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Two sides of political correctness

Posted: March 22, 2011 - 8:53pm  |  Updated: March 23, 2011 - 2:19pm

It’s a rare event when a controversial issue sparks nearly unanimous agreement of a legislative body. But that’s exactly what happened this month when our state legislators passed House Concurrent Resolution 8 which asks Congress to put an end to TSA’s invasive security screening procedures. It was a small step toward restoring the privacy rights of airline travelers. The bigger hurdle we still face is heeding the politically incorrect call to understand the roots of terrorism.

Conservatives have used political correctness (PC) as effective attack language against many liberal ideals. It found its way into the House debate on this resolution when Rep. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak) complained that it was interfering with our ability to use common sense profiling to solve airport security problems. And if we fully examine the event that led to HCR 8, we’ll discover that to a large degree he’s right.

In February, Rep. Sharon Cissna (D-Anchorage) was denied passage through security to make her flight from Seattle to Juneau. After the full body scan revealed an irregularity caused by scar tissue from a mastectomy she had undergone in the past, she was required to undergo a full body pat down by TSA agents. The same thing happened to her three months earlier and she endured the humiliating experience of having her scars touched by a stranger. This time she refused.

Should Cissna have been allowed through security without the pat down? Absolutely. After all, she is an elected government official in America. But the difficulty with creating such exceptions is that it opens the door to other reasonable requests.

House Majority Leader Alan Austerman (R-Kodiak) offered one for 60-year-old, white-haired Caucasian women. And Rep. Alan Dick (R-McGrath) added that the new screening is offensive to Native Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans because none of these groups have ever threatened our nation. If you follow their thinking to its logical conclusion, they’re supporting Stoltze’s unstated view that full body scans and pat downs should focus on Muslim Americans.

Instead, “we are all being treated as criminals”, as Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks) stated after describing the full body scanning procedure. Everyone who plans to travel by air has to first prove their innocent intentions. TSA rules apply to each of us equally.

Is it liberal PC alone that’s brought us to this paralyzing view of reality? That was the opinion expressed by NPR reporter Juan Williams before he admitted he became nervous whenever he sees “people who are in Muslim garb” on the same plane he’s traveling on. That he was fired after making those comments gives credibility to Stoltze’s frustration that PC prevents us from even talking about profiling.

Would profiling be discriminatory? Of course it would. And as people we discriminate all the time. That itself isn’t wrong. But our views are prejudicial because we lack sufficient knowledge of the individuals we’re judging. And we’re wrong to transcribe those opinions into factual conclusions. For just as profiling is a natural extension of logical thinking, then reason should also be the driver urging us to seek a better understanding of people we’re not inclined to trust.

And this leads to a conservative brand of political correctness that has also stymied our ability to solve the problems presented by Islamic terrorism. From the right side of the political spectrum it’s unconscionable to suggest that we need to understand the motives behind a terrorist’s plot to kill innocent people. To many public commentators it’s akin to blaming America for the attacks on 911.

But Republican Congressman Ron Paul disagrees with them. In his book, “The Revolution” he writes that “looking for the motive is not the same thing as making excuses; detectives always look for the motive behind crime.” And he suggests American foreign policy has “put the American people in greater danger and made us more vulnerable to attack.”

Alaska’s state representatives made a bipartisan leap toward restoring sensibility to airport screening. But it’s just a beginning to bringing common sense and logic into the security debate. Paul’s analysis is worth reading by Stoltze and others who feel stuck behind the wall of political correctness. If we’re going remove its barriers, we’ve got to do it from both sides.

• Moniak is a Juneau resident.

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