"But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship … That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." ─ Nazi Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering
Here in the Outland you get a different perspective on the War on Terror than you do in the Homeland. I rarely know what color my terrorism threat level is, for instance. And when I do, it seems even more absurd than it did when I enjoyed the protections of Homeland Security. You can carry water, toothpaste and deodorant onto airplanes that aren’t going to the States and you don’t have to take off your shoes. The backbeat of fear played by the major media in the Homeland doesn’t get heads nodding and feet tapping here in Central America.
I am, however, occasionally reminded that the WOT sock hop is in full cry back home. A few days ago I received an anonymous e-mail from a guy who drives a delivery truck in Key West. In his note he seemed perfectly normal and friendly, like a guy you’d enjoy hanging with at a barbecue, except that he was reporting that his fellow delivery truck drivers suspected the tenant in my house in New Town was a terrorist. It’s a suspicion I’d have found hysterically funny if the potential consequences for me and my tenant weren’t so serious.
The driver was writing to ask about the guy before his friends called ICE. Consistent with my deep ignorance of the gravity of the terrorist threat, I didn’t know what ICE was. The driver, probably amused by the depth of my ignorance, informed me that ICE is the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
The word Gestapo sprung to mind, as did the words snitch, busybody, and informer. My personal informer is a nice guy by all indications. I’m sure those words never sprang to his mind. And I am, in fact, truly grateful he called me before his pals called the enforcers.
Of course, I was curious as to what suspicious activity had attracted the drivers’ attention. Did my tenant receive boxes from Pakistan in plain brown wrappers? When you shook the packages did it sound like clock parts and chemistry equipment? Was the return address written in Farsi?
No, none of that. Here are the clues to terrorist activity. My tenant isn’t a native speaker of English. He speaks with a foreign accent, vaguely Middle Eastern. He has a somewhat dark complexion and dark hair. He never mows the lawn. That’s pretty much it.
The vigilant delivery truck drivers used this formula:
Swarthy Guy + Foreign Accent + Tall Grass = Terrorist Hiding in Tall Grass.
He actually told me the unmowed lawn was the evidence that prompted them to action. I hope real terrorists don’t read this and start mowing their lawns. How would we find them then?
The formula is logical enough in its way, but only when heavily lubed with WOT Islamophobia. Even a superficial examination reveals logical flaws arising from prejudice, paranoia, xenophobia and cowardice. After I vouched for my tenant’s good character and spent $100 to have the yard cleaned up the driver still chose to remain anonymous. I can understand his lack of pride. Snitches, informers and stool pigeons enjoy little respect anywhere, even among government agencies that are so heavily dependent on them.
I’m reminded of the proposed nationwide TIPS program. Loud disapproval by the American public ended TIPS, which would have recruited people like the delivery guys to inform authorities about the private comings and goings of Americans in their homes. I’m distressed to see an informal TIPS program growing spontaneously like a mushroom on a cow pie from the manure of WOT propaganda.
Neighbor secretly spying on neighbor creates its own formula, and it’s not a formula for increased safety from terrorists:
Paranoia + Xenophobia + Cowardice = Totalitarian Nightmare.
The only way to avoid nightmares is to wake up.