Bill Maher

I hate stupidity, but what I hate even more is when people actually brag about it. For example, when America’s television stars finally felt it was “emotionally safe” to hold the 2001 Emmy Awards — after a compromise of no tuxes and a somber tone — local news reports ignorantly raved about the preposterously inefficient level of security. They boasted that “even the most recognizable stars were required to present a valid photo ID.” Which is exactly what’s wrong with America’s approach to security. We’re so intent on presenting the appearance of evenhandedness, on not singling anyone out or hurting anyone’s feelings, that we defeat the purpose. They’re celebrating the fact that it appears as if they’ve left no stone unturned and I’m thinking — you have limited resources — leave a stone unturned! Sharon Stone, for instance. You can direct your manpower elsewhere because she’s not a likely terrorist suspect — she’s Sharon Stone!

Likewise, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has insisted that we must heed the lessons of 40’s Japanese internment in not resorting to racial or ethnic profiling in our airports. When asked on “60 Minutes” whether a 70-year-old woman from Vero Beach would receive the same level of scrutiny as a Muslim young man from Jersey City, he replied, “I would hope so,” proving that the first casualty of war is common sense. “Passengers should find all the evidence of equal inspection reassuring,” Mineta said.

Reassuring? It’s reassuring to know that the people guarding our jugular have decided on a policy of suspending human judgement? Actually, having robots and nitwits check everyone equally is a sure recipe for disaster. It’s a mindless, exploitable system of window dressing and posturing; it’s procedure-bound automatons following prescribed guidelines by rote. It’s randomness when we need focus. It’s heads up asses when we need heads up.

And this is coming straight from the top. President Bush’s response to a hissy fit thrown by an armed Arab-American secret service agent who’d been taken out of line and questioned before boarding a plane was that he’d be “plenty hot” if he found out the guy was scrutinized because he was Muslim. Which was Dick Cheney’s cue to whisper in the president’s ear, “Ah sir, that’s what Ashcroft is doing every day.” Sure, it’s OK for him to interrogate everyone who’s ever glanced toward Mecca — his profiling was A-okay. In fact, if you whined about it and brought up civil rights you were just “aiding the terrorists.” But at the airports, where we face the most obvious and imminent danger, we have become dangerously and inexplicably committed to placing pretense over results.

Somewhere along the line we became this oversensitive victim culture where it is assumed that no one is ever supposed to get physically or emotionally hurt. We can’t approach or question anyone about anything for fear of hurting their feelings, making them self-conscious, and ultimately becoming the defendant in their discrimination lawsuit. Remember, we’re not talking about beating young Middle Eastern men with rubber hoses or placing Arab-American families into internment camps. We’re asking them to perhaps endure a few extra questions at the baggage check-in line so that we can all get back to the days when the most life-threatening thing on a plane was the Chicken Kiev.

The people who hate us target all Americans — black, white, young and old — but just because they’re indiscriminate about going after us doesn’t mean we must be indiscriminate in going after them. We’ve been brainwashed into believing that it’s a sin to discriminate. But discrimination doesn’t mean racism; it means telling unlike things apart. Iowa grandpas and nine-year-old girls from Ohio are simply not looking to visit “a painful chastisement upon the Western infidels.” “Profiling,” like “discrimination,” has become a bad word, even though all police work is based on it, as it must be. If we stopped calling it profiling and started calling it “proactive intelligence screening” or “high-alert detecting,” people would be saying, “Well, it’s about time.”

By the way, passenger searches are not only random, they include random acts of kindness. Screeners are being trained to smile and glance down at the tag on the bag and call passengers by name: “Have a good flight, Mr. Samsonite!” At the Baltimore airport they’ve hired mimes and jugglers and other Cirque de So Lame-type entertainment to divert flyers waiting in long security lines. It’s all part of our national policy of placing feeling good over actual safety.

It would be good if we could get with the program. It would be better if we had one first.

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