Sept 5, 2006

Snakey on a Plane

[T-shirt reads "I am not a terrorist" in Arabic." Source.]

Recently I posted a link to the insane story of the iPod toilet bomb. There's more. Already in 2004 we had this madness;

A Midwest Airlines flight from Milwaukee to San Francisco was canceled Sunday night after a passenger discovered Arabic-type handwriting inside an in-flight magazine.
The 7:25 p.m. flight carrying 118 passengers and five crew members had already pulled away from the gate at Mitchell International Airport when a passenger flipping through the Midwest Airlines magazine tucked in the seat pocket saw the writing and told a flight crew member. The writing, which was scribbled on a page of the magazine, turned out to be Farsi, the Iranian language, said Midwest spokeswoman Carol Skornicka. Before the plane took off, the flight crew decided to take a closer look at the writing. The plane returned to the gate, and passengers were taken off the plane. Security authorities were notified; all of the luggage was checked and the aircraft was inspected. Nothing was found.
A plane evacuated, passengers delayed and luggage searched because some rube found a marginal scribble in what he thought was Arabic? Marginal scribbles are now weapons of mass destruction?

Now, after the (omigod!) exploding shampoo incident, things have ratcheted up more than a notch. Recently, mostly British passengers leaving the holiday spot of Malaga Spain staged a revolt and refused to fly until two young Muslim men were ejected, at gunpoint no less. Their crime? The increasingly common offence of FWB, Flying While Brown. Oh, and speaking Urdu which the vigilant flying public took for (horrors!) Arabic.

"We might be Asian, but we're two ordinary lads who wanted a bit of fun."

"Just because we're Muslim, does not mean we are suicide bombers."

Khurram added: "I don't blame anyone for what happened. Actually I feel sorry for the people who thought we were terrorists."

The fun-loving pair visited the Spanish resort for a quick recce ahead of a proper holiday later in the year.

They are so far removed from extremism that they even spent the day boozing and tucking into a McDonald's burger.

Khurram admitted: "As Muslims we are not supposed to drink alcohol, but we did have a few."

Now, just today, we have the story of an Hasidic Jew being ejected from an Air Canada flight for praying. Yes, praying. Best be on the safe side, I guess. We don't know what he was praying for. The air crew actually said, "I'm sorry sir, we know you're not a Muslim, but you're making some of the passengers uncomfortable." Probably wasn't even brown, but may have been a bit on the swarthy side. Better not take chances.

I have a suggestion. Next time a bunch of ignorant bigots complain, let them get off and wait for the next flight. More leg room for the Muslim lads and the Hasidim.

People are being manipulated into fear and prejudice with all this terrorism hype. And hype is the operative word. The exploding baby milk plot or whatever the hell it was supposed to be was supposed to be the scariest thing since Saddam Hussein got that yellow-cake (wait, bad example. No, on second thought, good example). But;

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.
What's more, it wouldn't have worked anyway. Technically impossible.

If anyone doubts that we are descending into a dark age, consider this; one of the quantitative measures of civilizational level is travel time. Point-to-point travel times declined steadily since the early eighteenth century to nearly the end of the twentieth. Now, with time added to take off our shoes, have some underpaid security guy riffle through our luggage, get our i.d. checked four or five times, we've added at least an hour and a half to most journeys. More, if you average in the delays because some dufus found a grocery list in Urdu tucked into the seat flap.

It's way past time to chill out. I wish the passenger train still ran to Thunder Bay.