We are in a taxi

by francine Hardaway on December 1, 2004

We are in a taxi on the way to the Amsterdam airport, heading home after a week of visits to the Rijksmuseum and the Anna Frank House, the Van Gogh museum and the Vondelpark, the cafes and coffee houses. I warn Amanda and Greg to make sure they are not carrying any drugs. My daughter Sam, who lives in Amsterdam, tells them about all the questions the airlines ask at the check-in for international flights: what was your purpose in Amsterdam? Are you a family? What are you bringing back? She says there are two or three security checks. The government has laid the job of screening for terrorists off on the airlines, and Europeans who value their own privacy but work for airlines flying to America are now forced to ask Americans questions that may violate that of the Americans.

The taxi driver, who has been silent up until now, suddenly exclaims, �Excuse me. I don�t mean to interfere, but…� and goes on to tell us it�s no one�s business what we were doing in Amsterdam. By �no one�, he means the American government. He says nobody in Europe would put up with the kinds of questions Americans have to answer from their government.

�You have already been searched and screened,� he says passionately.� What right do they have also to ask you why you have been here and what you are bringing back? This is the mark of a dictatorial country.�

�How many people are in America,� he asks. �Two hundred million? What if you all said no? Refused to answer the questions.�

I thought for a moment. We wouldn�t say no, I answered. Most of the country just voted for Bush, the President who instituted these screening procedures. This means it would be difficult to get many people to say no, especially if the consequence was not to board the airplane.

The taxi driver couldn�t understand it. Turkish by descent, he was born in Holland and was proud of its track record for human rights.

�Americans must not go anywhere,� he said. �They must not know the difference. It�s like in Turkey. In Turkey, everyone thinks the living is okay, but when they get out and go somewhere else, they find out it�s not.�

This strikes me as a very illuminating point. When I try to defend the government by mentioning the fear we have as a nation since 9/11, he doesn�t bite. Clearly, he doesn�t think terrorists are the �big deal� we think they are. Europe has always had them, and people take them in stride. Just before we arrived in Amsterdam, the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh had been brutally murdered by a young Muslim, presumably for making the documentary �Submission,� a metaphorical portrait of the way Muslims treat women. (If you haven�t already seen this film, a snippet of it is at www.ifilm.com).

The Dutch are aware that it was a brutal murder, and that there is a danger of religious war between Muslims and Christians in the country. They are not unconcerned, but they seem to be able to draw a distinction that we (so far) cannot: terrorists don�t just come from without, They also come from within. Therefore, all the screening devices in the world can�t stop them; indeed, some of terrorists are our own citizens. Think of Oklahoma City. Remember the Mad Bomber? Terrorists, perhaps by different names, have always been with us.

I�m not scared of them. Three thousand people died on 9/11, and yes, that was horrific. However, on the anniversary of the death of my children�s father, cancer seems much more terrifying to me personally. Last year we lost him, and I also lost another good friend, both to cancer. And while I was in Amsterdam, I learned that yet another dear friend has been stricken.

To me, this is true terrorism � something with the power to frighten everyone. Something from within. Something likely to hit the people in the Red States as well as those in the Blue States. Something deadly that we�ve been fighting a war against for thirty years.

If I were president, which clearly I will never be, because my views reflect only my fears and not the nation�s, I would be using the homeland security money to fight cancer. My home will not be secure until we have won that war.

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