The New Shape Of Fear

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2006

Whoever thought it would come to this, when the evils of humanity could be squeezed into a tube of toothpaste?

Squeezed into ordinary, everyday items so benign and necessary that common people would not have thought them potential containers of evil.

Like, really?

Bottles of shampoo? Suntan lotion? Hand cream? Hair gel? Clear vessels of spring water?

Dumped like potential tools of criminals at airport security terminals, prohibited from being smuggled in carry-on luggage.

Clear containers of suspicion: insulin without a patient's name? Throw it away. Breast milk without the baby? Throw it out. What evil man would carry a bottle of baby formula without a baby?

W.H. Auden wrote: "Evil is unspectacular and always human / And shares our bed and eats at our own table."

What happens when the ordinary becomes extraordinary, becomes suspicious? What happens when a woman -- or man, perhaps Johnny Depp -- can no longer be trusted carrying a tube of mascara onto a plane? What happens when the unsuspected, tiny products on grocery shelves -- chocolate syrup, jars of jam, grape juice -- gnaw away at security and, thereby, sanity in a world where colors became threats? Where orange no longer means happiness but "High Risk of Terrorist Attacks?"

At Reagan National Airport, men in black uniforms are standing at the end of moving sidewalks passing out hastily made fliers: "By Order of the Department of Homeland Security Transportation Security Administration -- PASSENGERS MAY NOT HAVE LIQUIDS OR GELS OF ANY SIZE AT THE SCREENING CHECKPOINT OR IN THE CABIN OF THE AIRCRAFT. . . . Beverages purchased in the sterile area must be consumed before boarding the aircraft."

And you think maybe nowhere is safe -- except "the sterile area" -- but you wonder where that is and would they let you go there if you were really in need of a "sterile" place for your own sanity?

Again we are back here, in the lap of terror. But cast into a different dimension of terror, into the hall of ordinary things. Threatened by toothpaste, running out of trust and overtaken by skepticism.

"Now, I have that fear when I leave the house in the morning, I never know whether I will come back," says Homa Saghafi, who lives in Fairfax County. "I wonder whether you can still put jelly on sandwiches. Isn't that gel? On the plane, they will give you a drink, but you can't be trusted to take it on."

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