I No Longer Understand My Country

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On
October 30, Eliane Yvonne Marcele Aguillaume, 56, of Paris, was
arrested in the Evansville, Indiana, Regional Airport on charges
of disorderly conduct at an airport, public indecency and resisting
law enforcement after she stripped to the waist in response to a
security screener's attempt to search her with a wand. Mme. Aguillaume
had visited southwest Indiana to attend her nephew's wedding, and
was on her way home. According to the
AP news report
of this incident:

"During
a routine security screening, authorities say Aguillaume kept reaching
inside her sweater forcing guards to search her again."

"Aguillaume
then became upset and allegedly removed her sweater, shirt and bra.
Police said Aguillaume tried to pull away as an officer attempted
to handcuff her. She later dropped to the ground and refused to
get up."

The
language used is telling. Note, first, that Mme. Aguillaume has
ceased to merit politeness or respect: no Mme., she has simply
become Aguillaume. Yes, let's forget that she is a 56 year old woman
for surely that has nothing to do with anything.

Even
more revealing, though, is the statement, "authorities say
Aguillaume kept reaching inside her sweater forcing guards to search
her again" — as if she had some strange, involuntary twitch
or was, OMG, trying to hide something. If we imagine that Mme. Aguillaume
has a shred of self-respect, it is easy to explain this mysterious
twitch of hers: she was not comfortable with the fact that the screener
was trying to rub or wave a wand over her breasts, so she kept reaching
inside her sweater to cover and protect them. Understandably, this
behavior would be inexplicable to the security screeners, overly
conditioned from screening thousands who, being Americans, have
no self-respect and stand there spread-eagled, dutifully submitting
to the search and possibly thanking the screeners afterward for
keeping them safe.

Becoming
angry or exasperated, and being French, Mme. Aguillaume offered
an alternative means of proving her airworthiness by disrobing,
mere nudity being a natural and inoffensive condition, while submitting
to probing wands is sick and demeaning. Unfortunately, the statutes
and regulations do no permit this alternative proof. Given the nation's
paramount concern for safety and security, one wonders why it isn’t
a patriotic duty to strip at the terminal entrance and proceed to
the airplane seat buck-naked. But no, our bureaucratic protectors
insist that we continue to pretend and adhere to the illusion
that there are standards of decency that must be respected, and
keep our clothes on, all the while they are committing the most
egregious violations of personal respect.

It
is ever thus with the state. It commits an intolerable affront to
a person's dignity and self-respect, and then makes it a criminal
offense when the person actually cannot tolerate it. It is evident
that Mme. Aguillaume did nothing wrong other than to take offense
at indefensible behavior. The AP article does not describe any pandemonium
that ensued upon Mme. Aguillaume's "disorderly conduct;"
it is evident that the essence of her "crime" is simply
that she did not behave as law enforcement expected or wanted her
to behave, there being no real danger in it to anyone.

The
law banning disorderly conduct at an airport was passed by the Indiana
legislature after the September 11 attack. If convicted on that
charge, Mme. Aguillaume could be sentenced to three years. The AP
reports that Mme. Aguillaume "burst into tears . . . when a
judge explained the possible penalties through an interpreter."

This
is what it has come to in America: three years for a 56 year old
woman stripping to the waist in protest of indefensible behavior.
The arrest and laying of formal charges against this woman have
outraged and disgusted me more than words can say. I no longer understand
my country. I no longer know or understand its people.

Gripped
and mastered by fear in the wake of September 11, the FAA institutes
comprehensive, demeaning, and arbitrary searches and seizures. Gripped
and mastered by fear in the wake of September 11 and an even greater
desire to avoid possible financial liability for a failure to protect
its passengers, the airlines give up all legal and financial responsibility
for airport security to the federal government, and an entire new,
unaccountable federal workforce is created for this purpose. Gripped
and mastered by fear in the wake of September 11, the Indiana legislature
creates a hitherto unknown crime, the essence of which is not complying
with security screeners' standards of expected conduct in response
to their illegal and demeaning searches and seizures: "disorderly
conduct in an airport."

Did
we actually believe that we, personally, were "at war with
terror," we might contemplate the words of Japan's great swordsman,
Miyamoto Musashi, who said, "The way of the warrior is the
resolute acceptance of death" — for truly to be a warrior requires
a certain degree of spiritual mastery over self and uncertain existence.
Were we actually a Christian nation, we might contemplate the statement,
made by the highest authority and therefore presumably true,
that he who would save his life will lose it.

Where
are the men in this country who actually understand that
we all die, who have matured under consideration of their own mortality
and are not mastered by it, who understand that what matters is
how we live not how long, and who understand that to abandon and
trample down standards of honorable and right conduct and the principles
this nation was founded upon in a vain quest to insure that one
will die peacefully in one's bed of old, old age is craven and despicable?

Where
are the men in this country who perceive that the elaborate
security measures at the nation's airports cannot accomplish more
than to shift the burden of death to some other Americans
at some other time and place, and who understand that this
lifeboat philosophy — don't take me, take some other American —
is both unchristian and conduct unbecoming a man?

Where
are the men in this country who adhere to the standards of
conduct of a gentleman? It's handcuffs for Mme. Aguillaume! Oh,
yes, nothing personal, it's "routine" and the "procedure"
— meaning that we have ceased to take personal responsibility for
deciding moment to moment on the rectitude of our own behavior and
simply do what others have laid down for us to do.

No,
all standards of right conduct, honor, self-respect, dignity, and
personal liberty reflected in the antiquated and unsafe notions
embodied in the 4th Amendment are readily abandoned and
replaced with reams of new statutes, regulations, and procedures,
to be adhered to with minute, insect-like mindlessness and precision.
Thus do we control our psychic terror and uncertainty — behavior
in form and substance no different than the elaborate rituals and
incantations developed by primitive man to propitiate angry and
unseen gods, and having no greater ability to protect us or control
reality.

If
the security screeners are become mad with power, brooking no affront
to their procedures and authority, however, it is not they who are
at fault but we who permit them to behave this way. Where are the
calls and e-mails to Evansville deputy prosecutor Dawnya Taylor
expressing outrage that Mme. Aguillaume was arrested and is being
prosecuted?

Where
are the men and women who refuse to be subjected to this outrageous
treatment? You want to search me with a wand and rummage through
my personal effects? I guess I'm not flying. You want me to take
off my shoes? You want my nail clipper? I guess I'm not flying.
You want to pat down my wife or daughter? I guess we're not flying.
Let the airplanes cease flying for want of passengers!

No!
We will not pretend that what you are doing is noble, valiant, or
good but assure you that it is depraved and worthy of utmost contempt.
You want safety above all? If that is your highest value, here,
we will give it to you, and ground the nation's airplanes, and when
you are lying on your deathbed may you thank God that you have lived
a long, long time.

Not
here, apparently. Here it's handcuffs and three years for Mme. Aguillaume.
America was some other country, long ago.

November
1, 2002

Jeff
Snyder [send
him mail
]
is an attorney who works in Manhattan. He is the author of
Nation
of Cowards — Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control
, which examines
the American character as revealed by the gun control debate.

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