greater chance of dying on the freeway.
posted by Atom12 at 6:54 AM on July 21, 2004


Well put, kgasmart.
posted by shoepal at 6:55 AM on July 21, 2004


jonmc, you're right, it's not fear of the unknown. It's fear of Arabs.

These pieces, and the comments at Michelle Malkin's website scare me far more than the presence of 14 Arabs ever could. I just hope these commentators don't find out that these scary people routinely hold "secret terrorist meetings" in enclaves that they call "mosques".
posted by mosch at 6:55 AM on July 21, 2004


kgasmart: lots of people (including myself) do live in major cities, that's why they are called cities. Plus, because something happens somewhere else it's not supposed to bother people?

Look the original article that we're talking about is racist and example of paranoia that results from too much fear, but don't insult my intelligence by telling me there's no reason to be worried.

mosch: right, to worry about terrorism is to be racist. I don't deny that there's been race baiting in the wake of 9/11, but please don't use cynical accusations to score debate points.
posted by jonmc at 6:59 AM on July 21, 2004


The original piece was amazing - racism in it's purest form.

Wait til you read her sequel! Whatever happened to fear being the only thing we needed to fear?
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:02 AM on July 21, 2004


Or, you know, fear of dying in a terrorist attack. Which is not an entirely irrational fear.

It really is, though. The actual chances of any of us dying because of a terrorist attack is effectively zero. You probably have a better chance of dying from choking on the breakfast pastry of your choice.

On preview, what kgasmart said.
posted by bshort at 7:07 AM on July 21, 2004


The actual chances of any of us dying because of a terrorist attack is effectively zero.

The chances are zero, yet somehow 3,000 people managed to die in one. And we're currently holding hearings that charge ,perhaps correctly, that we underestimated the danger of a terrorist attack, resulting in 9/11, that is to say, we weren't afraid enough.

So which is it?
posted by jonmc at 7:12 AM on July 21, 2004


jonmc - you gotta define your terms - what's "rational" to you?

rational - adjective: having its source in or being guided by the intellect (distinguished from experience or emotion)

Something like 3,000 people died that day. We have a population of 293,027,571 (according to the CIA World Factbook). Even if we had a 9-11 event once a year in this country (we don't), the given individual's chance of dying in a terrorist attack is 1 in 97,676. Fearing that possibility is not rational (in my opinion). The real problem is that fear is rarely rational.

It's my experience that most people have a deep and abiding fear of the unknown. I think that if we were attacked again, that people in the affected area would band together and work hard to repair the damange, just like the last time. I also think that if we knew that Boise (for example) was the next target, people there would do everything they could to prepare for the hit, and then do what they could to rebuild. But, the constant waiting, not knowing what's going to happen next, jumping at shadows - that's fear of the unknown. Of not knowing what's next - and I don't think it's insulting or condescending to pull it out into the light.

~ on preview, what kgasmart said.
posted by Irontom at 7:26 AM on July 21, 2004


Boy, I just read the follow-up and there's a lady on the defensive.

Political correctness! Let's dissect this:

Would anyone care to volunteer the number of 'Middle Easterners' in the United States?

Ok, let's just say the actual number isn't important. Let's just say that 1% of all Middle Eastern men are terrorists ready to die today (GROSS OVERESTIMATION, I'm sure). Then, let's assume that they fly 10 times as much as the average middle eastern man because they're doing dry-runs. That means that 10% of all middle-eastern men are terrorists doing dry-runs.

That also means that 90% of middle-eastern men have no connection to terrorism whatsoever.

Are we supposed to stop and search every single middle eastern man? Is that fair? That effectively makes all middle eastern men guilty of having dark skin.

That's what this racism and political correctness issue is about. Those who are 'politically correct' are standing up and saying that you can't victimize 90% of the population for the deeds of 10% of the population. In the United States, you are guilty until proven innocent.

Besides, holding up 90% of the middle-eastern population as guilty by virtue of the color of their skin would create an awful lot of bad will and only foment support for terrorists.

According to the author herself, security did meet and question these men and found them to be innocent. She's up in arms about that! It would be one thing if their activities had been ignored entirely.

I mean, how fucking far are we supposed to go? Are we supposed to just lock up all suspicious acting, middle-eastern men? Most middle-eastern men acting suspicious are probably completely innocent.

So this lady's trying to justify her racism, but I'm not even sure what her point is. Perhaps someone needs to ask her.
posted by PigAlien at 7:26 AM on July 21, 2004


"we underestimated the danger of a terrorist attack, resulting in 9/11, that is to say, we weren't afraid enough."

Oh John, you are so way off base. What a wrong analogy. You don't have to be in fear of something to recognize it as a threat. I'm not afraid of dying in an automobile accident, but I drive safely and wear my seatbelt as a precaution. I am afraid of dying in a terrorist attack, even though my chances of dying in an automobile accident are greater.
posted by PigAlien at 7:29 AM on July 21, 2004


They should be more scared—much more scared—of driving on the freeway.

Yes, we should just ignore the fact that one of the largest buildings in the world was brought down on live TV, taking 3000 innocent people with it. What's a couple thousand out of a few million? Just go on with our lives as if nothing ever happened because, you know, we could die in a car crash tomorrow.

Wait... I wear my seatbelt when I'm in my car. My car has an airbag. I drive as safely and as defensivly as possible. I avoid the mainiac swerving in front of me. I shouldn't do any of that because the odds of my getting in a car crash are pretty slim. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow while I'm walking across the street.
posted by bondcliff at 7:35 AM on July 21, 2004


Oh John, you are so way off base.

As opposed to reductive statements that declare that any worry abou terrorism is nothing but paranoia and racism?

I agree that the case in question here was a ridiculous overreaction, but acting like know-it-all's is just annoying.
posted by jonmc at 7:36 AM on July 21, 2004


jonmc - sorry if I sounded condescending. My point is that the current US administration owes its people a lot of information on the specific threat that they are up against. I am not asking for a full (and foolish) disclosure of all the available data. But something more then "be afraid, very afraid" would probably be very welcome, highly soothing and more effective against the terrorists if and when they show up. Information, as they say, is power. Interpret that whichever way you want.

/The chances of winning a lottery jackpot are effectively zero. Yet people land the prize again and again and again. Is hoping to win the lottery irrational? Why/why not?
posted by magullo at 7:44 AM on July 21, 2004


"we weren't afraid enough"

I disagree. Maybe we weren't alert enough, prepared, concerned, wary, vigilant, pessimistic or whatever other adjective you want to choose. But I don't think that fear is useful attribute on a national level.

I guess my question is, what are we so afraid of? That some people may die? That I might die? That our loved ones might die? All of these things are legitimate fears, but the obsessive nature of our national fear is bizarre to me. It seems to me to stem from the illusion of control (over everything) that people now seem to insist upon, even as the world grows ever more complex and bewildering.

~ on preview

bondcliff - nobody's saying ignore it, or to pretend like it didn't happen. What some of us are saying is this: place it in it's proper perspective. It was a horrible tragedy, and our hearts go out to everyone affected. But, just because you saw it on television, doesn't make it a bigger real threat than any other picked out of the ether.

To put it another way, if you had to see video footage on the nightly news of every single highway fatality that happened that day (109 a day nationwide, on average), do you think you would start to fear death on the highway more than death by terrorist attack?
posted by Irontom at 7:48 AM on July 21, 2004


I'm not afraid of dying in an automobile accident, but I drive safely and wear my seatbelt as a precaution. I am afraid of dying in a terrorist attack, even though my chances of dying in an automobile accident are greater.

You damn yourself by your own words as illogical. Can't you see the contradiction there?

I sure miss the "home of the brave"...

Is hoping to win the lottery irrational?

Hoping is always irrational, by definition.
posted by rushmc at 7:52 AM on July 21, 2004


jonmc: fear of terrorism shouldn't show bias against people based on race. And if it does, then theoretically we should all be wildly afraid of everyone.

The anthrax suspect was a white middle-aged male.

The Ohio Sniper was a 28 year old white male.

The Washington Sniper turned out to be Lee Boyd Malvo, a young black kid who liked chess, and John Muhammad was a black gulf war vet.

Few Americans are even aware of the cyanide bombs that could have caused massive devastation, if it wasn't for an incorrectly delivered package. Those bombs being possessed by white men.

I have trouble considering the presence of 14 Arabs as a threat unless corroborated with information that they are, in fact, actually terrorists. The original articles are filled with irrational fear, and the responses on Michelle Malkin's site are far more frightening than 14 men with musical instruments could ever be.

There were numerous posts advocating an unprovoked passenger uprising, and at least one which actually suggested killing the 14 men, just in case they were terrorists.

These positions are the result of an inflammatory mix of fear and racism. To deny that racism isn't a factor is to deny reality.
posted by mosch at 7:58 AM on July 21, 2004


Racism is bad, but most of these remarks are out of line.

I don't care how you slice it, when 14 Syrians get on a plane and start doing weird s**t like getting up and down in unison, it's freakout time. Jacobsen flew - she freaked out - she wrote about it.

I understand that someone in the States might book a Syrian act to play in Vegas, but as a music bizzer myself, I can tell you that it's COMICAL no-brainer that you have a handler or road manager come with them, and that person would ABSOLUTELY be briefing the Syrians on what to do and not to do on an American airliner after 9/11. Stay in your fricken seat, don't move around in groups, don't wear clothes with Arabic writing all over them, etc, etc. You can't earn gig money from a Federal detention facility. This is common sense.

I am confident that our airline security is being probed, and you've read confirmation of this from others. That means that bad guys ARE flying. They are flying and seeing what they can get away with. If they don't get away with something, they don't pursue it. If they do get away with it, watch out.

Police states scare the heck out of me, but so does bureaucratic ineptness and inaction. Jacobsen's piece makes us look at the working boundary between these two extremes, whether you agree with her conclusions or not.
posted by anser at 8:00 AM on July 21, 2004


But something more then "be afraid, very afraid" would probably be very welcome, highly soothing and more effective against the terrorists if and when they show up. Information, as they say, is power.

Agreed. But "It's all just fear of the unknown," is not the most accurate view of it either.

The analogy to car accidents is interesting. I'm just thinking out loud here, but most of us have seen wrecks on the highway, been in fender benders and on some level chalk up the chances of dying in a wreck to the vagaries of chance. The idea that a terrorist would go through incredible amounts of trouble and sacrifice his own life to kill you is somehow a lot scarier (and also more maddening, which is an important part of the emotional equation here).

I realize this is not rational, but we aren't 100% rational beings. I also realize that the current administration is using this reaction to push forward their own agenda, but that dosen't mean we can dismiss the reaction, itself.
posted by jonmc at 8:06 AM on July 21, 2004


... probably yes -- but it would be much easier and most effective to just bring down, say, 20 commercial planes around the US in the same instant by shooting them with a rocket launcher as they take off.

Carlos the Jackal had contemplated exactly such a move decades ago, when he wanted to shoot down a Lufthansa jumbo from a rooftop in Kowloon.

My April Fool's prank this year was based on a similar premise, albeit from the waters off Chek Lap Kok, now that Kai Tak is shut down.

Had quite a few people scrambling for news verification on that one.
posted by bwg at 8:13 AM on July 21, 2004


"You damn yourself by your own words as illogical. Can't you see the contradiction there?"

Like, DUH. That's my point. Not only are americans worked up into a terror about terrorism, but the government is promoting this for their own political gain.

I recognize my own irrational fear, but I don't let it influence my decision making, whereas idiots like this woman not only let their fear influence their decision, but rationalize it and justify it! Even when the consequences are worse than what caused the fear in the first place. Racism and ignorance will cause far more damage in this country than terrorism.
posted by PigAlien at 8:17 AM on July 21, 2004


I realize this is not rational, but we aren't 100% rational beings.

indeed.... but that shouldn't prevent us from trying to filter irrational (and basically superstitious) fears out of our decision-making.

but that dosen't mean we can dismiss the reaction, itself.

How is it different than laying in bed at night, hearing some creaky noise out in some other part of the house, and wondering whether it's a burglar? Of course the noise is staggeringly unlikely to actually have anything to do with a burglar, and the sooner you look at the situation rationally the sooner you can get on with your night's sleep.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2004


mosch: let's also not forget the countless church burnings, doctor assasinations, and of course that pesky truck full of fertilizer parked next to the day car center of the Oklahoma Federal Building- blatant acts of terrorism within this country in the last decade. Amazing how clever those Arabs were to make it appear as if they had nothing to do with any of it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:35 AM on July 21, 2004


Of course the noise is staggeringly unlikely to actually have anything to do with a burglar, and the sooner you look at the situation rationally the sooner you can get on with your night's sleep.

Until of course, it is a burglar. Burglaries do happen, they're relatively common, actually.

We are given fear responses for a reason.
posted by jonmc at 8:41 AM on July 21, 2004


From her second article:


According to Mark Bogosian, B-757/767 pilot for American Airlines, "The incident you wrote about, and incidents like it, occur more than you like to think. It is a 'dirty little secret' that all of us, as crew members, have known about for quite some time."


What! Musicians from foreign countries travel in airplanes? How dare they? I'm just wondering what other "dirty little secrets" might those pilots have!
posted by hoskala at 8:44 AM on July 21, 2004


Brown musicians ARE hassled when travelling in the U.S. I know British Asian bhangra musicians who got stopped at the Canadian border (on tour between Toronto to Detroit) and not allowed entry, for no explicit reason. I know a British Asian electronica artist who was detained so long while officials went through his cell phone and questioned him that he almost missed his gig that night. Heck, this guy's not even a musician, and he was only flying THROUGH the U.S. on his way back home from Mexico, and he was detained and deported with no evidence. If you're brown, you're getting hassled by U.S. airlines and immigration officials no matter WHAT.
posted by fotzepolitic at 9:07 AM on July 21, 2004


Wait... I wear my seatbelt when I'm in my car. My car has an airbag. I drive as safely and as defensivly as possible. I avoid the mainiac swerving in front of me. I shouldn't do any of that because the odds of my getting in a car crash are pretty slim. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow while I'm walking across the street.

There are reasonable precautions and there are unreasonable precautions. We don't mandate the full racing harness, helmet and safety gas tanks on cars because of a perception that the costs of such extreme caution would both outweigh the benefits, and would not be productive in eliminating the kinds of motor vehicle fatalities that affect the most people.

There is a whole bunch of stuff in the original article that just plain stinks. For example, the claim that their carry-on baggage was not inspected seems highly suspect to me.

But as usual, it seems that we are approaching this issue with our blinders on. Either this was a terrorist dry run, or a person got freaked out and started interpreting evil intent behind every nuance of expression. I suspect the truth is a bit of both.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:19 AM on July 21, 2004


So, let me get this straight: people, including airline pilots, seriously believe that terrorists are doing dry runs with fourteen goddamn people? They only needed 19 for 9/11 and we're supposed to believe that they're putting fourteen at risk by acting suspicious in an airplane while wearing track suits with arabic writing on them? Come again? It's like everyone has this stupid idea that there's a limitless number of Al Qaeda members and they wouldn't think twice about wasting fifteen to "see what they can get away with" on a plane. It's paranoid beyond belief.

Here's a few quotes from the new one that I particularly liked (in that distasteful way):

I keep thinking back to a photograph I saw in the Los Angeles Times called "Falling" by Pulitzer Prize winning AP photographer Richard Drew. It's a photograph of a man, his body is stretched out, one knee at a right angle, as if he's lying on a couch, watching television in the living room, relaxing and enjoying life. But he's not. It's a photograph of a man falling from one of the top floors of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. This man jumped to his death, most likely because it seemed a less painful way to die than being engulfed in flames.

This picture is haunting. For a long time I kept it in my office. I still think about this picture and I wonder about this man -- his daily life, what he did for work, what he did for play, what his thoughts were about the world. I think about this person. I think about the meaning of "dry run." And then I think about what it means to be politically correct. And I keep coming up blank.


I wonder if she looked at the "middle easterners" on the plane and wondered the same thing about them: do they have families? Hobbies? No, they're just a large group of brown guys hanging out together on a plane.

"We have little to fear from grandmothers and little boys. But Middle Eastern males are protected, not by our Constitution, but from our current popular policy of political correctness and a desire to offend no one at any cost, regardless of how many airplanes and bodies litter the landscape. This is my personal opinion, formed by my experiences and observations."

No matter "how many" litter the landscape? Five. There were five and there haven't been any since. In addition, they weren't "middle eastern males", most of them were Saudis, the ones with all that money in the United States, the ones the woman's wall street would probably piss their pants without (you know, when they pulled out their huge percentage of the economy and it tanked).

Regardless, however, even if they were Saudi it wouldn't matter. How can this guy rationalize what he's saying? His "experiences and observations" have, as far as I know, not resulted in the apprehension of a single terrorist or terror suspect. His observations are a fear of groups of brown men on flights. Thank god they haven't armed the pilots yet, or it'd only be a matter of time until one of them did something really stupid.

I'm going to stop because it's a waste of time, but this whole thing is fucking insane. She seems to be suggesting that our political correctness is all that's stopping us from doing what needs to be done and rounding up large groups of middle eastern men on flights and subjecting them to extreme interrogation. I wonder what she'd think if it was a large group of middle eastern men who live in the U.S.? It's also amazing that she didn't respond to any legitimate e-mails in her follow-up. I'm sure there were more reasoned responses than "calling the middle eastern men is racist!" In fact, it wouldn't surprised me if she's simplifying the arguments against her to this ridiculous form, unless everyone who sent her an e-mail is a drooling simpleton.

I'm afraid of Americans.
posted by The God Complex at 9:51 AM on July 21, 2004


(err, four planes on 9.11, not five.)
posted by The God Complex at 9:54 AM on July 21, 2004


Stay in your fricken seat, don't move around in groups, don't wear clothes with Arabic writing all over them, etc, etc.

So what you're saying is if you're a brown person flying you should sit in your seat, not use the bathroom, not make eye contact, and certainly not associate with any other brown people on the plane. Whew -- well that certainly seems like an acceptable level of racism to me!
posted by jess at 10:24 AM on July 21, 2004


The woman is racist. The only thing new about that is that 9/11 gave her an excuse to justify that. Before she had to feel guilty about it, now she's doing her patriotic duty.

Bitch.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:01 AM on July 21, 2004


johnmc - not to hammer this to death, but here is a wider explanation of what I mean by fear of the unknown.

Taken at face value, the official story provokes irrational fear in me. There is this guy on dialisis living in quasi pre-historic conditions in some cave in the middle of nowhere. Yet he can attack repeatedly the most powerful country in the world and get away with it. With that data alone, I'm certainly not discounting trying kryptonite if it comes to that.

However ...

I am not American. I come from a place where terrorism unfortunately is a big part of the scene. I've been exposed throughout my life to a flood of data on terrorism, formal and informal, from the top and from the bottom, from the supporters to the supporters of dealing with it by using their same methods. At the end of the day, the picture that comes through is that those local fellows of mine are a simply a bunch of losers. And that what they do is not that complicated - more like retarded.

Just like I've rationalized the fact that I can get run over by a car or that my plane can simply fall off the sky, I have also rationalized the fact that I can get into a deadly situation provoked by the assholes. Any loser can ruin your day. But that is not an irrational fear.

Choose your poison.
posted by magullo at 11:21 AM on July 21, 2004


So, let me get this straight: people, including airline pilots, seriously believe that terrorists are doing dry runs with fourteen goddamn people? They only needed 19 for 9/11 and we're supposed to believe that they're putting fourteen at risk by acting suspicious in an airplane while wearing track suits with arabic writing on them? Come again?

Well, it stands to reason that given the elevated level of security and awareness after the 9/11 attacks, it might take more people to accomplish some kinds of operations than would have been the case three years ago. You might have to assign 'muscle' to take out the FAMs as well as the air crew, etc. And so yes, it's important to know whether you're going to be able to get that many guys on a plane and put them in motion. A dry run consists of seeing how far you can get before someone acts - and being ready to act innocent thereafter. Preferably you send people who know as little as possible about what else is going on. Richard Reid being a good example.

So what you're saying is if you're a brown person flying you should sit in your seat, not use the bathroom, not make eye contact, and certainly not associate with any other brown people on the plane.

No, I'm saying that if you are flying a group of Middle Eastern men (regardless of skin color) into the US on business, you make sure they realize that the US is jumpy about such things and they should maximize their chances of making the gig on time by staying in their seats as much as possible instead of lounging around and networking like a party bus, etc. I'm not saying they should know this from birth, as it were - I'm saying that they should have been briefed by their agent or host.
posted by anser at 11:23 AM on July 21, 2004


jonmc:

Look, the fear is pervasive. I have contracted the fear as well. Prior to 9/11, I never felt compelled to turn on the news in the morning. Now, every day, that is the first thing I do.

If I were being dishonest with you I'd say it's merely because I want to know what's going on. But the real reason I turn on the news is to see if it's happened again.

You know, I think the 9/11 terrorists must have been geniuses - inadvertent geniuses perhaps, but geniuses nonetheless. For the manner in which they carried out their attacks was so high-profile, so photogenic, even, that it virtually guaranteed that the footage of the planes hitting the twin towers would be replayed over and over again. These images have been drilled into the collective American conscience; almost akin to a form of brainwashing.

And it has affected our collective thought process. Benjamin Franklin remarked that those willing to trade freedom for safety deserve neither; put that statement to the average American and they'll think you as dangerous as the terrorists themselves. Of course we're willing to trade freedoms for safety. Because we all feel so unsafe.

Well, some of us may have more reason to feel threatened than others - again, I don't know that I could feel safe living in NYC or LA right about now. But in my town, in most towns, there is no appreciable threat of a terrorist attack.

That is not to say there won't be more terror attacks - in fact, I fully believe that there will be. And that of course will spark another round of fear, another round of the Patriot Act, perhaps, more measures designed to make us all safe, or to make us feel safe.

But can this ever be achieved? The main impulse in American life today seems to be this yearning to go back to the way it was, before 9/11, when we were safe. But were we actually safe prior to 9/11? The answer is, of course not - 9/11 merely showed how vulnerable we really were, how vulnerable we had always been. We never were safe.

So the question, to those who are waging and supporting this war on terror, such that it is, is this: Can we ever really be "safe?" Is it really possible to kill everyone who wishes us harm? Can we overthrow every regime that might aid them financially and logistically?

Can we realistically cow every nation that bears us ill will - and not create new, equally dangerous enemies in the wake of this?

Does there ever come a time when your pasty white American like me can fly coach and not be made nervous when a bunch of Middle Eastern men do what this original piece describes them as doing?

The answer, in every case, has got to be "no."

So why are we proceeding as if the answers were "yes?"
posted by kgasmart at 11:37 AM on July 21, 2004


I'm saying that they should have been briefed by their agent or host.

But you're missing jess' point.

Any such warning would be inherently racist, and should for no reason be heeded.

Unless it's also acceptable to say: Hey you, young black men. Don't speak to eachother while shopping. Don't go near the back of the store, and only one item at a time in the dressing room. Don't touch any of the merchandise you are not considering for purchase, and we may need to check your bags before you leave.

Small-town America is jumpy about such things, after all. I'm not saying black men should know this from birth, as it were -- I'm just saying that they should be warned by their parents.
posted by rafter at 11:42 AM on July 21, 2004


One thing I think almost everyone here has completely gapped-out on is this:

The problem isn't that she was afraid.

The problem is that she spread that fear.

If she had found out that, indeed, those men were doing a terrorist dry run, or that, indeed, airport security had failed to correctly identify the men as terrorists, then she would have had great valid concerns and a great need to write the article.

But airport security was appropriate, and the men were not terrorists. She should not have spread the fear.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:45 AM on July 21, 2004


fff, I didn't gap out on that. I pointed it out earlier.

just sayin...
posted by PigAlien at 12:02 PM on July 21, 2004


Fear is a choice. If you choose to see the world through the lenses of fear because once a few maniacs slammed airplanes into tall buildings and killed 3,000 people and the whole world saw it on live TV, that's your choice. If you want to take that imaginative imprint that formed when you saw the towers come down in spectacular fashion (going by the meaning of "spectacular" as in "a spectacle") and apply it to situations that don't warrant it, that's your choice. If you want to be ruled by your own paranoia and see everything like that, rather than thinking, "Maybe, just maybe, the world isn't all in my head but there are other things going on there and although this is weird and discomforting I won't give way to panic," that's a choice.

The other choice is trust. Not blind trust -- obviously, if something threatening is happening, you react, if someone points a gun at you, you respond to the threat -- but trust that what your fear is telling you is happening is, almost certainly, not what actually is. It's a tenacious habit to get into, and there are a lot of people making a whole lot of money and siphoning a whole lot of psychic energy by keeping all of the U.S. in a state of panic. It's good business, after all. But it's no way to live. You don't create all these suppositions because you were afraid. And as fff said, you don't spread that fear after it was proven foundless. That's the even bigger crime right there.
posted by solistrato at 12:15 PM on July 21, 2004


good point, FFF (and pigalien).

It really is annoying how people are using this article, but it is understandable since (as I said in the previous post) there is a sense that our airline security does SUCK. This is something I have noticed in my travels, even after 9-11, US airports seem so much less secure then those in Europe or the Middle East.
posted by chaz at 12:22 PM on July 21, 2004


We should make her the new Minister of Fear.
posted by homunculus at 12:29 PM on July 21, 2004


Does there ever come a time when your pasty white American like me can fly coach and not be made nervous when a bunch of Middle Eastern men do what this original piece describes them as doing?

Well, there is a basic problem here. Perhaps I'm just a bit too much of a student of human nature, but memory starts off bad, add memory and a dollup of fear, and it gets worse, and throw in some ideology and you have a big ugly mess. I'm not willing to take at face value how much these men were doing on the plane.

fff has a great comment here. There are two lessons one can learn. One can chalk this up to preconceptions, or one can insist that one saw a "dry run" of a terrorist attack.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:52 PM on July 21, 2004


bwg, Carlos the Jackal did fire RPGs at an El Al 707 at Orly airport in 1975, but fouled it up in almost comical fashion, missing with two rockets before escaping. Then he tried again a few days later and fouled it all up again. Silly terrorists.
posted by hashashin at 1:47 PM on July 21, 2004


Well, some of us may have more reason to feel threatened than others - again, I don't know that I could feel safe living in NYC or LA right about now

Even living in NYC is no reason to live in fear. To be coldly statistical about it, 3000 people out of 8 milllion means something like a 1 in 2600 chance of being killed, if we had more of these enormous terrorist attacks. But the thing is, I really don't think we will. They got lucky that time - I am sure that even they were surprised how "well" it went from their POV. I don't think anyone expected the towers to collapse - yes, in retrospect we all say, well of course they did, they had to, plane fuel, temperature, blah blah blah - but I really think pretty much everyone was dumbstruck when that happened (even the chief engineer of the WTC was quoted as saying he was shocked by that, even though after 'doing the math' later it was not surprising).

Anyway, they'll never be able to fly into a building again, so all they can really do is shoot planes themselves or get planes shot down by the US gov by turning onto a course toward a building (which would prob look worse for the gov and so be a better strategy from their point...) Still, point is, they'd have to do that like 30 times to get the numbers they got a couple years ago, plus it wouldn't matter which airports they went out of, so NYC isn't necessarily at higher risk - basically, sure, there's a small chance that another operation will be successful, but it would almost certainly be a far smaller death toll, and therefore you've more chance of dying any old boring way than you do of being a victim of a terrorist attack.

I think the point made above about how freaked out we'd be to get on the highway if we were forced to watch footage of every accident, is spot on. I'm not saying it's wrong to feel fear, but it's not necessary to live in fear. Like someone said above, if someone points a gun at you, the best response is not to freak out but to assess the situation and decide on the best reaction - if he's much bigger than you, seems fully in control of the weapon, and just wants your money, you give it to him. If he's smaller, less focused, and may decide to hurt you, work out a defense. (Anyone else see six feet under this week? the protagonist was kidnapped by a small, crazed man, and had so many chances to make a move, but was caught in fear & nearly killed because of it. Yeah, I know it's fiction, but still...)
posted by mdn at 2:27 PM on July 21, 2004


The idea that a terrorist would go through incredible amounts of trouble and sacrifice his own life to kill you is somehow a lot scarier

Not to me, it isn't.

I fear millions reacting blindly, through fear, a LOT more than I fear the extremely remote possibility of a tiny number of people successfully acting offensively against me. It's a much more valid threat.
posted by rushmc at 3:31 PM on July 21, 2004


As always, it's well worth noting that the climate of fear and paranoia is a BIG win for the terrorists.

I think the primary goal of the terrorists was to bully the US Administration into withdrawing from the mid-East or, failing that, to start a mid-East conflict that would help them recruit more radicals.

That they also got the US Administration to institute what's rapidly becoming a police state of ID checks, travel restrictions, and citizens spying on citizens is surely an unforeseen and very, very happy outcome in their view.

I don't know that the US Administration played right into the terrorists' hands... but they sure as hell must be delighted with how magnificent the outcome has been.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:13 PM on July 21, 2004


Islamic terrorists have three potential effects on western populations.
  • Invading, taking over, killing all the infidels and converting us to Islamic states. Ain't gonna happen, my friends. There simply aren't enough of them, no matter what your favourite racist warbloger says.

  • Killing / injuring us. Effects, on the whole, a very small proportion of the population directly. As has been pointed out, if our intent is honestly to reduce the number of innocent people dying, money could be better spent on research into fatal diseases, road safety, helping people on harmful drugs. You would save more lives per dollar.

  • Making us afraid. At this, they have been enormously successful. Despite the lack of rationality in fearing either of the above events, a lot of people are dreadfully afriad. This is what has the largest impact on free nations - not death, or destruction, but fear. This is what influences the daily activities of people, from where to go on holiday, to whether to make friends with the neighbours, to who to vote for, to delusions of musicial instrument cases being weapons of war. It is also, fortunately, the impact we have the most control over. It's difficult for people to stop being afraid, I know, but if the media, government, and fellow citizens put more effort into helping people deal with their fears instead of putting effort into making people more afraid, we would be better off.

  • posted by Jimbob at 4:29 PM on July 21, 2004


    oh, I think we played into their hands, fff. Osama's clear goal is to start a war between Islam and Christianity. He's said as much himself. He knew we'd never in a million years withdraw from the middle east. Even if Gore had been president, we wouldn't have withdrawn. He wanted to create more turmoil and create more soldiers for his army, and he achieved that. He wanted to inspire fear in us, and he did that. He's a brilliant man, have to give him that much credit.
    posted by PigAlien at 4:30 PM on July 21, 2004


    I fear millions reacting blindly, through fear, a LOT more than I fear the extremely remote possibility of a tiny number of people successfully acting offensively against me. It's a much more valid threat.

    I meant scarier than dying by chance in a car wreck or something similar, rush. Obviously, an entire populace organized around fear and hatred is more frightening than a small cell, however frightening that might be.

    Just making sure you understood me.
    posted by jonmc at 6:01 PM on July 21, 2004


    Christ. CNN is doing the story now. (Aaron Brown show)
    posted by CunningLinguist at 7:04 PM on July 21, 2004


    Just making sure you understood me.

    Thanks for the clarification. Still, though, I have to say that I fear a drunk driver plowing into me more than a terrorist blowing me up, because statistically it is much more likely to happen and therefore is the greater threat. If I were on a plane that was suddenly commandeered by terrorists, THEN the fear-of-terrorists would kick in, sure, but right now totally changing and shackling my life out of fear of what some unknown terrorists might do to me is about as rational as having my bunghole sewn shut as a precautionary measure against alien abduction.

    Actually, I don't fear the drunk driver, either. I may worry about it a little from time to time, but fearing it would upset my mental and emotional equilibrium without providing any gain in return. I prefer to be aware of the potential threat, take some reasonable precautions, and go on living my life. Ditto for the terrorist theat.
    posted by rushmc at 7:22 PM on July 21, 2004


    And just for the record, I don't like the prejudices and paranoia that 9/11 has stirred up in our population either. My sister is married to a middle eastern man and she's due in September. So if they say they see every Arab as a terrorist, then they're insulting my blood family. And I don't shackle myself either, I moved back to NYC post-9/11 because I love this city, and I still speak every opinion I have proudly and associate with whomever I wish.

    But I undertsand where the fear comes from. So I can't write it off completely as blind fear. Something horrendous and unforgivable happened, and people are worried about it happening again. I can't really blame them. I just don't like the way it's manifesting itself and wish it could be channelled more constructively. But I still understand it.
    posted by jonmc at 8:09 PM on July 21, 2004


    jonmc: There is an interesting psychological reason why terrorism is more scary than car accidents. Things become more scary the less we are able to maintain an illusion of personal agency.

    We can pretend we have control over what happens to us when we are in a car. We can't have this pretense over terrorist attacks.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:06 PM on July 21, 2004


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