We have all heard the news about the Christmas Day bomber. A whole plane loaded with people experienced a "near miss" (actually, it was a near disaster) thanks to the quick wits of a few passengers, who thwarted the man's plans as he started to carry them out. Now we have to endure further indignities in the name of security - a shapeless concept if there ever was one - including what my friend Fred calls "bawdy scanners." How apt.
But see-through screening devices and longer line-ups are the least of it. What terrorists have done quite successfully - along with killing and maiming untold numbers - is scare us. Well, yes, terror is their business, no surprise. They want us to be uneasily vigilant. They want our social webs to tear. Divide-and-conquer is a very old strategy.
Fear is a very primitive emotion (meaning it goes way back in our genetic heritage), and it does strange things to an animal, human or not. It distorts reality. It creates divisions where bonds once existed. And it makes everyone and everything guilty until proven innocent. Your life may depend on these black-and-white criteria. But how much harm has been done because of them?
I hope someone in the social sciences eventually performs a study on the levels of xenophobia in a few sample cities, preferably before and after a significant terrorist event. Is the average citizen more suspicious of the Other because of the talk about screening and profiling and so on? Have we been permanently jolted out of a hard-earned sense of ethnic integration in some of our biggest cities?
I hope not. I cannot be the only one who would dread to go back even 20 years in terms of cultural acceptance of "differences." (The Dominant Social Paradigm being centered on the White Upper-middle-class straight male.) We still have a long way to go, but what wonderful strides forward we have made in so many lands. It would be horrible to regress at this point, to forget we are all part of the family of humanity.
Long live the rainbow community!