Do the Smug Jobsworths at Heathrow Really Think My Wife Looks like a Shoe Bomber?

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Glover

EVEN before the attempt by the young Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to blow up an airplane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day, travelling abroad had become a terrible trial. For some reason the queues at British airports are much longer than in most other countries, and Heathrow is the worst of all.

We travellers wait sheep-like in our pens for what can seem like hours, and are each treated as potential terrorists by people who usually do not seem particularly intelligent and are sometimes rude. It doesn't make any difference if you are an elderly white woman with white hair, or a harassed black lady with two young children in tow. All are treated alike as prospective bombers.

On a recent trip I remonstrated with an official after the contents of my wife's hand luggage had been sifted through in ludicrously ponderous detail. Does she look like a terrorist, I protested? A higher official was summoned to deal with my impertinent question. He told me smugly that Richard Reid, the so-called Shoe Bomber, was white, and everyone had to be dealt with on an equal basis. (In fact, he has an English mother and a Jamaican father.) But how many white middle-aged women have been convicted of terrorist acts? Following Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's botched attempt, we can expect even longer queues at airports. Indeed, Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, unapologetically said on Tuesday that passengers should prepare for increased delays. The authorities are ordering a large number of body scanners. Even if only a minority of passengers are selected at random for scanning, we will all of us have to endure longer waits.

Isn't there an easier -- and a safer -- way? Millions of blameless people are not only being subjected to unnecessary delays. The bomber is also getting through -- as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab showed. If ever there were an argument for sensible profiling (checks based on race, ethnic background, age and gender), this case surely makes it.

HERE was a young man who should have set off alarm bells the moment he set foot on Dutch soil on the way from Nigeria to the United States. Even if we cast aside the fact that his father had unburdened his misgivings about him at the American embassy in his own country, as well as Abdulmutallab's name being on a British Government list, the sleepiest customs official should have been on his guard.

He had bought a one-way ticket with cash and had not checked in any luggage on a journey that took him halfway around the world. He was young and male and Muslim, coming from a country half of whose population is Muslim, a few of them of the fundamentalist variety. He was travelling to the United States, which remains the number one target for Al Qaeda terrorists.

Of course, someone could possess all these attributes and be entirely innocent, and no doubt in 99 cases out of 100 would be. But profiling would have alerted officials all the same. This is interesting, they would say, as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hove into view. What have we here? There is little doubt that this sort of profiling works, as the Israeli experience proves. The country is surrounded by millions of people who wish it ill, and it has quite a few of them within its own borders. Officials screen passengers according to nationality. This means that the majority of visitors to Israel are spared tiresome and sometimes invasive procedures. Given the threats that it faces -- many times greater than those which beset us -- its airports and its official airline El Al have an outstanding safety record. …