Monday, January 07, 2008

American Travelers, In A Post 9/11 World

[Originally posted at on June 5, 2007]

Every so often, the most powerful Americans remind us that we live in a post 9/11 world. We are asked to sacrifice our freedoms in the name of added security. The President does it, the AG's office does it, neo-con talking heads remind us in their acerbic rants on TV and radio that the enemy hates us for our freedoms (so, understandably, the best way to dissuade them from attacking us must be to shed as many of the freedoms we currently enjoy, lest they should be envious.) The country, by and large believes that it is so, that added security requires sacrificing some liberty, in spite of the well-known quote that "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." And then, Andrew Speaker, a.k.a. Mr. drug-resistant TB, comes along and shatters the myth of American security.

The fact that Mr. Speaker had to come along to remind us of America's and the world's vulnerability is quite ironic. Since the multiple terrorist strikes of 9/11, several security analysts have repeatedly warned the public and Congress that the United States is vulnerable to terrorist attacks at many levels: port security is a sieve, as too many containers enter the country without inspection; chemical plants, not to mention nuclear power plants, are not adequately protected; the food chain is exposed, not only to external attacks, but to endemic health and sanitation problems at food processing plants and farms (e-coli in your spinach, salmonella in your peanut butter, tainted food, imported from one of the most unsafe food-producing nations in the world, for your pets); and, finally, border security remains largely a joke. That must be true, if a man with an almost incurable disease, high on a government no-travel list, can exit and re-enter the country unchallenged by border patrol, in spite of the security alerts that popped up on the examining agent's computer screen.

The facts surrounding this international incident also speak volume about the attitude that many Americans sport toward the rest of the world, which fosters understandable suspicion, even some resentment, in the rest of the world. Far from being uneducated or ignorant, Mr. Speaker is an attorney, educated at the University of Georgia School of Law. Handsome, cocky, and jock-like(at least based on his photos), he chose to treat the world community with utter disregard: first by leaving his country in spite of the knowledge that he had tubercolosis, and then by refusing to check into the Italian healthcare system (ranked 2nd in the world by the World Health Organization, well ahead of the United States, ranked 37th,) claiming that he had to return to the United States to get the life-saving treatment that he could not possibly get anywhere else in the world. Italians were understandably miffed, because-as reported by Associated Press--some of the leading research in TB is being done by Italians. Dr. Mario Raviglione, the Italian who heads the WHO's tuberculosis department, added "This is a developed country," Raviglione said. "I'm pretty sure [Italians] would have been able to do the right thing and provide Mr. Speaker with the proper treatment."

I have lived in the United States for a while now. I am sincerely grateful for the hospitality I have enjoyed and the fairness with which I have been treated since I moved to the United States. But in my fourteen years (to date) in this country, I have too often encountered the ignorance of the world, the prejudice and the misguided sense of superiority that Mr. Speaker so carelessly displayed by refusing care in a foreign country (where he probably would have been treated at much lesser expense than anywhere in the United States), and, first, by his disregard for a world which too many Americans consider much like their amusement park, and little else. That is the only possible explanation of why Mr. Speaker, regardless what he has said after his return to the U.S., decided to take on vacation with him one of the deadliest contagious diseases known to man.

The most conspicuous Americans travellers in the last five years or so have been Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and Ms. Rice, who have globetrotted in search of support (and finding little) for a criminally-misjudged foreign policy; the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers ordered to carry out that policy around the world; and now, finally, Mr. Speaker, Al Qaeda's dream of a bacteriological weapon. Perhaps, it is time that the world should suggest that Americans sacrifice just one more freedom in the name of security (the world's): the freedom to travel.

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