Friday, January 1, 2010

Red Shrieking, Green Conditions

Christopher Hitchens waxes cynical about the security measures that failed to prevent the latest hilarious-if-it-wasn't-true attack:

No sooner is the fanatical and homicidal Muslim arrested than it turns out that he (it won't be long until it is also she) has been known to the authorities for a long time. But somehow the watch list, the tipoff, the many worried reports from colleagues and relatives, the placing of the name on a "central repository of information" don't prevent the suspect from boarding a plane, changing planes, or bringing whatever he cares to bring onto a plane. [emphasis mine]
"Whatever he cares to bring"? If the batch of chemicals that sufficed to almost destroy a pair of AbdulMutallab's underpants represents what today's most terrifying terrorists want to smuggle onto planes -- rather than, say, grenades, dynamite, rifles, handguns, knives, or even a decent crossbow -- then I hereby set my personal terror alert level to two full shades below Green, to a soothing shade of Mauve.

Of course, in fairness, Hitchens is not arguing that AbdulMutallab's underwear-damaging chemical soup is a looming danger that justifies sur-Red levels of fear, resolve, and vigilance. I say "of course," but only because I tend to give Hitchens the benefit of the doubt; in fact, I don't have a clear idea of what he's arguing.

On one hand, he is outraged that security measures didn't stop AbdulMutallab's diabolical underwear mix, but on the other hand, he's outraged that security measures trouble everyone's innocent toothpaste:
The fault here is not just with our endlessly incompetent security services, who give the benefit of the doubt to people who should have been arrested long ago or at least had their visas and travel rights revoked. It is also with a public opinion that sheepishly bleats to be made to "feel safe." The demand to satisfy that sad illusion can be met with relative ease if you pay enough people to stand around and stare significantly at the citizens' toothpaste.
To review: on Hitchens's account, we face "a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology" that will outlast anyone living today, protected only by an "endlessly incompetent" thin blue line of toothpaste-frisking keystone cops.

If that's truly the state of things, it's a wonder that anyone is still alive, let alone that air traffic, commerce, and everyday life continue apace.

With due respect to Hitchens, unhinged hyperbole in the defense of liberty is a vice -- a supremely unhelpful and stupid one. Judging by what we can see -- number of attacks, counts of casualties and deaths, measurable disruption of commerce, etc. -- the nihilistic religious ideology is demonstrably failing to unravel civilization.

I am not in a position to say whether and to what extent our continued non-destruction owes to some competence amidst our security apparatus, or to some attenuation of our enemies' relentless wickedness, or to a combination of these. If Hitchens and like-minded shriekers know more, they should bring it forward in a responsible way and, meanwhile, tone down the bullshit and adjust the rhetoric to match the hue of the reality.

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