Archive - Aug 18, 2009

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Dhoofuses

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Memo to the Star Tribune commenters: YOU ARE ALMOST TOO EASY.

When perusing my news feeds for column fodder, articles from the Star Tribune frequently catch my eye. And 90% of the time, they catch my eye not for their content - usually standard AP copy that I've already seen - but because I know that the Strib comments section will be a ripe petri dish full of furiously fornicating e dumbi. Now, in a move that is certainly good for the website's regular readers, but bad for the somewhat smaller population of local Internet ranters, the Strib web editors are getting a pretty good idea which stories will do the same, and so the juiciest petri dishes have the plastic lid clamped on tight, with no comments allowed.

But not always! And so it was with the story of Bollywood ubermensch Shah Rukh Khan. An actor who appears in more movies in a year than most actors do in their entire careers, Khan made the news this weekend because he was detained by airport security for a couple of hours, only being released through the auspices of the Indian embassy, who I can only assume showed up at the airport with a big stack of Kal Ho Naa Ho dvds and an exasperated look on their faces.

Khan was detained and investigated because, of course, his name appeared on a watch list. The same watch list we've been using for eight years. The same watch list that has never, ever caught a terrorist. The same watch list that has inconvenienced thousands of people who happen to share a name with a name on the list. To this day, nobody seems to know how names get on the watch list, and nobody seems to know how to get names off of it.

This is clearly, in the annals of airport security snafus, a minor incident. He wasn't removed from a plane, he didn't miss a flight, and he only lost a couple of hours. On the other hand, this is also clearly an issue of a broken system abusing an innocent traveler for no societal benefit, and only coming to light because the innocent traveler being abused has a certain amount of fame, power, and/or pull. And once we leave the land of Clearly, we enter the murky, confused world of the Strib commenters, who proceed to describe a whole other planet. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"This is a non-story of a person who thinks he is famous so he shouldn't have to deal with the same crap at the airport that we deal with." - "mightybison".

I'm pretty sure that Shah Rukh Khan doesn't have to "think" he's famous. There's an entire planet full of people out there who can know who you are even if you never appeared on a single episode of Grey's Anatomy. Not to mention that unless the name "mightybison" appears on terrorist watch lists as the alias of a mad dictator attempting to achieve global domination through street fighting, Khan didn't have to deal with the same crap we all deal with, he had to deal with extra special bonus hadouken crap on account of being a Muslim. A distinction that "jchurchill" makes, albeit in the most antiquated, 2002-era, jingoistic way possible:

"We were attacked by Muslim extremists. I hope he's more likely to be frisked than my 82 year old grandmother."

Really? Because if I were actually profiling Shah Rukh Khan and jchurchill's grandmother, and basing their relative probability of being a Muslim extremist based on everything I know about them, I'd have Grandma strip-searched and her Ensure tested for anthrax. Also, I'd be willing to wager that 82-year-old grandmothers have, in our nation's history, killed more Americans than Muslim extremists ever have.

Also, and this is a common thread amongst the Strib commenters, we're not talking about being frisked. And we're not talking about being asked to take your shoes off, or go through the metal detector. We're talking about authorities pulling you into a side room because you have the same name as one of tens of thousands of names on a watch list. And even the actual people whose names are on that list may or may not be terrorists. And then the authorities holding you there while they undergo the painstaking process of making sure that you're not an international terrorist stupid enough to fly under your actual name.

But my favorite allegation, the one made by at least two commenters, is that the whole thing is a publicity stunt. See, it turns out that Khan was in the states to promote his new movie about a man who, in the post-9/11 world, faces suspicion and racial profiling on account of being Muslim. Or, as "yoyo123" put it, "Shah Rukh Khan is here promoting his "racial profiling of Muslims" movie. His team probably put his name on the list."

I love this theory, because it relies on two assumptions that even someone with all the mental acuity implied by a handle like "yoyo123" couldn't pick up on. The first is that the TSA's terrorist watch list is susceptible to having names planted on it by an actor's publicists. No wonder they're not catching any terrorists with it! It's being constantly suborned by agents and flacks trying to get their clients' names in the paper.

Alternately, if "yoyo123"'s watch list theory doesn't plan out, it means that any Muslim traveling to the United States can be so certain he'll be racially profiled that he can plan on turning it into a publicity stunt for his movie. Which sums up the problem with the whole broken system better than I ever could, albeit not nearly as intentionally.