As a frequent traveler in the United States, I have long been amazed by the passivity with which Americans have submitted to the post-9/11 airport security regime – the removing of belts and shoes and the endless lines that necessitate ever longer amounts of time spent in the airport. On one recent trip, I was subjected to a special wand-waving with my arms and legs spread apart on successive flights. The second time it happened I asked what about me had triggered the higher level of scrutiny, and I was told it was my baggy pants. "Give me back my belt, and I assure you my pants will not be baggy," I replied. About the best that can be said for the labor intensive airport security is that it has provided jobs for thousands of otherwise unemployable people.
Perhaps my irritability in American airports has something to do with the fact that I have a basis of comparison because I live in Israel. Flights to and from Israel are the most likely to be targeted of any flights in the world, and yet I can leave Israel without removing either my shoes or belt, and usually with a much shorter wait in line than in America. And I do so with a far higher degree of confidence that no one with malevolent intent is on my flight.
The surveillance in Israel starts long before one even reaches the airport and entails multiple levels prior to even reaching the personal security check. The large number of people congregated in airports makes them inviting targets long before anyone boards a plane. The Israeli approach takes that into account; the North American approach does not. At each level in Israel – as one's car approaches the airport, as one enters the airport, and, most intensively, prior to entering the ticketing lines – one is subjected to personal scrutiny and in the latter to a series of questions.
That personal scrutiny – profiling, if you will – acknowledges that there is little conceivable incentive that would induce an octogenarian grandmother from Iowa to blow herself up. Thus the danger comes almost entirely from those who fit into a group of those with an ideological/theological incentive to blow themselves up or those dumb enough to have accepted something from such a person. The set of such people falls into some fairly narrow parameters. It certainly includes someone whose own father had warned the American embassy in Nigeria that he might have been brainwashed by radical Islamists, like last x-mas's underwear bomber responsible for the latest ratcheting up of invasive searches by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). He, however, was not placed on a "no-fly" list. That did not stop Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano from proclaiming, "The system worked," after an alert fellow passenger prevented the terrorist from igniting himself.
Outside of Israel, airline security operates on the absurd premise that every passenger – from the elderly grandmother to the six-year-old with a teddy bear – is equally likely to be a terrorist threat. Apparently, however, the rule tafasta meruba lo tafasta (he who grabs too much ends up with nothing) applies to stupidity as well. TheTSA's latest imposition of full-body scanners that peer through clothes and highly invasive "pat-downs" for those reticent about being so viewed appears to be one-step too far. (Technology to completely distort the body image, while still pinpointing anything suspicious, has not been deployed.)
Most air passengers have long suspected that there is something foolish about the mechanistic intensification of searches in response to every new technique employed by terrorists, while refusing to attempt to identify the terrorists themselves. After the underwear bomber, the TSA banned bathroom visits in the last hour of flights. Had there been a few more such attempts, spaced throughout the flights, the TSA's logic would have compelled it to ban all use of toilets on international flights. What would the TSA do if a terrorist succeeded in secreting explosives inside his body? Order MRI's for each passenger?
TSA's latest moves have provided grist for comedians, hundreds of editorial cartoons, and a flood of home-made videos. They have also generated widely circulated stories of humiliation and trauma: cancer survivors told to remove prosthetic devices; a bladder cancer survivor whose urostomy bag was broken during a rough pat-down, despite his pleas that the security checker be careful.
Against such a spate of public ridicule and bitterness, the current approach cannot remain in place. And the result is that someone in the TSA may at last have to think about how to develop effective airport security instead of engaging in expensive pretense.
"All his days his father had never saddened him [by] saying, 'Why have you done this?" (Melachim I:1:6). So does the Torah break off in the midst of its account of Adonijah's attempt to usurp the throne of his father David Hamelech to give us a bit of his personal background.
I'm afraid that such childhoods are becoming increasingly common, as parents lose their nerve with respect to parenting. One of the unfortunate by-products of the tremendous emphasis on "kids at risk" or "kids on the fringe" in recent years is that parents are terrified of "saddening" their children in any way by exercising any parental function. Our children know this and exploit it. The implicit threat, "If you don't let me do this, or if you make things too difficult for me, I'll go off the derech," is ever lurking somewhere near the surface.
Parents fear not just punishing their children, but even initiating a dialogue about their actions. As a consequence, children grow up without ever being challenged to take the most basic responsibility for their actions and offer an explanation of why they acted as they did. The world then becomes hefker for them, as if there are no rules of conduct by which one has to justify himself.
Yet parents who abdicate their parental role as are more likely to bring about the very tragedy that they fear most. A child who is never forced to take responsibility for his actions, and who grows up without any feeling that consequences flow from the choices he makes cannot develop a positive self-image. Because he is never treated as a serious person at any level, he will never become one.
A recent article at Aish.com brought home the point with dreadful clarity. The author described her abusive childhood, and her determination that her children would never experience what she did. She provided her children with everything they desired and never placed any responsibilities on them. She woke up one day to the realization that she had raised a pack of brats. If one of the children dropped something on the floor, and someone suggested that they pick it up, the response was usually something like, "That's the maid's job."
The poor mother did not even have the consolation of "happy" children. They were sniveling, fraidy-cats, running to their mother's bed in the middle of the night long past the toddler stage, unpopular at school, and unable to succeed in any pursuit. With no reason to feel good about themselves, they also had no reason to feel good about Hashem's world. And that is a recipe for disaster.
My good friend Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenmann of Passaic offered an interesting insight into the story of Yosef and his brothers in one of his invaluable Short Vorts last week. He pointed out that the Torah does not say that the brothers hated Yosef after he brought an evil report concerning them to their father Yaakov Avinu. Only after Yaakov gave Yosef a multi-colored cloak is their hatred mentioned.
Until Yaakov's favoritism for Yosef became manifest, the brothers did not hate Yosef because they felt that there was an address for the redress of their grievances. But once they suspected that they could not get a fair hearing from their father, their hatred erupted.
So it is with societies. Nothing leads to a more divided, bitter society than the perception that the playing field is not level and that the rules are being manipulated to the advantage of some and against others. That is why affirmative action has been such a bitterly divisive issue for decades. In Israel, the Supreme Court's judicialization of every social and political question has been rightly viewed as the means by which a narrow segment of society maintains control over the country's norms to far greater degree than it ever could operating through the legislative process.
Large bureaucracies tend to produce reams of rules, and those rules often have the effect of tilting the balance towards some and away from others. Morris Panner, "a Democrat whose politics are decidedly liberal on social issues," made this point strongly in a November 19 op-ed in the Washington Post. The thrust of his op-ed was the impediments to starting a business, particularly an innovative one, in an environment of heavy regulation.
As an example, he points to the new financial reform bill, which delegates to unelected regulators almost unlimited discretion to determine proper lending practices, according to the liberal Brookings Institute. Planner, who has already started two software companies, writes that the more regulatory complexity, the more incumbents are favored: "They have the capital to participate in complicated regulatory proceedings. They can hire high-priced lobbyists. . . [And] the more that incumbents are favored, the harder for new companies to gain traction," and create new jobs.
Parents and governments are not exactly the same. The former cannot and should not treat every child identically, for the needs of one child are not the same as another. By the same token, government is not Big Daddy, and bureaucrats should not be deciding on different approaches on an ad hoc basis. The simpler, more transparent, and univocal the rules of the game, the better it will be for everyone in the long run. But in both families and societies a perception that those in charge have blatant favorites can only lead to bitter divisions and hatred.