It is one thing to profile travellers according to their
appearance or behaviour and quite another to do so on the basis of nationality.
This method is not only discriminatory and offensive it won�t work.
Governments are unwittingly colluding with terrorists.
Sounds hard to believe? Think about it! Disgruntled individuals who believe
their cause is enhanced through inflicting harm on others by boarding aircraft
with explosives rarely succeed. The British shoe-bomber Richard Reid, a former
petty crook, is wiling away his life in a US maximum-security penitentiary
after his unsuccessful attempt to blow up a commercial airliner in 2001.
Likewise, Omar Farouq Abdul Muttalib, commonly known as the underwear bomber
following his efforts to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253, is facing
potential life imprisonment.
Thankfully, their nefarious schemes were thwarted. But if
their aim was to make other people�s lives miserable, they have succeeded.
Their actions or rather the response of governments to them have greatly
impacted the travelling public to the extent that flying from Europe to the US
has become not only tedious and tortuous, but humiliating. Passengers heading
to American airports can now expect to be patted down and forbidden from
leaving their seats one hour before landing. They are also warned to expect
queues and flight delays.
Worse, airports in the US, Britain, France, Italy, the
Netherlands, Nigeria and Australia are introducing body scanners, while the EU
is deciding whether or not to make the imaging technology mandatory for all of
its 27 member countries. The scans are so revealing that they show every
contour of a person�s body and threaten to breach Britain�s child pornography
laws as well as European privacy laws.
Although many people accept this new technology as necessary
to keep them safe, it is particularly offensive to anyone who values modesty,
such as Muslims and Orthodox Jews. On Wednesday, the Rabbinical Centre of
Europe issued a statement saying the scanners violated the rights of religious
Other groups have other concerns. Some claim that radiation
from the equipment poses a health risk; others say they are unable to detect
the type of powder plastic explosive used by Reid and Abdul Muttalib and are,
My own take is that the introduction of body scanners is a
gross overreaction. If the system that is already in place had worked, Abdul Muttalib
would never have been able to board in the first place. His own father was so
concerned about his mental state that he warned the CIA, which waited a month
before pronouncing him a terrorist suspect and didn�t even bother to add the
crazed young man to America�s �No-Fly List.� Had America�s intelligence
community done its job ordinary people wouldn�t be forced to suffer indignity
Nationals from 14 countries that are all predominantly
Muslim, apart from Cuba, will be subject to added woes in the form of airport
profiling; a technique that has recently been approved by US President Barack
Obama, who is keen to show his right-wing critics that he isn�t soft on
terrorism. The countries concerned are not amused. It is one thing to profile
travellers according to their appearance or behaviour and quite another to do
so on the basis of nationality. This method is not only discriminatory and
offensive, it won�t work. All determined terrorist organisations have to do is
equip their members with fake or second passports. Alternatively, they could
easily recruit people who don�t fit the known profile to do their dirty work.
There is no such thing as a 100 percent failsafe antidote to
terrorism in the skies, just as there is no guarantee that your commuter train
won�t derail or your car won�t burst a tyre. Indeed, statistically, travelling
by air is still one of the safest ways of getting around. Governments do have a
duty to keep their nationals safe by minimising the risk but, at the same time,
they should take a balanced approach. Instead of punishing travellers, they
should study terrorism�s root causes, maximise pre-flight intelligence,
coordinate with the intelligence services of other countries, and use
behavioural profiling. Pre-flight intelligence could have stopped Abdul
Muttalib in his tracks, while the oddball Richard Reid was a profiler�s dream.
It�s time that the authorities used their brains instead of
knee-jerk reactions to maintain security in the air. They could begin by
placing armed air marshals on every flight. Taking naked images of 80-year-old
grandmothers and keeping strapped-in 10-year-olds from using the toilet just
won�t cut it.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.