Staring at shoes, U.S. airlines ignore faces of terrorists

It's not the terrorists who scare me; it's the people protecting us from the terrorists who scare me.

More now than ever.

Which is why I have come to respect Israel more now than ever.

For a variety of reasons, I've been doing quite a bit of traveling lately. Indeed, I've been on about a half dozen or so flights in the last month. And what I've seen has convinced me beyond the shadow of a doubt that we have absolutely no idea what the hell we are doing on the domestic front in the war on terrorism.

That is most clear and most visible at our airports where the things we are doing are so pointless, so mindless, so designed to make us feel we're doing something, that I am much more scared now than I was before I began traveling.

It's all about the shoes.

I have taken my shoes off at the behest of others more in the last month than I have my entire life. I have taken my shoes off again and again and again.

In the last two weeks, I have taken six different flights and have had to take my shoes off before each of those flights three times.

I had to take them off before I could go through the metal detector. Then I had to take them off again when, having gone through the metal detector and having had my shoes put through the metal detector, I was asked to move to the side to undergo a full search of my person by a person with a wand and an attitude. And then when I finally got to the gate, I was pulled aside yet again and asked to remove my shoes yet again.

The shoe obsession is, of course, the result of the fact that one nutty guy on one flight was wearing exploding shoes.

And yet, in typical naive, let's-fight-yesterday's-war American fashion, shoes are now the intense focus of our security efforts.

How stupid. For starters, the very nature of terrorism, the very terror of terrorism, is that it is unpredictable. Having tried the exploding shoes thing, the odds are very low that the terrorists would do that again.

So shoes ain't gonna be what they are thinking of doing next.

And if checking shoes somehow does make some sense, please tell me the sense of checking the same person's same shoes three times. Why isn't just the metal detector enough?

Which brings me to me.

I have been called many things, but the one thing it is safe to say that I am not is a terrorist. One look at me would tell you that.

Which is why, though I've flown El Al many times, traveled to Israel many times at all kinds of times, including just days after those two bus No. 18 explosions a few years back, I've never undergone anything other than the most cursory and quick of checks before being allowed to board an El Al plane.

That's because El Al has sechel (wisdom). The airline focuses on real threats and doesn't bother with what's not to worry about.

Like me.

I've always appreciated that, but now I've truly come to respect it.

Why? Because the airlines in this country have been treating me as if I were Osama bin Laden's top deputy.

Each and every time I've flown, I've had my luggage undergo a very thorough inspection. Each time, I've been pulled over after the metal detector and been gone over big time, down to having to undo my belt, and once, my pants. Each time, at the gate, I've had my hand luggage gone over big time and my person inspected in a way that I'm certain either violates Jewish law or requires me to become engaged to the person inspecting me.

What a waste. What a sad, pathetic waste. What an inefficient use of resources, what a mindless exercise that doesn't address the real issues of making this country safer.

It ain't people like me or Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and his steel hip that they need to be worrying about or messing with. And yet they do. One reason, besides the fact that we have been so sheltered for so long that we have no idea what terrorism is or how to deal with it, is that there is this absurd notion that using sechel is profiling and that profiling in this context is somehow wrong, unfair.

It ain't. It's common sense and smart security.

This is a huge country, with tens and tens of thousands of people flying on thousands and thousands of flights each and every day. There is absolutely no way to check each and every person.

And so what you do, what El Al does, is focus on who needs focusing on. What you do is have trained security people who are part detective, part psychiatrist, who know what to look for, who to look for, what bears inspecting and what doesn't.

Wartime, terrorist threats do not call for political correctness. It is beyond nuts that Department of Transportation guidelines do not allow airport security to rely on "generalized stereotypes or attitudes or beliefs about the propensity of members of any racial, ethnic, religious or national origin group to engage in unlawful activity."

Well, the fact is that Chassidic Jews ain't gonna hijack an airplane and ram it into the World Trade Center. The fact is that those who destroyed the World Trade Center were all radical Muslims. The fact is that the threat of terrorism comes from radical Muslims. That isn't racist or unfair but the fact and the reality.

And so it only makes sense that people who fit a certain description, who appear to be Middle Eastern, have a Middle Eastern accent or speak a Middle Eastern language should be the focus of much of the security attention. No one is saying they should be harassed or presumed to be guilty, but it is saying it just makes sense that more attention be paid to folks like them than to folks like me. Instead, we play the well-meaning fools.

Another regulation says those who are selected for inspection must be selected at random by some objective criteria. Meaning that our security folks are not allowed to notice that someone seems to be very nervous or looks suspicious and so decide that might mean something and so should be checked. No, the very thing that might indicate something is up cannot be used as the basis to check if something is going on.

Only in America. We need to learn from Israel. God help America.