Traveling by plane used to be a beautiful personal experience in the past as we used to welcome dear ones and bid them farewell at the airport gates. Those days are long gone as airports today are like military barricades packed with armed personnel and surveillance cameras. Security forces also board planes as innocent passengers to counter any potential threats.
Truth be told, threats posed by unstable people, from mentally ill patients to terrorists, are as old as flying by plane. In 1955, an American airplane on a domestic flight in the US was blown up. It is believed that someone put a bomb in his mother’s luggage to kill her and obtain the insurance payout. There are those who have discovered how easy it is to hijack planes and how it is the best and easiest way to make news across the globe, once the plane crashes.
In the 1960s and afterwards, most airplanes were hijacked by Cubans and not Arabs. Later in the 1970s, Arab and Palestinian leftist organizations realized the efficiency of hijacking planes to attract global attention to their cause. However, this tactic backfired and turned the perpetrators into terrorists in the world’s eyes.
The recent ban on carrying laptops and tablets in cabin baggage during flights from some countries in the Middle East to the US does not mean anything to me and perhaps to most passengers. Banning laptops is an addition to a long list of banned items, which include creams, perfumes and water bottles. We can live without all of these during the 13-hours flight to New York.
The man who carried out the recent terrorist attack in London was 52 years old. He was a Christian who converted to Islam and was originally Jamaican. His profile lacks all the characteristics of a typical terroristAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Since we’re allowed to carry our cellular phones, our tool of connecting with the world, in the cabin, then it’s not difficult to give up on the rest of equipment. If cellular phones will be included in the ban – and this is possible – then some of us will think for a long time before they board a plane as phones have become part of everyone’s life, probably as essential as kidney and lungs.
However, the important question we forget to ask is: Are terrorist threats serious enough for measures being taken affecting passengers’ lives across the world and ruining the aviation industry?
There is certainly a war going on between terrorists and some governments, primarily the United States. All sorts of weapons are being used in this war and aviation is the number one target. During an event, an expert on terrorism said there was an ISIS cell meeting in Raqqah in Syria talking about carrying out a massive terrorist attack in the US, similar to the September 11 attacks.
According to this expert, when relevant parties received intelligence information about this plan, the participants at the meeting were targeted. This particular story may not be true but it is almost certain that terrorists target flights because it is an easy way to achieve their objectives. There is no doubt that terrorists have succeeded in besieging the aviation industry that currently has lot of security concerns.
Banning passengers traveling from certain Middle Eastern countries from carrying certain items may make security officials feel a sense of relief but it will not deter terrorists who mastered deceitful tactics from achieving their goals. Terrorists no longer fit that old profile of a Muslim Middle Eastern teenage boy.
Everything is possible these days. The man who carried out the recent terrorist attack in London was 52 years old. He was a Christian who converted to Islam and was originally Jamaican. His profile lacks all the characteristics of a typical terrorist.
The world has failed to eliminate terrorism because the latter is not only about arms but also carries an ideology. Developing technology was the only hope left to counter it and diminish its role. However even technology has failed and has ended up becoming the terrorists’ tool to recruit people and direct operations from afar.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on March 27, 2017.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.