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Airline Insecurity By: Aaron Hanscom
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Confiscating hair gel and Starbucks coffee is this year’s equivalent of the banning of nail clippers and lighters. 

Put another way, the enhanced security measures put into place at airports across the world following this month’s disruption of a plot by British Muslims to smuggle liquid explosives onto several transatlantic flights aren’t making airline passengers feel much safer. Which is why Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has tried to reassure American travelers about boarding an airplane by reminding them of such protections as the “prohibition on liquids, gels and beverages in carry-on baggage.”

 

The problem is that while possible liquid explosives are mentioned by name, potential terrorists — almost always young Muslim men and increasingly women — are not.  It should come as no surprise that passengers feel the need to profile people of “a certain ethnic or religious background” — as a proposed and overdue British security system would allow — on their own.

 

That was the case earlier this month when a passenger on a United Airlines flight saw a Winnipeg doctor, Ahmed Farooq, reciting an evening prayer. After the concerned passenger notified flight personnel, Farooq and two colleagues were taken off the plane. Farooq’s response could have been mistaken for an ACLU press release. Just as the ACLU considers racial profiling to be “institutional racism and discrimination,” Farooq described his removal from the plane as “institutionalized discrimination." The Muslim doctor didn’t understand why another passenger might feel uncomfortable hearing a Muslim prayer while sitting on a plane. Commercial jets crashing into the World Trade Center or blowing up over the Atlantic seem not to concern Farooq as much as his own inconvenience. Hence he complained that, “It makes you uneasy, because you realize you have to essentially watch every single thing you say and do, and it's worse for people who are of color, who are identifiable as a minority.”

 

But an important fact escapes Farooq: In the midst of a war against Islamic fascists, you do have to watch what you say and do. As Robert Spencer explains:

My work involves the Qur'an and other Islamic texts, but I no longer do work while flying that would mean having out in plain view books that would make other passengers concerned. Flying is a serious business nowadays. But this "people of colour" remark is just a cheap attempt to make this out to be a racial problem. It isn't. Farooq was "reciting prayers" -- when he could have done it silently. I have been in the presence of Muslims who have done so, so please don't tell me that that is impossible. These are the same prayers that jihad terrorists have prayed, so a passenger was concerned. I am sorry he was inconvenienced, but we all have been in so many ways since 9/11, haven't we? He should seek an apology from Osama bin Laden for indirectly occasioning his being taken off this flight.”

Dr. Farooq wasn’t the only Muslim taken off a flight this month. British travelers refused to allow their flight to take off until two suspicious Muslim men were removed from their plane.  Fear, not racism, was what motivated several passengers to walk off the Monarch Airlines flight from Malaga, Spain. The Daily Mail reported that “despite the heat, the pair were wearing leather jackets and thick jumpers and were regularly checking their watches.”  It was the pilot of the plane who made the decision not to take off until the men were escorted off the plane.  According to Monarch, “The captain was concerned about the security surrounding the two gentlemen on the aircraft and the decision was taken to remove them from the flight for further security checks.”

 

This approach -- "better safe than sorry" -- has long been favored by El Al Airlines. Because the Israeli airline focuses more effort on looking for terror suspects than weapons, there has not been a successful hijacking of an El Al flight since 1968. This success comes in spite of the fact that the Israeli airline is a prime target of Islamic terrorists.  In fact, bookings with El Al increased dramatically after September 11 because passengers know the airline is serious about security.  El Al uses ethnic profiling to group passengers by risk level. Since people with Arabic names are high-risk travelers, they are taken to a room for a detailed interrogation and body and luggage checks. 

 

As a result, nail clippers might make it on board, but terrorists will not. In 1996, an attack on an El Al plane was thwarted when a ticket agent trained to screen passengers questioned a woman about to board a flight.  A reexamination of her luggage led to the discovery of seven pounds of explosives that her Jordanian boyfriend had placed inside. As this incident suggests, profiling is more efficient than metal detectors and bomb sniffing dogs.

 

For now, however, it appears that old black women will be considered as suspicious as Muslim men at American airports. The fact is that those whose job it is to protect American citizens are often more concerned with not offending sensitive Muslims. For instance, Michael Chertoff might have more success comforting worried passengers if the Department of Homeland Security didn’t give Muslim officials from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) behind-the-scenes tours of Customs screening operations at O'Hare International Airport because of CAIR complaints that Muslim travelers were being unfairly delayed as they entered the U.S. from abroad. The fact that past leaders of CAIR have been convicted for having ties to terrorism didn’t prevent its members from seeing point-of-entry, customs stations, secondary screening and interview rooms at the busiest airport in the United States.

 

Surrendering to the dogmas of "multiculturalism" makes the likelihood of another 9/11-style attack that much greater. In the meantime, airline passengers may have to be the last line of defense. Aspiring shoe bomber Richard Reid was prevented from blowing up an Air France flight only because of the alert passengers who subdued him.

 

For those who think passengers concerned about Muslims acting suspiciously are always racist, the story of actor James Woods is worth remembering. Woods was a passenger on a flight which was a trial run for the 9/11 attacks. He described what transpired on the plane in a 2002 interview:

I was on a flight, without going into the details of what made me suspicious of these four men, although it would have been blatantly obvious to the most casual observer, I took it upon myself to go to the flight attendant and ask to speak to the pilot of the plane. The first officer came out. I reported to him that I felt that the four men, and I said, "Can you look over my shoulder and see who I'm talking about?" And he said, "Yeah." I said I think they're going to hijack this plane. I mean, everything they're doing, and I explained to him these details, which I've been asked to keep private, until whatever jurisdiction, you know -- whatever trials may take place, their behavior was such that I felt that they were going to hijack the plane.

Ways exist to prevent such terrifying scenes. If only the government would cease pandering to hyper-sensitive Muslims and their enablers long enough to use them.

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Aaron Hanscom is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.


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