Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quick Trip or, Notes on Terrorism

With such a quick trip this week, I found it difficult to find time to do any research. As such, I kind of "showed up" in the Philippines without any context or understanding of the local culture. It wasn't really necessary, given that I spent my week sitting in a windowless conference room, but at times it would've been nice.

For example: After our meeting wrapped up Saturday morning, I took the afternoon and wandered around the many many shopping complexes interconnected via an open air skyway system through the Makati district. After a few margarita's and the world's best massage, I decided to try my chances at heading over to the Glorietta Mall.

I live in the land of the world's biggest shopping mall, so I thought I would be immune to the masses, but I was dead wrong. I have never seen crowds like that in my life, outside the Tokyo subway system at rush hour. I was crushed by tiny dark-haired Philippinos at every turn. Couple that with a very confusing skyway system and I was soon miserably lost.

On top of that, at every new shopping mall or department store, everyone had to queue through security. Sometimes there were several lines open and you walked through, opening your purse for a cursory glance by the sleepy security guard. Others were longer, like those you'd find at an airport (thankfully, I didn't have to take off my shoes) and twice as ugly.

I couldn't understand it. Shopping malls? You've got to be kidding me. Nothing I saw was worth protecting that much from theft.

When I finally joined my co-workers for supper that night, I mentioned the enormous crowds and the perplexing, ubiquitous security check points. Turns out, last year at this time, a bomb exploded, killing eleven and wounding 126. There's been no determination of whether or not it was Islamic militants, the government or just a freak accident, but it looks like no one is taking any chances.

Huh. That, along with the incident at the hotel, might have been nice to know before I arrived.

All of this got me thinking. I had a brief discussion with our VP the other day about the increased security around Manila (I've already blogged about what happend at our hotel last year). He had forwarded to me President-Elect Obama's recently issued brief regarding his administration's goals for the next four years. One of them included reducing the climate of fear in our country. Based on what we'd seen in the Philippines our question was this: does the increase in security guards, guns, night patrols, pat downs, liquid limitations and check points make you feel more, or less, safe? And secondly, how do you combat fear? Do you put more, or less, policeman on the street? Do you put more, or less, guns in private citizen's hands?

Isn't this just as difficult as waging war on "terrorism"? What do you do when the terror comes from within?

I realize that this very debate has been floating around in public discourse since 9/11, but it finally hit home for me. I was pulled over not once, but twice on my trip. The first time was random, but the second time was because I had house keys in my bag. Apparently, being able to get into your own home is ILLEGAL in some places. I mean, where is the line here? Does it make you feel more secure knowing I can't carry something as remotely pokey as my HOUSE KEYS on board? Might I be tempted to stab you in the eye and turn the knob?

More and more I feel I live in a world that Ray Bradbury would immediately recognize as twisted science fiction. As tripe as it sounds, I look with hope to the future that might return the innocence of the past. The kind of past where we looked at somone and thought, "Huh, they're different" instead of "I wonder what they're going to do with those keys..."

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