Over at Pharyngula, PZ has a nice wrap-up of the debate between Bruce Schneier and Sam Harris on the topic of whether or not we ought to implement a 2-tiered screening system that subjects “Muslims or anyone who looks Muslim” to extra scrutiny at airports. Bruce points out some very good reasons why this is a bad idea, but there’s one somewhat tangential argument that he doesn’t mention. The biggest problem with screening for Muslims at the airport is that some of our biggest terrorists aren’t at the airport. They’re in the media, in Congress, and in the White House.
Of course, I’m not talking about first-degree terrorism, i.e. blowing things up and killing people directly. I’m talking about second-degree terrorism: keeping people in a constant state of fear in order to manipulate them. We’ve had going on 12 years of being told that we need to voluntarily surrender our liberties and constitutional rights because—gasp—there’s bad guys out there. And yes, there are, but there always have been. Our problem isn’t the terrorism that attacks us with bombs and guns, our problem is the terrorism that attacks us with legislation and unwarranted spying and other clandestine, illegal activities hidden behind the autocratic dictum of “state secrets.”
Bruce summed it up well:
But perhaps most importantly, we should refuse to be terrorized. Terrorism isn’t really a crime against people or property; it’s a crime against our minds. If we are terrorized, then the terrorists win even if their plots fail. If we refuse to be terrorized, then the terrorists lose even if their plots succeed.
Unless and until we stand up and refuse to be terrorized, unless and until we stop cowering and bleating like sheep every time a politician or media personality cries “security!”, these abuses of our liberty will continue to get worse. “Maximum security” is a prison, not a Utopia.