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I just missed the hippie era by a few years. Now I'm a left-wing, liberal professor with an ACLU card and a 10-year-old son who already knows that protest is American - he's a veteran of two big pro-choice marches and some peace demonstrations in our community. Back on the eve of the Bush Administration's disastrous "shock and awe" campaign, I went online and ordered a slew of peace buttons, which I've been wearing ever since. During the 2004 election I expanded my button habit and handed them out by the dozen (e.g., Bush lied, Impeach Bush, War for Oil is Terrorism, Freedom Means Choice, War Criminal Cheney, Peace is Patriotic).

My (also liberal) husband and I fly fairly often, including to Europe a few times a year. Like most travelers these days, we find ourselves feeling inordinately grateful when a trip is uneventful. In the interest of getting through airport security smoothly, I typically remove all political buttons from my clothing before lining up. When I went to FL in 2004 to help get out the vote for Emily's List, I even removed my Kerry/Edwards and anti-Bush buttons for the flight.

Which brings me to the Jet Blue incident that happened earlier this month.

A passenger was refused boarding because of his T-shirt. The passenger, Raed Jarrar, the Iraqi Project Director for the human rights group Global Exchange, was wearing a shirt that said, in English and Arabic, We will not be silenced. He was detained while security officials tried to persuade him to remove his shirt. He asked what law he was breaking by wearing the shirt; of course, no one could answer this question. He had already checked his other clothing. Finally he covered the shirt with a garment that someone else gave him and was allowed to board the plane.

NOW PAY ATTENTION: It was the SHIRT that they excluded, not the passenger. This passenger was not deemed a security risk. He was not on any no-fly list. Security officials were not making the flight any safer by refusing to let him board. They did not suspect him of being a terrorist (if they did, then presumably they would not let him board!). What they did was to violate his First Amendment rights.

Am I surprised? Unfortunately not. But now I certainly regret taking off my buttons for all those previous flights. Next time I fly, you can bet that I'll keep my Impeach Bush button on. I will do everything I can to cooperate with genuine security efforts (and will of course refrain from making any jokes about bombs). But I refuse to give up my freedom of speech. My husband and I are writing to Jet Blue to protest this incident.

Unfortunately, this confirms my suspicion that much of the "security" that we've seen since the 9/11 tragedy is not really keeping us safe, but serves instead as a public display by those in charge: (a) to try to convince us that they're doing a heck-uv-a job, and (b) to try to keep us in a state of constant fear. As further evidence, consider the response to the genuine threat caught, thankfully, by British Intelligence (because of a tip from a community member and subsequent careful surveillance). On the day this threat hit the news, intelligence officials were apparently not ready to go public with it, but they felt that they had to because a related arrest had been made in Pakistan. Although there was no evidence whatsoever that the plot to use liquids to cause explosions on planes was about to be executed, many thousands of passengers were separated from their toothpaste and lost hours waiting for their flights because the threat had hit the news. I can't imagine that anyone believes this "security" action actually made anyone safer.

Chris Bowers has it exactly right, in his post early this morning on MyDD: For America, Democracy Is Always More Important Than Security:

"Ever since 9/11, politicians of both parties, as we can see in Harold Ford's commercial below, have been saying lines that are a variation on nothing is more important than our security. Well, you know what? That is bullshit. There is something more important to Americans than security: democracy."

We need to defend our democracy. Otherwise, the terrorists win.

Originally posted to Patience is Not a Virtue on Thu Aug 31, 2006 at 10:22 AM PDT.

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