Are American airports justified in their paranoia?

Published: September 5, 2016
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Delayed passengers inside Terminal 7 at Los Angeles International Airport line up to go through TSA security check following a false alarm event in Los Angeles, California U.S August 28, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

I keep wondering, scratching my head in awe. Is it paranoia? Is it a schizophrenic existence that we have come to accept as a way of life? Or, is this edginess just something that has incrementally increased over a period of time and has now become a part of our national DNA?

Yes, I’m talking about life in the US of America where, of late, it literally needs a mere drop of a hat to trigger local, regional and, at times, national panic attacks followed by unstoppable seizures that scare the hell out of people.

Beyond the September 11th attacks, America has been at war, both at home and abroad. The nation has lost its peace of mind. We are incessantly bombarded by scary stuff that knocks the wind out of one’s sails.

While billions have been spent sprucing up security, especially at the airports, there’s always an odd chance that some slip up, a blemish or a human error may lead to a catastrophic disaster. It seems that our brains are now wired up to expect something bad that might occur especially when we find ourselves either flying out/in, visiting airports, seeing off or receiving flyers.

I’m cynical, cynical about the strange behavioural trends that I come across every so often, not only on the streets but in well-guarded facilities as well. However, the recent LA airport incident report only vindicated my position and made me feel better about myself. I’m not the only one who identifies American societal behaviour bordering on insanity!

We all agree that the pressure of life, the rush to get things done and the struggle to survive in a highly competitive environment can potentially drive people nuts. Americans are “blessed” with such stressors and hot buttons. The relentless pursuit of life and the fight against time pose challenges crippling people’s capacity to step back, pause and react coherently. Impulsiveness reigns supreme in a society where one out of five people suffer from a mental disorder.

As we stand in the path of potentially dangerous and explosive trends 24/7, the media and the politicians play a critical role to raise levels of tension and suspicion. Back in the Bush days, I can’t forget the colour-coding of terror alerts every morning while driving to work and seeing those signs on highways. That and the continuous chatter on the radio that followed were enough to mess up people’s heads for the rest of the day.

Fast-forward to now, we have Donald Trump calling on Americans to watch their backs and keep an eye on their neighbours. Look at what hoopla went on at the recent Republican convention. Listening to those goons night after night was enough to mislead the naïve minds and convince the public that America is doomed and the end is just a whisper away! If one were to believe Trump, America would’ve been history perhaps yesterday.

Amidst all this, making a sanity plea for this nation of little over 300 million people is almost an impossible adventure. There are just too many worries and too much to deal with. On top of that, there is this constant barrage of information, the noise that basically compels people to act distortedly, sometimes unilaterally in the most rogue manner. Tempers run high, crime is rampant, logic and reasoning gives way to anger and violence and people shoot and kill when they are fed with negativity all day long.

As America tries to deter evils like terrorism, illegal immigration, racial discrimination, and gun violence, what’s missing in action is the urge to remain calm about the future, encouragement to indulge in dialogue minus the overwhelming negativity and people allowing themselves to catch a breath and live their lives instead of constantly staying sleepless and toiling to no end.

What’s transpired is although we may find ourselves living in a free country but “the existence of the social conditions which in modern civilisations are the necessary guarantee of an individual’s happiness” (Laski) are definitely missing in action.

Whereas I’m cognisant of the fact that the people in United States are no alien to living in fear (remember communism, McCarthyism and the never-ending Cold War era?), the change in times has brought new grounds for frenzy and those who excel in the business of fear mongering are having a field day.

Today it’s ISIS, radical Islam, Russian/Chinese hackers, our brown/Middle Eastern neighbours, Afro-Americans and illegal aliens – all perceived to be going after our lives. Consequently, there are tons of folks who are cashing on at the expense of fears and gaining political mileage like never before in history.

My perception as an assimilated immigrant who respects the inalienable rights of all human beings and lives by American values is that this country is still resilient enough to overcome all threats – real and perceived.

By the same token, I’m not surprised when a “Zorro” carrying a plastic sword is able to cause panic at an airport or Usain Bolt’s heroics closes down one of the busiest international airports! The reasons for the panic are simple – it is easy to sell negativity and fear. Talking or acting positivity is a tough sell. While we continue to hyperventilate and lose sleep, I don’t see the anxiety dying down anytime soon – at least not until Trump hopefully exits the scene this November.

Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    After reading that…I came to the conclusion that your flight was delayed and you had a few hours to kill and an article deadline to meet , so you opened your laptop and this is what came out.
    About once a year we travel ( on a Pakistani passport ) to the North American continent and since we spend so much, we make the most of meeting friends and family scattered all over….let me be honest never have we felt threatened. never mis-treated and never felt the tension or anxiety you write about……possibly we are just lucky.Recommend

  • Fawad

    Terrorists need just little bit of slip up to succeed, and ONLY once to succeed. But security have to be successful all the time evryime, alert 24/7. So the Americans have very right to be alert to slight incidents. Shooting at community party or airport scare, every life is precious and they know it and try to prevent any bad incident. Nothing wrong in that.Recommend

  • SuperNeo™

    Dear Ahson Saeed Hasan,
    If you are not comfortable with other countries laws, please stop migrating(Legally or Illegally ) /travelling/visiting to those countries…
    but one thing i am sure what ever treatment you get in USA or in other non mus|im countries , is be far far better than way you are treated in Mus|im countries.

    So no compulsion…Recommend

  • The Troll Hunter

    It’s really simple. The fear and paranoia espoused by Republicans benefits them, politically. Period.Recommend

  • gp65

    Bravo for saying it like it is.
    Having been a frequent flyer in US, I too have not experienced the anxiety described by the author even when I had an Indian passport and even though I am as brown as the author.Recommend