Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Land of the Free"

  I recently returned from a missionary trip to Asia. I flew out of Jacksonville , Florida to Dallas. I flew from Dallas to Hong Kong, from Hong Kong to Manila, and then from Manila to my final destination somewhere else in the Philippines.  I covered  almost 20,000 miles on  by the time it was over and I would like to simply relate to you a handful of anecdotes that reflect, in my opinion the true state of freedom in America.
  To begin with, this trip was in the works for months, and  my  biggest concern was  not the Muslim hotbed I was traveling to , but rather what my own countrymen might do to me as I tried to leave.  As it stands, if you are making a trip of this magnitude, it is, as far as I can tell, impossible not to interact with the Department of Homeland Security.  I had no desire to be groped or  body-scanned, but the TSA is counting on the fact that you are  willing to endure such  abuses in order to make your trip.  I could have made a scene, but they would have  stopped me from traveling (at  the very least) and processed me as a bad guy at the very worst.  So I stood in line, removed my shoes, my belt, my hat, and emptied my pockets.  I  stepped inside the body scanner and adopted the 'I surrender' pose and then  on the other side of the scanner began to redress myself in full view of strangers.  I know this is the new normal, but that, dear readers, is not normal.  On the far wall,  visible as you are being violated is a sign that says something like '9/11-We will Never forget'. I suppose that is there to make me feel better about the process, but since I think 9/11 was an inside job, the fact that I was being reminded to remember did nothing to lessen my anxiety.    Just before you step into the body scanner there is an interesting  sign. The sign says, more or less that TSA employees are people too, with feelings. The sign goes on to say that snide comments  towards TSA employees or derogatory comments about the procedures will be taken as a threat to their persons and dealt with accordingly.
  Now, before my neo-con friends interrupt me with songs of praise for the  'first responders' in the 'new war on America' and before my conservative friends warn me about the Muslim hiding behind every bush or start to chirp about 'freedom isn't free' ,  please keep reading.
  I left Jacksonville after having been seen nude by  a total stranger and flew to Dallas where I had a substantial lay-over.  Over the loudspeaker at the Dallas airport I was constantly reminded that  the DHS had   laid down new rules and regulations with which I was expected to comply.  Literally every  5 or 6 minutes they would announce that  any  bags left unattended for any period of time would be  confiscated and destroyed.  By sheer repetition I began to feel paranoid and   did not take my eyes off of my bag.  Everywhere in the airport there were direction to do this or don't do that. DHS  and TSA  people were seemingly everywhere and eyed everybody suspiciously.
  From Dallas I took a 17 hour trip to Hong Kong, which is titularly  owned and run by the communist Chinese.  I went through their security checkpoint and was expecting nothing short of a cavity search.  While I  have no love for the communists, I will say this; the  checkpoint was ridiculously humane compared to the TSA.  I  set  my bag down, sending it through an x-ray machine. I walked through a metal detector, shoes on , and was instructed to  empty my pockets on the other side. I was wanded, thanked for my time, and was through the entire security apparatus in less than 3 minutes.  The overall vibe was  one notch above a security guard at the mall.
  I can already  tell what you're thinking. You are thinking that the TSA HAS to act like a bunch of  thugs.  After all,  terrorists are  hiding behind every bush and they won't rest until America the Great Satan has fallen.  I've  heard it all, trust me, and assuming that  to be the case, let me  encourage you to keep reading.
  From Hong Kong I flew to Manila.  Manila is  possibly the most horrid airport on earth, although I suppose until I have visited every airport on earth, I can't say for certain.  Manila is however, an amazing example of third-world inefficiency.  Nobody knows where anything is in the Manila airport and nothing opens or closes when it is supposed to.  But still airport terminals are a temporary place by nature so I soldiered on to my final destination in Mindanao.
  Mindanao, in case you didn't know, does have a substantial  population of Muslims.  You see them everywhere and although I don't endorse Islam by a long shot, I must say that if Islam really was the problem, it would seem like the bombs would never stop in Mindanao.  This may be the opinion of an unenlightened  buffoon, but there it is.  Despite being everywhere you go, there was no overt hostility towards me even as I preached in public to large crowds of them.  The concerns of my fellow Americans that I would  be beheaded the first day  have proven to be unfounded.
  The other thing that didn't happen in Mindanao was that  the police weren't called.  As a public  preacher in America I deal with the  police regularly, but while  overseas I preached  everywhere from a street corner to a Catholic nursing home and not once did anyone complain. Not once did an officer of the law stop me or  harass me. I literally stood on the top of a van in the  market with a loudspeaker and preached to people buying their groceries and nobody called the authorities. I had to explain to my  Filipino brothers that  it was not so in the 'land of the free'.
  Mindanao has had it's share of Muslim-tinged violence.  There really has been bombings, as opposed to the phony terror plots trotted out by the DHS  to justify their jobs.  So how did they address the need for beefed up security? Well when I went to the mall there was a private security guard there who  briefly ran his hand over the small of my back to make sure I didn't have a gun. I may have had to also take my hat off. That was it, That was the entire exercise, and once you got accustomed to it, you could almost go through it without breaking stride.
  After a few days in country, it was time to return back to America.  I checked my bags in Mindanao and was waiting for the plane to begin boarding when my name was called over the intercom. I headed back through the reasonable security and was flagged down by a  very courteous baggage handler. He led me to a back room where several security officers were waiting.  I must admit, I thought this could go very badly. They asked  me politely (and by politely I mean they really were polite, as opposed to the  faux-politeness of American thugs) to open my bag. They stood by quietly as I rummaged through dirty laundry until I located the object of their concern; a bracket that sort of looked like a weapon. I removed it, showed it to them, and explained it's function. Despite the language barrier, they agreed that it wasn't a weapon, and they thanked me for my time.  I  walked back through the security checkpoint and was waived through because they recognized me.  I boarded the plane and headed back to Manila.  From Manila I went to Hong Kong where I once again went through the security checkpoint that took almost 4 minutes this time.  I boarded the plane and we landed in Dallas.
  Back in the 'land of the free' we were herded into a disorganized and confused line where  our bags were searched  and our personages  assaulted.  We were handed confusing declaratory  forms while  costumed uniformed officers wandered up and down the  line barking out  orders for us to have our papers in order lest we  be detained.  To leave the airport we had to  go through the same procedures as if we were entering the airport and it took  almost two hours to clear it all. One lady in line with us  told a completely unsympathetic officer that at this rate she would miss her connecting flight. The officer shrugged his shoulders in helplessness and  proceeded on down the line to remind us that all they needed to see was our documentation, The man actually said, at the top of his lungs, "We don't want to see your vacation pictures."
   I am not unbiased in all this, and never claimed to be. I think the 'war on terror' is  almost entirely a hoax, and I believe  most of what  DHS and TSA does to be unconstitutional., so yes I have a small axe to  grind, but I have not cherry-picked these incidents to prove my point. In light of my experience, I  ask you dear reader to draw your own conclusion about 'freedom'.
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