flying while muslim

via Glenn, Bruce Schneier has a fantastic piece about the state of paranoia that has resulted from the inept liquid-explosives plot of some british muslim punks. He has a pretty comprehensive roundup of all the stupid incidents where passengers of crew overreacted to "wierd" behavior by muslim-appearing people. Fortunately, most victims of this paranoia are pretty good-natured about it (via thabet).

Schneier proposes two thought experiments:

Imagine for a moment what would have happened if they had blown up 10 planes. There would be canceled flights, chaos at airports, bans on carry-on luggage, world leaders talking tough new security measures, political posturing and all sorts of false alarms as jittery people panicked. To a lesser degree, that's basically what's happening right now.
The implausible plots and false alarms actually hurt us in two ways. Not only do they increase the level of fear, but they also waste time and resources that could be better spent fighting the real threats and increasing actual security. I'll bet the terrorists are laughing at us.

Another thought experiment: Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare. Imagine that the TSA and its European counterparts didn't engage in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids. And imagine that the press didn't write about it endlessly, and that the politicians didn't use the event to remind us all how scared we should be. If we'd reacted that way, then the terrorists would have truly failed.

I bet that the jihadists are amused.

This all reminded me of this old piece of mine from two years ago, actually. I've tended to accept as a neccessity the increased scrutiny that I routinely experience while flying; but this really can be taken too far. As Bruce says, the surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized.

Or maybe it's best to just ship myself DHL.

UPDATE 082506: Remember the 12 passengers arrested on a jet bound for Mumbai from the Netherlands? They were released without charges. Turns out that they were from my religious community, the Dawoodi Bohras:

AMSTERDAM/MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: An edgy Dutch security apparatus, after creating the impression of a foiled terror plot when it arrested 12 Indian on Wednesday following the return of a Northwest Airlines flight to Amsterdam, late on Thursday night brought the curtains down on the high-voltage drama by releasing all of them.

The 12 held were all Muslims, most of them Bohras from Mumbai. Their irrational exuberance during takeoff — when they reportedly talked on mobile phones and exchanged them around — seems to have aroused the suspicion of the air marshals.
It appears the alarm was triggerred also by the fact that some among the detained dozen sported beards, wore salwar-kameez and spoke in Urdu.
From their names, a number of the 12 detained seem to be Bohra Muslims of Mumbai.

Bohras are a peaceful and highly modern, entrepeneurial community. The spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, has always taught that we should be good citizens, respect the law, and be involved in our civic spheres. An ethnography of the Bohra sect, which is specifically of the Shi'a Ismaili Fatimid branch of Islam, was written by Jonah Blank entitled Mullahs on the Mainframe which I have reviewed in detail. No Bohra has ever been implicated in any terror plot or threat.

The bottom line from the article? "There is currently zero tolerance for any out-of-line behaviour in the air." The implied definition of "out-of-line" here is "draw attention to yourself in any way".

And that has implications for airline security as well. As a muslim myself, I am much more likely to notice genuinely suspicious behavior by a muslim terrorist on a plane than a non-muslim. However, next time I fly, am I going to be vigilant? Hell no. I'm going to be keeping my head down, trying to avoid attracting attention, and praying that I don't cause my flight to be escorted back to home by an F16.

UPDATE 2: Raed Jarrar is forced to cover up a shirt with Arabic lettering on it before being allowed on his flight (via thabet). Ironically, the shirt carried the phrase, "we will not be silenced". As a matter of fact, these events mean more and more muslims in the west will choose to be silent, out of isolation and fear. And that's a shame, because it is when muslims are NOT silent that everyone is more secure.


thabet said...

It's a bit difficult not to draw attention to yourself if you're brown-skinned.

Matoko Kusanagi said...

thabet, u r the counterculture. it will be cool to be brown someday.
errr...if we last that long. ;)

Arcane said...

Yeah... counterculture... like John Walker Lindh... that was, like, so exotic and, like, cool.