When I replied to Hamira Khan’s defence of racial profiling of Asians at Glasgow Airport, both in the online Herald and in by blog, Racial profiling and Hamira Khan on the 15th of July, I gave as the example, to highlight the logical contradiction of racial profiling, of a crime committed by a red-haired man. When the horrific news of the Utoeya massacre and the Oslo bomb broke, the usual anti-Muslim commentators immediately tried to lay it at Al Quaeda’s door, without a scrap of evidence, and then had to swallow some very sour grapes when the terrorist was revealed to be a tall, blonde, blue-eyed native of Norway with a far-right, anti-Muslim agenda.
My red-haired man had become a blonde, but we can safely assume that tall, blonde, blue-eyed men of Nordic appearance will not be subject to stop and search and general harassment by the authorities.
(Do I think Al Quaeda capable of such an atrocity? Of course, I do - the terrorist mindset crosses political, racial, national, religious and ideological boundaries.)
In the frenzy of analysis, recrimination and comment that followed, the sound of stable doors being shut after the horses had bolted were deafening. We have the same kind of thing after every outrage, with the same fruitless results, all avoiding the inevitable conclusion that there is no defence against random acts of terror, any more than there is against a lightning strike, that is to say, there is no defence that does not involve an attack on fundamental democratic freedoms that effectively increases the likelihood of terrorism. (For example, do we imprison people for what they might do, rather than what they actually do? The answer has notoriously been yes in some instances.)
The increase in the number of terrorist attacks post 9/11 was a direct result of the invasion of Afghanistan, and subsequently the war crime of Iraq. We owe 7/7, the Glasgow airport incident, and other acts of terror, to the profoundly misconceived actions of Tony Blair and George W. Bush, among others.
THE EXPERIENCE OF ONE AMERICAN
After my blog, but before Utoeya and Oslo, I received an email from an American reader, and I now have his/her permission to reproduce it , which I have edited to protect his/her identity.
Thought you might be interested in an experience I had over profiling. Was racial? I don’t know - mostly the motivation seemed to be to present a soft target to show the American taxpayer where their tax dollars were going I think.
I do a lot of international travelling mostly from (American city) in (American state). For a period of time a few years back, the airport security lot had a great wheeze. After checking passports, they'd pull someone out ‘at random’ from the screening queue to go through special screening. That person was reduced to stocking soles, with pockets turned out (literally), carry-on bags completely emptied, stuff minutely checked, and laid out for the display to the other passengers arrayed in a semi-circular queue (easily up to 100 persons) around the hapless soul who was picked.
After five nabs on the trot at ‘random’ I opined that clearly I must fit the profile, to which the officer (in those days always very polite and affable) said with all sincerity that I was mistaken. I pointed out some basic maths to her and explained if the pick and choose was random then I should play the lottery that day 'cause the odds were shorter that I would win a chunk of change before being picked at ‘random’ that day - again.
In those days I had a work visa (H1b) which could be rescinded at the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen. I am a citizen of a friendly (i.e. sycophantic) nation whose consulate was unlikely to do anything if I complained to them. I did not have a senator nor congressman to take my case on - in short, I was a foreigner.
I did point out, however, that I had an immigration lawyer, who was an American citizen, who did have both a congressman and a senator, and who would take my observation forward at my insistence. I asked the security lady to take note of my name and tell her supervisor what I had said. After that, I had no more random stop and searches. Funny that, I thought.
A question of de jure vs de facto? - if I've got my Latin tags right …
Anyway, all that said, don't get me wrong, USA's been very good to me and mine.
However, I do believe that all the searching and herding that goes on in airports really is more to do with trying to give folk the feeling that the authorities know what they are about and they are weeding out dangerous people from the traveling public.
(A commercial pilot of my acquaintance pointed out to me that they get even stricter screening when they turn up for work. How dopey is that? )
The answer to all this is twofold: firstly, like the war on drugs, the airport security is now a big business industry and will never go away no matter how ineffective it is - just like the war on drugs.
Secondly, I'm sure the most effective screening is in intelligence gathering and analysis. I'd rather have the resources from the first diverted into the second but only if we want to be serious about safe travel.
My thanks to my anonymous correspondent. His/her account has the unmistakable ring of authenticity and real experience, and his/her analysis is spot on. I still entertain the probably vain hope that our intelligence services, police and politicians will learn something from these and similar experiences. We can certainly learn from them in Scotland, because we are not yet consumed by the blind paranoia and hatred of the other that characterises the war states of the US and the UK, and we have demonstrated our compassion, spectacularly and controversially, in the Megrahi release.