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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Terrorists Want Us To Be Afraid Of Kitchen Tools

Matt Pressberg |
March 12, 2013 | 11:01 a.m. PDT


A deadly weapon, according to the American people. (joebeone/Flickr)
A deadly weapon, according to the American people. (joebeone/Flickr)
The T.S.A. just can’t win. For all the deserved criticism it gets for operating as a uniformed iPad repossession syndicate, when it finally takes a pro-passenger freedom position, people act like the government is trying to kill us.

Last week, to bring its policies more in line with international norms, the Transportation Security Administration announced that it would no longer prohibit folding knives with a blade shorter than 2.36 inches and select sports equipment, like hockey sticks, pool cues and up to two golf clubs, from being carried onboard airplanes.

This seems like a welcome common-sense rule (plenty of athletes have valuable custom equipment they don’t love entrusting baggage handlers with, and a small blade always comes in handy when opening blister-packed medication for the inevitable travel malady), but apparently Americans are not ready to once again embrace the chaos of cabin mates with real cutlery. This stuff is already allowed overseas, and the last time a transatlantic voyage ended up under the control of club-wielding attackers, Leif Eriksson was touching down on Newfoundland. But we don’t care about all that. Because 9/11.

It’s no coincidence this public sentiment came the same week Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made news for an epic filibuster over whether the government can kill Americans with drone strikes under the guise of America’s longest war, more than 11 years after 9/11.

“The problem is, they don't see an end to the war,” he said. “They see perpetual war, perpetual war without geographic limits, and they see the battlefield here.”

Paul chose an extreme example of missiles flying through restaurants in Anytown, USA, but we have to start somewhere as far as placing limits on the “war on terror.” We haven’t yet.

“We can’t allow ourselves to, you know, be so, I guess, afraid of terrorism or afraid of our enemies that we give up on what makes us Americans,” Paul said.
Of course, this is not to say that banning pocketknives on airplanes is analogous to targeted killings without due process, but when we’re not even able to trust our fellow citizens with corkscrews in the sky “because terrorism," we’re less likely to be introspective about droning people with unsavory associations “because terrorism," and that only pulls us further away from our constitutional principles.

Sure, a 2.36 inch knife can be used to kill someone. So can a bootlace. If the 9/11 hijackers had garroted some of their victims, would we all have to fly in Crocs?

Someone could take a souvenir mirror or glass plate, crack it over the side of the airplane seat, and make a nasty bladed weapon that is at least as deadly as a waiter’s corkscrew. This is a fun parlor game but ultimately a silly hypothetical exercise because air travel, as unpleasant as it can sometimes be, doesn’t operate under prison riot rules. When the enemy is willing to bring an exploding penis to a knife fight, a knife fight isn’t the concern.

This hysterical vision of kitchen tool-fueled mayhem in the skies is even more ridiculous than Wayne LaPierre’s Kindergarten Cop fantasies, because at least there have been actual instances of spree shooters gunned down by armed citizens. Nobody is going to commandeer a jumbo jet with a Swiss Army knife and a hockey stick. MacGyver isn’t real.

If you can actually hijack a passenger jet in this post-9/11 dynamic with a 2.36 inch blade, you kind of deserve it. Maybe that can be the next X Prize.

Yes, the 9/11 hijackers killed thousands of people armed with nothing more than box cutters, but that “worked” because of extensive strategic planning and—most importantly—the element of surprise, not because their weapon of choice was so lethal. If the lasting lesson of that day was that small bladed tools are the biggest threat to the safety of American air travelers and because Mohammed Atta had a box cutter, Uncle Frank’s 9-iron is just too dangerous, we’re missing the point and trading liberty for security theater. We can talk a big game about American values, but Freedom Fries looks even sillier than it did at the time because we’re scared of can openers in 2013.

A terrorist doesn’t become a threat to the airplane when he pulls a pocketknife from his backpack. He becomes a threat when he walks down the jetway. Again, if he’s willing to ignite his genitals for the cause (which is taking circumcision to a whole other level), no confiscation-based enforcement strategy is going to do much once he’s on the airplane.

So instead of doing the hard work of judgment calls and risk management, we infantilize travelers at home and remotely incinerate brown people abroad. To paraphrase Sen. Paul, we’d rather send a Hellfire missile through an arbitrary Yemeni café than take any chances. If the battlefield is here, you can never be too safe.

Despite the fact that Osama bin Laden is now on the bottom of the ocean where he belongs, his shadow still looms large. We should be able to pop bottles and rejoice in removing a man who terrorized thousands of Americans and our friends overseas, but we’re too scared to bring the corkscrews.

Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of the Transportation Security Administration here.

Reach Editor-at-Large Matt Pressberg here.



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