Fight Terrorism By Protecting Private Property

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In a recent article on the Mises Institute web page, I pointed out that it was ludicrous for the government to require that airport security workers regard a 65-year-old Southern Baptist woman as an equal terrorist threat to that of a Middle Eastern man in his 20s or 30s. One respondent asked if I were willing to destroy the Bill of Rights, since I had suggested some sort of profiling of suspects might be necessary.

In fact, it does seem to be obnoxious to engage in any kind of racial, ethnic, or other profiling, even when lives are at stake. The US government (while doing it in the drug war, as Gene Callahan and I pointed out recently) now tells us that any kind of profiling is bad and those who engage in it will be punished — by the same government that has been conducting the most obnoxious versions of profiling, of course. The relevant questions in the case of airline hijackings, as well as with much terrorism in general, revolve around when, or if, it is appropriate to engage in ethnic examination, especially when the vast majority of hijacking crimes involve relatively young men from the Middle East, which certainly was the case in the recent WTC and Pentagon mass murders.

There exists a huge problem, and one that does not have an easy solution, especially if people continue to be governed by the zeitgeist of egalitarianism. Under the mindset of egalitarianism, all individuals are to be regarded as equal in every way. (Those who do not agree with egalitarianism are to be treated as decidedly unequal and are to be singled out for special punishments.)

While such sentiments might make journalists, some academics, and the political classes happy, they pose a huge problem in the real world where people actually are unequal. In the case of terrorism, we can be relatively assured that not every group or class of individuals has an abiding hatred for the people of the United States and would do everything possible to kill them. While atheists and some Episcopalians might not care for 65-year-old Southern Baptist ladies, it is highly doubtful that such women are going to conduct murderous jihads against large numbers of American civilians. (Elderly Southern Baptist ladies, however, have been known to conduct jihads against owners of strip joints, taverns, liquor stores, and casinos, however. Their tools generally consist of petitions and speeches, not passenger jets turned into missiles.) Under the present system, Mrs. Jones of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church was considered to be as viable a suspect to hijack an airliner as Mohamed Atta, who was the apparent leader in the September 11 hijacking plot.

During a recent trip to Newark International Airport in New Jersey, I spoke with one of the hundreds of police officers who have now turned that and all other US airports into armed camps. Passengers were forced to stand in long lines and endure everything but body cavity searches in what was an obvious show of empty force designed to make everyone "feel safe."

When I spoke to a police officer and mentioned that perhaps there are better ways of helping to make airports secure than regarding everyone as criminals, he responded with the non sequitur that he was sorry that I was being inconvenienced, but that he had lost friends in the Trade Center attack and that we had to assure everyone that the airports now were safe. In other words, nothing should deter the State from performing the "everyone is safe, now" charade even when the truth is elsewhere.

Yet, the question remains: How do we protect our lives and property, yet also expand liberty? The best solution, I believe, would be to return to a pre-"civil rights" era of private property and freedom when it was understood that the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution was not a device to disenfranchise owners of private property. In the past 35 years, the US government has completely turned upside down notions of freedom and equality. Casualties of that dangerous action include the thousands of people who still lie buried beneath the rubble of what was once the World Trade Towers.

The first thing we must do is rid ourselves of the quaint notion that government protects us. The mighty armed forces of the United States could not even protect its own headquarters, let alone the sleeping quarters of 241 US Marines killed in a car bomb attack in Lebanon in 1983. The same government that declares that all citizens are potential hijackers is the same government that does not permit employers — including employers who oversee sensitive issues like airport security — to make even common sense judgments about who they may hire.

For example, while investigators are not 100 percent certain how the hijackers actually got their weapons on board the fateful airliners September 11, there is a good possibility that it was an inside job, with the weapons being planted by airport service workers. If that is the case, then all of the three-ring-circus security efforts inside the passenger terminals made no difference. Perhaps the problem was not with the poorly paid temporary workers manning the FAA-mandated metal detectors and baggage X-ray machines, but with the relatively well paid (and often unionized) baggage workers in league with the hijackers.

Even if the hijackers had been carrying their weapons all along in shaving kits or elsewhere, it does not change the fact that government regulations, be they FAA prohibitions against pilots carrying weapons to rules that passengers and crews give hijackers whatever they want — including taking over the cockpits. In the wake of this massacre, some airline crews and passengers have used what once would have been considered to be an unthinkable tool of last resort — effectively banning Middle Eastern men from flying with them.

A recent case involving a Northwest Airlines flight to Salt Lake City has stirred the ire of Utah government officials, who are threatening to sue Northwest because the passengers and crew of that flight refused to leave the ground unless the two Muslim passengers were left behind. While it is extremely doubtful that the two men actually posed a hijack threat, the whole episode points to a touchy problem in today’s society: How do we protect our lives and property when the government makes us engage in exchanges with people who we do not wish to associate?

Let us go back to the day of the hijacking. Assume that airline officials actually had harbored suspicions about the men who turned out to be the hijackers and had wanted to keep them from boarding the plane. Under US law, as long as the men were carrying legal items, there would have been nothing the airlines could have done but watch them board the planes. That is because the US Civil Rights Act does not permit owners of "public facilities" (which is about anything, these days) to discriminate against individuals on the basis of "national origin."

I have no idea whether anyone was suspicious of anyone on that fateful morning, but it would be nice if airlines were permitted at least one last line of defense, that being as owners of private property, they could have final say over who uses their property and who does not, without having to follow the standards forced on them by the political classes. Furthermore, with the news accounts of Middle Easterners inquiring about crop dusters and attempting to illegally gain licensure to drive trucks with hazardous materials, the federal non-discrimination directives seem quite ominous.

This is the current situation. In the United States at this moment, there are numerous Islamic terrorist cells made up of individuals who legally entered the USA, but whose only purpose is to kill as many American civilians as they can, including everyone reading this article. Whether or not we have sympathy for Arabs or do not seek to injure Muslims does not matter. We are of the West, so we must die, period. I doubt I will receive any special points for writing sympathetically about US and Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians and Arabs.

Many of these individuals live seamlessly within large Muslim communities, especially in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Detroit, Michigan, which has the largest Arab community in the world outside the Middle East. While most Muslims living in this country are law-abiding people who mean no harm, there is still strong support in those communities for the groups that apparently have carried out this latest atrocity.

A parallel example is the support for the Irish Republican Army in the United States, and especially the Boston area. Much of the money that is legally raised in this country for the IRA is used for bomb making and for other purposes which some call "terrorism." (One should also remember that some IRA "soldiers" train in some of the same desert camps where people who committed the September 11 mass murder may have received some of their instructions. Therefore, Irish sympathizers in Boston and elsewhere in this country indirectly helped finance the attacks, even though very few would have supported such a thing.)

The only way for individual to effectively defend themselves against the kinds of threats these organizations pose is for people to be able to protect their persons and their property without interference from the modern Leviathan State. This means property and business owners being permitted to exclude individuals from their establishments, something currently prohibited by federal and state laws. Of course, it goes without saying that the various "civil rights" laws that have been passed by Congress since 1964 also need to be repealed. (I know, there is a fat chance something like that will ever happen.)

The other thing we should keep in mind is that individuals should be permitted to own and carry weapons, and if airlines are comfortable with some people (like pilots) being armed and other passengers not being armed, so be it. It would seem that the airlines should be able to decide how best to protect their own property and passengers, as it is quite apparent that the Federal Aviation Administration is incompetent beyond belief to protect anyone — except their own bureaucratic hides.

Unfortunately, nearly all of the winds that have blown since September 11 have blown in the direction of further empowering the Leviathan State. Unless common sense and the love of true liberty come to the fore, we will have even greater future disasters that will hit the people of this once-free nation.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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