Security Theater and Security Porn

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Here we are, just two days into 2009, and already we have a Flying While Muslim incident to discuss. Yesterday at DCA, nine Muslims (identifiable with long beards and hijab, except for the three kids under age eight) were removed from an Air Tran flight. According to an Air Tran spokesman, “people got on and made comments they shouldn’t have made on the airplane, and other people heard them.” A TSA representative concurred: “Someone heard something that was inappropriate.” 

What were the comments so dastardly and threatening that a number of people on the plane reported their fellow passengers? According to one of the men who was removed from the flight, his brother and sister-in-law were discussing the safest place to sit on an airplane.

That’s inappropriate? I’m being serious, because I hear some version of that conversation nearly every time I fly, usually between some grizzled air veteran and a newbie flyer who has heard that if the plane goes down you’re better off at the very back. Or over the wings. Or in the lavatory. Take away the hijab and the beard and the “not-American-ness” and there’s very likely no incident here.

Maybe we’ll get some insight into TSA decisions once “Homeland Security” premieres on ABC next week. (I cannot wait to read what Jim P. has to say about the new reality show…) Each week, the program goes behind the scenes with workers at the country’s various security apparatus. I’m especially excited about episode two, in which customs and immigration officials do their best to protect us from the scourge of illegal belly dancers. 

According to executive producer Arnold Shapiro, the show “doesn’t have a political point of view.” We’ll all have to watch and decide for ourselves, I suppose, but it’s hard not to get some political message from the promos, which focus heavily on border patrol officers. Sample deep-voice voiceover with footage of officers chasing illegal immigrants: “They protect us from harm. And defend our freedom.” A similar program is apparently a huge hit in Australia. Let’s just hope it’s no “Kath and Kim.”

UPDATE: Air Tran sought to avoid a lawsuit issued an apology to the DCA-9 a few hours ago. And because yesterday the airline refused to re-book the booted passengers and they had to purchase new tickets on another airline out-of-pocket, Air Tran also offered to cover the cost of their tickets. Throw in a few meal vouchers to cover the cost of some Cinnabons and then we’ll be getting somewhere…

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