“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Benjamin Franklin.
We had an uninvited visitor at Christmas. No, not Father Christmas, who is in any case always welcome, although perhaps best if he doesn’t try the chimney. Apart from some broken windows, the only damage came in the form of one missing (very special) bottle of whisky and another of cognac. And of course the knowledge that a stranger or strangers had been making themselves at home in our house. The sirens, spotlights, guard dogs and trip wires that we have installed since this incursion should prevent its recurrence.
Any burglar worth his or her salt will find a way round, under or over our expensive new defences, but deterrents are obviously wise. But it would be a shame if we became too obsessed or paranoid about life in what remains a relatively safe and crime free area. After all, in one of the endless surveys that rank this country as the best in just about everything, Finland was recently rated as the most honest country in the world, passing the “Returned wallet in the street” test with flying colours.
Bearing in mind its undoubted national honesty, it always seems a bit ironic that the best staffed industry in the country seems to be security. You can spend ages queuing at a bar, waiting for a menu in a restaurant or hunting for staff to take your payment in a department store, but you could form an army with the security staff at Helsinki Airport. It doesn’t make the security line move any faster, but it must do wonders for the unemployment figures.
Before those planes went hurtling into those buildings in New York in 2001, passing through the airport was starting to be a smooth and happy process. The airlines and the CAA were doing a great job in cutting down airport processing times to the absolute minimum. There is nothing enjoyable about passing through the airport at peak times these days.
But most disturbing is the way that people have come to accept, absolutely without question or complaint, the indignities and inconveniences of security. If you express the very understandable sentiments of frustration and exasperation at having to take off your belt and unpack your intricately packed camera bag, your reaction is now interpreted as unreasonable and troublesome. The throng of young security officials at Helsinki Airport are relatively polite, but the same cannot be said for those at other airports in other countries.
The public are so conditioned to the security process that many travellers will happily start removing their shoes before they reach the screening belt even without being asked to do. I think this should strike everyone as extreme and undignified obeisance beyond the call of duty or social compliance, yet it is becoming the norm. When a zealous official at Heathrow confiscated my cocoa, I wasn’t expected to complain.
Questioning the effectiveness of security measures such as the limitations of liquids is verging on heresy, but that is a point to be argued separately. My current, not entirely original point is that the misguided fanatics who fly planes into buildings and try to set light to their shoes have achieved their aim. We have lost the collective ability to recognise that we inhabit environments – continuously and expensively monitored, checked, surveyed – underlined by institutionalized paranoia and – actually – insecurity.