Saturday, August 26, 2006

Shakes on a Plane

The unnecessary anxiety that has been created by the UK "liquid bomb plot" certainly manifested itself yesterday, as a host of "security incidents" were raised in a single day. Of course, when one of those incidents involved actually finding a stick of dynamite onboard, tensions seem unlikely to be assuaged anytime soon, which suits Republicans just fine. but that incident bespoke more of the fact that airport security is mostly a sham because the dynamite was not discovered until after the airplane landed in Houston. Fortunately for Howard McFarland Fish, he is a white guy and so authorities believed him when he said he worked in mining, which apparently carries with it a need to carry around sticks of dynamite in luggage. His claim was no doubt also helped by the fact that Fish did not employ the dynamite during the flight. One must pause in thought when considering how a Muslim would have been treated in similar circumstances. Not well, I expect.

As was pointed out earlier, these terror plot annoucements, whether based in fiction or fact, have an overarching effect on the general state of mind. And they have this effect primarily because, while the initial announcement comes with blaring headlines, screaming graphics, bomb-sniffing dogs and days of frantic coverage, the almost inevitable renouncement that the plot was maybe not quite the plot that had been initially claimed or that the "threat" was, in fact, not a threat at all, the follow-up coverage is miniscule, buried in the back pages, if it is covered at all.

Take, for example, the story of Rima Qayyum, the 28 year old pregnant Pakistani woman whose bottle of water and face wash caused airport security to evacuate the Tri-state airport in West Virginia. This "event" was blared across headlines. Naturally, within the realm of the unhinged, guilt before reason prevailed, with some fanatic right wingers immediately pronouncing the woman a terrorist,
Another Terrorist Nabbed ... Looks like another would-be "martyr" got pwned....
Not content with that missive, the diatribe continued in the harshest of terms,
I sincerely hope this f-ing b*tch receives the roughest treatment possible while in custody, and, eventually, the harshest sentence possible (like, death). If it were up to me, I'd have a couple of good ol' boys going to work on her with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch right skippy.
This is from a sight called College Confidential, demonstrating how liberal policies in US universities have really infected college kids these days.

Follow-up of the story has been non-existent after it was soon learned that initial tests of the suspect materials proved negative. At this point, though, the fright had been furthered, the racism escalated.

Shortly after the incident in West Virginia, US air marshalls delivered the next fright in the series when 12 passengers, flying from Amsterdam to Mumbai, viewed by marshalls who determined that these passengers' actions demonstrated "behaviour of concern." The airline crew called in, and two Dutch F-16s escorted the plane back to Schiphol Airport. It is not entirely clear just what the F-16s would do should the putative terrorists have exacted a deadly plot to blow up the plane, but that is not the concern here. The concern is appearance and F-16s always make for a great show.

Once again, the fright had been amped up, the follow-up non-existent, except in news media in Asia. The 12 passengers have been released and returned to Mumbai. Dutch authorities have apologised for the "misunderstanding." Interestingly, while air marhalls had claimed that the passengers refused to buckle their seat belts, it now appears that some of the passengers were merely exchanging seats, not refusing to buckle up. Mohammad Iqbal Batliwala, one of the passengers, was rather gracious, claiming that the misunderstanding caused US air marshalls the jitters:
We were wearing seat belts... but wanted to exchange our seats, which made them jittery.
The Indian government, however, appears to be a little less inclined toward being assuaged by Dutch contrition. The Indian government summoned the Dutch ambassador to protest the incident, saying that it "should never have happened," something that appears to be entirely true. The men had been handcuffed on the plane and kept in solitary cells until released, all for the crime of speaking while being Muslim. Oh, and shifting around the seating arrangements.

The salient media aspect of this incident is the same as all the other ones: since the initial reports in the western media about the Northwest flight being diverted back to Amsterdam, there has been no follow-up story in western media that these "terrorists" had been released, their treatment apologized for. The Asian and Indian press are all over it, of course, but to US media outlets, the only interesting aspect of the story was the initial fright. Indeed, can one even imagine the headline,
12 Indian passengers not terrorists
Not really, unless one happens to be reading The Onion.

The entire incident was manufactured by a fog of fear and while that was trumped up, there was no clearing of that fog. And there never will be. Those of us interested to learn what the final disposition of the liquid bomb plot will be probably expect much of the same, as the investigation drags, producing little or nothing in the way of significant evidence. Though charges have been filed against some of the "plotters," this is nothing that has not happened before, as was seen in the case of the non-existent "Ricin plot."

What we can expect to see is a continued parade of panic attacks by airport security officials, air marshalls and other authorities that will receive klieg light attention by the media, which will then ignore the subsequent and likely unexciting outcome of the initial scare. All of this will nurture and feed racist suspicion and distrust. It will enrage further the maniacal outlook of the extremist right wing, who will continue to advocate torture of pregnant Pakistani women because they brought "explosive liquids" to an airport. Is there anyway to look at this depressing pattern and not see a problem?


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