November 24, 2015

The Road Ahead

I read this New York Times story and, well, um, kinda what I was saying in my piece in Saturday's Valley News

I recognize how important security is right now. It is the number one priority of every politician in France, Europe, the US, and beyond. But watching the French people quickly issue their stamp of approval to their government's swift actions only to begin scratching their heads a few days later is déjà vu. 

How is it possible, as an American, not to think back to the days, weeks, months, and years after 9/11? When President Bush took the bullhorn at Ground Zero, saying, "I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon!", how did you feel? Personally, and watching it again, even knowing all I know now, I get goosebumps. It was very strong, very moving, and, to my ears at least, confident and optimistic.


We all know the road we've traveled since then. For ten years, we lived with a color-coded system. What, pray tell, were we supposed to do when the Department of Homeland Security changed the threat level to "Orange: Elevated"? Mr. Snowden certainly gave us an education in what our government was/is up to. Try to remember a world where these terms or quotes meant nothing to you: Waterboarding, black sites, "We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators," drone strikes, jihadist, extraordinary rendition, "if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant," ISIL, Daesh, Taliban, al-Qadea, TSA, "hand-wringing over the government's role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists"...we could go on, in an entirely bi-partisan way, I assure you.

Take a minute and recall airline travel pre-9/11. Can you? If you need a reminder, watch this scene. Impossible in today's world! The humiliation of taking off one's shoes, belt, and watch when going through airport security seems to have dissipated. (A more complete list of things people miss from pre-9/11 travel is here.) And we seem to go blithely along with it, no longer wondering out loud why it is that an airplane requires such incredible measures of security, but anyone can continue to hop on and off trains, subways, and buses. Security guards at rock concerts and sporting events aren't just looking for drugs and smuggled alcohol anymore; they are looking for "anything suspicious." Armed men in civilian clothes on every flight? We accept. A "Do Not Fly" list that my government runs...full of names that don't resemble Tom, Dick, and Harry? We accept. "If you see something, say something" as a new national mantra? We accept. 

The world is faster than it was in 2001, and France is going through the evolution Americans went through post-9/11 at a much quicker pace. You can feel the push-pull of their emotions. On the one hand, they of course want to feel safe. On the other, they get visibly uncomfortable when pushed to say how far is too far. In a country where, in normal times, police cannot search a person's home between the hours of 9pm and 6am, the sudden flood of raids and searches is giving people pause. (You read that right: no midnight raids here.) A lifestyle, a set of assumptions about the rules, liberty, national pride, safety, justice, fairness, race, religion...all these things are suddenly in question. Don't you remember that same progression, America? Because I sure do.

But the march has already started. There is no real turning back from these types of choices. Consider the political reality: what is the most important thing for every elected official or person in power in France right now? A: That terrorism does not strike again on your watch. It is self-defense. No person in power the world over would put the brakes on techniques that may diminish the chances of a terrorist attack right now. 

But look back at the list of terms from your post-9/11 life. How many were used in the name of keeping America and the world safer?

Now that so many of these terms have become our normal, isn't it fair to ask: how safe do you feel?

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