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Above: a TSA Wave Scanner, where "hands up, don't shoot" takes on a deadly new meaning.
Below: a Palestinian man comes up for air at an Israeli checkpoint, one of many that line the perimeter of the Gaza strip.
“You said the past won't rest until
we jump the fence and leave it behind.
But you started a war that you can't win,
They keep erasing all the streets we grew up in...”
- Arcade Fire, “Suburban War”

When I was a boy, flying was a truly wondrous experience. Captivated by the power and grace of titanic, winged machines capable of scaling distances I could barely conceive of, the majesty of air travel all but completely eclipsed any sense of peril I might have encountered while in the air. Stories of airliners being shot out of the sky, of skyjackings by mad, desperate men, felt like abstractions, frightening in their implication but hardly an existential threat. They always seemed to happen to “other people,” in faraway lands that I'd never even heard of, let alone dreamed of visiting. Besides, those responsible for running the airport – the check-in attendants, the maintenance personnel, airport security, and so on – always appeared to have things very much under control, and their confidence and courtesy always seemed to make travelers feel very much at ease. With occasional exception, airports run their enormously complex, multifaceted operations with incredible precision, and they make it look easy. Aberrations in procedure are dealt with swiftly, and in a fashion almost invisible to the public. What could be more secure than that?

Above: The lines at TSA checkpoints
are often a trial for everyone involved.
Below: A crowd gathers at a Gazan checkpoint.
Imagine this as your daily commute.
A lot has changed in America's airports since September 11th, but I was never there to see it. For me, flying has always been a luxury, and before a recent visit to Seattle, I had not set foot on a plane since 1999, when airport security was considerably more relaxed. My awakening to the realities of air travel in the 21st century was, needless to say, fairly rude.

In post 9-11 America, there are few better examples of “legislating while temporarily insane,” as notable radio and Internet personality Dan Carlin so aptly refers to the ways in which our government responds to acts of terrorism, than the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. Despite the fact that the World Trade Center's destruction was the result of a collective failure by numerous state and federal agencies, a tragedy easily prevented from reoccurring with minimal reform, it was somehow determined that localized airport security forces were the most culpable for failing to prevent the attack, and as such needed to not be reformed, but entirely replaced by nothing short of a federal agency under the domain of the Administrative Branch. If that's not an overreaction, I don't know what is.

The results were predictably disastrous: a Google search for “TSA violations” reveals an extensive and expansive history of horrific abuse, oversight, and corruption within the agency, a place where thuggishness and rough trade are the norm, and public accountability is a pipe dream. One of the more egregious examples of legislative overreach in recent decades, the creation of the TSA set a dangerous precedent for how we allow our government to respond to crises, and along with things like the Patriot Act, greatly accelerated the militarization of our nation's police forces, the effects of which can be seen anywhere from Occupy Wall Street to Ferguson, Missouri.

Above: a TSA agent searches a carry-on bag.
Below: an Israel guard searches Palestinian purses.
Terrorism, by design, is intended not only to strike fear into the hearts of its victims, but also to induce a paralyzing regression of civil liberties into their societies. By that standard, America may have won many battles, but we are losing the war. When looking at photographs of the borders between nations with a history of conflict and strife, it's hard not to see how closely many of their crossings bear resemblance to your average TSA checkpoint. After all, what is an airport but a gateway to a foreign land, one that must also be made secure from unwanted intrusion?

The similarities are unsettling: the abysmally long lines full of hopeful, yet despondent travelers, the routine and arbitrary searches and seizures conducted by coarse, unforgiving security personnel, the cries of indignation and outrage over being treated like insurgents rather than sovereign the eyes of the TSA, the presumption of innocence is dead, replaced by the hard, aggressive suspicion of a nation gone mad with fear. In the face of that, there is no alternative to “hands up, don't shoot,” not if you want to catch your flight, at least.

After the towers fell, national security took on an entirely new and grave dimension in American politics. In the years since, the War On Terror, a conflict with no conceivable chance of meaningful victory, has been used to justify trillions of dollars in defense spending and infrastructure, and layed the groundwork for the modern police state, a juggernaut employing tens of millions of people across thousands of public and private enterprises. To dismantle even a small portion – the TSA, for example – would require massive and immediate reform across a such a variety of other government agencies and programs as to be inconceivable, as well as a cadre of politicians dedicated to speaking with real conviction about ratcheting down the War On Terror with more than just token gestures. In our current political paradigm, this is career suicide, and those who take the leap are buried quick and deep. So the police state juggernaut rumbles on, immune to consequence, immune to reason. On September 11th, that juggernaut grew wings and took to the skies, captained by injurious lunatics forever haunted by the spectres of their collective failure. Now, there's no coming down, and there's no turning back.

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