I am more afraid of the reptiles in the Administration than anything Hollywood puts on an airplane. I mean, these are incredibly venomous, cold-blooded creepy-crawlies that are running the United States these days, and unlike a short flight from here to there where, a few hours after take off, you leave the plane at your destination, we are doomed in real life to travel with the Buskovites, like slave-rowers chained to the galley, for at least the next several years.
The current hysteria regarding air travel doesn't faze me. I don't like to fly, anyway. It isn't the fear of “terrorists”. I have always felt discomfited by the cramped, smelly bathrooms with sticky floors and in-folding double-hinged doors; the screaming babies and the screaming jet engines; mysterious things that go “bonk” in the fuselage in mid-flight; passengers with coughs and sneezes whose germs are sucked into and recirculated by poorly oxygenated ventilation systems; the abysmal packages of over-salted stuff they call “food”, whether they give it to you “for free” or seduce you to buy it. I don't like the on-board movies: I don't want to wear headphones, but I can't stop myself from watching the silent film, usually some insipid comedy about a class of people that I have never met, that possibly no one has ever met. I don't like being crammed into a narrow seat fighting a low-intensity guerrilla war for hours with the stranger seated next to me for a small piece of the armrest. I don't like the feeling of being cooped up in a jam-packed flying bus. I get claustrophobic. I want to be able to stop, get out and stretch my legs -- open a window, get some fresh air, yell, scream, holler obscenities at the latest outrage of foreign policy and corporate greed. I hate flying.
It's worse now than ever. Homeland Security says that it isn't doing racial profiling. I don't believe them. And even if Homeland Security isn't profiling me, everyone else on the plane is. A Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Mumbai was aborted and returned under fighter jet escort. Twelve “suspicious” looking passengers were arrested and interrogated for the reason that they were bearded, shared a cell phone, spoke Urdu and knew each other. The passengers and crew freaked. The news media freaked. The implication is clear: if you're going to fly, you had better be clean shaven and speak only English. Otherwise, don't speak. Or don't fly.
Today, it is men with beards and mustaches. Tomorrow, it will be women with beards and mustaches. Cell phones today, iPods tomorrow. Worry beads today and rosaries tomorrow. Today it's her burqa, tomorrow it's your yarmulke.
I see them all around me: people constantly looking all around themselves like Felix the Cat clocks. Someone's cell phone rings and they run for cover. A bearded man drinks water from a Nalgene bottle in an airport waiting lounge . . . or is he drinking hydrogen peroxide that he's mixing with naphthalene and other volatile liquids in his bladder? You know, he goes to the restroom, lights a match and unleashes a flamethrower! A woman sits nursing her baby . . . hmmm, could that kid be a little suicide bomber wrapped in swaddling?
Although Homeland Security denies that it does racial profiling, it does admit that it is doing “behavioral profiling.” It has computer programs and psychological profiles of those who are probably committing thought crime. Apparently, those who are about to kill and maim and criticize American foreign and domestic policy act differently -- their hearts beat differently, their eyes get shifty, they get facial ticks and twitches. So says Homeland Security which then proceeds to arrest, harangue and interrogate those who, fancy that, all seem to have dark skin, are of Asian or Middle Eastern ethnicity and have beards or head scarves. But, they assure us it's only because of their suspicious behavior not because of their appearances.
I can't fly anymore because I have an active imagination. I routinely commit thought crime. When a restaurant waitress asks me whether “everything is alright,” I am prone to answer No! How can everything be alright when THEY are getting away with murder! And New Orleans! And Haiti! I can't order food without asking whether the daily special is Rumsfeld's chopped chicken liver on toast. I cannot help myself because I am impulsive.
I see armed guards at the airport and I start to get twitchy. I get this way not because I have done anything wrong, but because I anticipate that they will. I have read too much about overly aggressive police who Taser folks for “resisting”. I have read too much about flashlight beatings. I know about Chicago. An image of Wounded Knee flashes into my mind. I try to repress thoughts about the CIA disappearing people to secret detention facilities. I think about the Army lowering both its academic and 'moral standards' in order to meet its enlistment quotas. I think about the violence and injustices occurring during the ongoing US occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Is this what it's like for Iraqi civilians to encounter an American military checkpoint in Baghdad? My heart starts to stutter. My “behavior profile index” starts to score in the Hot Pink to Bright Red category. I feel the security guards staring at me and encircling me. My face begins to twitch like Quasimodo's in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
I fear that someone might make some casual remark to me that will immediately set off alarm bells. A passenger might remark in some sports fantasy indulgence: “Hey, how about those Yankees, or Rangers, or Dodgers, or whatever?” And I might answer: “Who gives a crap! But what about Israel dropping American cluster-bombs on Lebanon, and what about those Yankees in Iraq?” And that's bound to get a security officer's attention; and when they start looking at me I start looking at them and their guns and stun grenades; and my eyes start to blink fast and little beads of perspiration form on my brow, because I know I am being “behaviorally profiled” which makes my behavior even more nervous, and I know that I am in for a special strip search and interrogation and that everyone will be staring at me like I ought to be booted off the flight even after they find nothing on me.
I cannot fly anymore because I cannot take anything on board with me to read. Sure, Sports Illustrated is okay as is the Bible, Playboy and Soldier of Fortune and any gossip magazine or lurid paperback that you can buy at the concourse stores inside the security cordons. But would I dare take on the flight anything that really stimulated thought or conversation? There is, strictly speaking, no list of banned literature, but can I read the most recent copy of International Socialist Review as the plane taxis down the tarmac, or can I carry in my coat pocket a copy of the Koran, the text of Henry David Thoreau's essay “Civil Disobedience,” or any book written in Arabic or authored by a Mahmood or an Ali or a Hassan? If I kept a laminated copy of the Declaration of Independence on a card in my wallet, sat down in my assigned seat, pulled out the laminated card and read softly aloud: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it and to institute a new government” . . . would a passenger call an air marshal to apprehend me as a potential terrorist?
For want of having anything decent to read, I have tried twiddling my thumbs on a plane for hours on end. It's no use. Nothing raises the suspicion index like incessant thumb twiddling. Besides, it also gives me repetitive stress disorder of the fingers.
And whenever I think about finger giving, I think about our President. According to George Bush's press secretary, Tony the Snow Job, the President is reading Albert Camus's existential novel The Stranger this summer. Uh huh, and in between playing rounds of golf next week Mister Bush is also going to read Tolstoy's War and Peace, Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, James Joyce's Ulysses, the entire works of William Shakespeare and Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. This transparent attempt to burnish the President's “intellectual credentials” is as convincing as Mao Zedong's annual photo op swimming in the Yangtze River during last century's Cultural Revolution in China to prove Mao's physical fitness. I certainly don't claim to have Mister Bush's weighty intellect, but what would happen if I sat in the airport waiting room reading not The Stranger like our august President, but The Plague? Would I be treated like I was reading a manual on biowarfare?
I hate to fly. I have begun to suffer from my own form of PTSD: pre-traumatic stress disorder. Nothing has happened . . . yet . . . but I anticipate that something will happen . . . to me. I feel myself becoming neurotic about which stranger on the plane is the air marshal and whether they deliberately gave me a seat sandwiched between two beefy gun-toting security guards disguised as “businessmen”. Maybe all the passengers are disguised security guards and I'm the only “regular” passenger? I just hate to fly these days.
Bush is in the White House. Rummy's in the Pentagon. Condy's at Foggy Bottom. Bolton's at the UN. Rove's slithering as snakes will do. Lord knows where Dick Cheney's hanging out. They and a motley crew of ideologues, demagogues, militarists, religious zealots, jingoists, and moneyed interests are flying this plane, manning the control tower. I am strapped into my seat along with 6.5 billion other passengers. The flight crew scares the pants off me. I don't want to go where we are going. These days, I really hate to fly.
Zbignew Zingh can be reached at: Zbig@ersarts.com. This Article is CopyLeft, and free to distribute, reprint, repost, sing at a recital, spray paint, scribble in a toilet stall, etc. to your heart’s content, with proper author citation. Find out more about Copyleft and read other great articles at www.ersarts.com. copyleft 2006
Other Articles by Zbignew Zingh
Stakes and Fires