We can all rest safe in our beds knowing that the self-important little gargoyles who represent the US Customs Service down at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are hard at work, protecting us from threats, real or imagined.
One recent incident began when three of Finland’s top musicians arrived in town at the request of the University of Minnesota to begin a free tour of the state.
Their first stop was to be the Immigration History Research Center at the University, where the group was to participate in a tribute to Finnish-Americans.
Finnish Public Television was producing a documentary about the trip, and the group’s travel expenses were paid by the university.
Before they could start their good will mission, however, the musicians were treated to a tour of the back rooms at the airport and subjected to more than three hours of rigorous interrogation at the hands of bumptious US Customs and Border Protection agents.
Perhaps we could excuse their suspicion of these musicians, since Helsinki is such a well-known hotbed of terrorist activity.
The bully boys from the customs department trotted out their drug-sniffing dogs to check the luggage of the guests.
The only “evidence” that customs officials had to lead them to the conclusion that they were drug smugglers was that the group happened to arrive here by way of Amsterdam.
When the customs trolls found no evidence of drugs, they tried to prove that the musicians were here to work illegally.
Did these wizards really believe that a group of popular (and presumably wealthy) musicians would trouble themselves to travel all the way across the Atlantic in a scheme to get rich by playing acoustic folk music at a few gigs in small towns scattered across rural Minnesota?
If so, they deserve a grade of “F” in economics to go along with the “F-minus” they already earned for diplomacy.
The musicians were separated and taken to different rooms for further interrogation.
Erkki Maattanen, a filmmaker from Finnish Public Television accompanied the musicians, was also interrogated and subjected to outrageous treatment.
The travellers were eventually released, but not before the tough guys from border patrol stamped “Refused Entry” on their passports (the agents later crossed out the stamps with a pen).
The musicians received no explanation or apology for the less-than-hospitable reception.
Is there any wonder that the reputation of the US among some foreign countries has become a bit tarnished lately?
It is difficult to imagine that the Finnish musicians are going to be enthusiastic about returning to our fair shores anytime soon.
Apparently, our customs agents get their sensitivity training at the KGB institute.
Things changed in this country after Sept. 11, but we cannot allow petty agents in minor positions of power to use this as an excuse to abandon the principles on which America was founded.
Some of us still believe in a presumption of innocence, and ethical treatment of detainees, but cases from around the country seem to suggest that post-9/11 hysteria is being used as an excuse to repress liberty.
In Minneapolis, the group, which included musicians Jukka Karjalainen, Ninni Poijarvi and Mika Kuokkanen, came to meet some Finnish-Americans and share some music from their homeland.
What they got for their trouble was a lesson that the representatives of the US government are a bunch of overzealous blackguards who take their jobs and themselves very seriously.
It would be difficult to find a less offensive nation than Finland, and singling out visitors from this country as potential criminals seems like extremely poor policy.
It does, however, fit the recent trend where people carrying contraband seem to be able to skate through airports undetected because the henchmen from the customs department are busy frisking blue-haired grandmothers and tormenting young mothers and their children.
Now, the emissaries of dubious justice have apparently added Finnish citizens to their most wanted list.
The customs department has a job to do, and it is not an easy one.
What we need, though, are some sensible policies that address the real problems.
If our goal is to perpetuate a war on terrorism, let’s focus on actual terrorists and stop harassing innocent people.
Let’s worry about real weapons instead of confiscating all of the nail clippers, lighters, and baby formula we can find.
And, let’s concentrate on protecting the freedom we claim to embrace, rather than using paranoia as an excuse to crush freedom and eliminate liberty.