Friday, August 13, 2010

Under the niqab

The recent controversy about niqabi allegedly being permitted to board aircraft without showing ID was, of course, invented or at least inflated by Tories eager to stimulate their pitchfork-wielding base. Here is one representative offering from the Winnipeg Sun--the unthinking, reactive mental junk food upon which that base thrives. And here's another, from the ever-risible David Harris.

It seems to me, however, that much of the anger expressed across the land has arisen because the women in question are (supposedly) being given a pass when the rest of us have to suffer through the boarding process: compelled to semi-strip, being felt up by CATSA guards, having newer and ever-dumber demands made of us. On my last trip, I dutifully put my laptop in a separate bin, removed its protective sleeve and placed the computer on top of it. "No!" barked a CATSA minion. "The computer has to be separated from the cover! They can't be in contact!"

You know, that sort of thing.

Words like "arbitrary" and "capricious" don't even get close to the truth of today's airport experience. So anyone who has submitted to these ritual humiliations merely in order to get from point A to point B is likely to displace his or her frustration in an instant if it appears that someone else is getting a break.

If this is the case, I think we're looking at the matter in the wrong way. The question here is:
why do any of us have to show ID when boarding a plane?

As indicated in the benighted articles referenced above, most people simply assume that "security" is involved. But hold on a minute. If your person, your cabin baggage and your luggage have already been found to be entirely free of weapons and explosives (not to mention toothpaste and shampoo in too-large amounts, or nail-scissors), why is my security on the flight enhanced by knowing that the woman sitting next to me is really Aisha and not her sister Mayyadah (or Nancy, for that matter)?

Unless the police are tracking a fugitive (who, if managing to board, would have nothing in his or her possession that could pose a threat in any case), what is the purpose of all this ID-checking--when you get your boarding pass, and then again when you've passed through security? If I'm missing something obvious, and I may well be, perhaps this can be cleared up in the comments. A necessary evil? Or just more security theatre?

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