UK Politics

What we haven’t done

There is something interesting at the start of yet another repeat of the ‘you better change your ways’ article from leading Muslim Brotherhood UK figure Anas Altikriti, deemed worthy of publication by the Guardian today.

When Britain was put on critical security alert last Thursday, I was one of the hundreds of thousands caught up in the extraordinary process put in place at every UK airport. Travelling with my family, I witnessed the astonishing scene of travellers at Heathrow rendered almost helpless.

Yet, given recent experience, it was hard to avoid some scepticism. I shared the feelings quietly expressed by the four businessmen and women ahead of me, hoping to get to Copenhagen, as to whether this operation, at a cost of billions to travellers, airports and business, was absolutely necessary. One woman wondered if there was really evidence that anything less sweeping would have resulted in the carnage described so enthusiastically by broadcasters.

Altikriti has a point. It probably is not absolutely necessary to ban families from Buckinghamshire from taking books for their children on to their Easyjet flight to their holiday in Spain. The risk of a terrorist attack may not be greatly reduced by subjecting an elderly Scottish couple or a couple of Aussie backpackers to stringent security controls and barring them from taking hand luggage on their flight. It does indeed cost a lot of money and time and causes a great inconvenience.

There are some people who have suggested an alternative way of doing things which would reduce the hassle for the vast majority of travellers and the cost to the airlines (which of course is always passed on to the rest of us). The former head of the Metropolitan Police Service, Lord Stevens outlined such an alternative on Sunday in the News of the World:

[E]very airport in Britain is in chaos over the plane bomb-plot alert as every passenger is subjected to rigorous security checks. Why? They take lots of time, lots of staff, and are extremely expensive.

I’m a white 62-year-old 6ft 4ins suit-wearing ex-cop—I fly often, but do I really fit the profile of suicide bomber? Does the young mum with three tots? The gay couple, the rugby team, the middle-aged businessman?

No. But they are all getting exactly the same amount and devouring huge resources for no logical reason whatsoever. Yet the truth is Islamic terrorism in the West has been universally carried out by young Muslim men, usually of ethnic appearance, almost always travelling alone or in very small groups. A tiny percentage, I bet, of those delayed today have such characteristics.

This targeting of airport resources is called passenger profiling—the Israelis invented it and they’ve got probably the safest airports and airlines in the world.

Passenger profiling makes sense. Of course it is not as simple as focusing on people of obvious Muslim background – Richard Reid, the shoebomber and the latest convert case Donald Stewart-Whyte mean that security personnel would need to use more than just ethnic criteria is part of their profiling technique.

But the useful (and potentially lethal) idiots who convert to Islam and then join terrorist cells are not, I suspect, the only reason why we don’t use passenger profiling and why the current consideration of it is likely to lead to a rejection. Profiling is obviously, by its very nature, discrimination and it would be, largely, racial and religious discrimination. The government knows it would face all manner of opposition and protest if it allowed profiling to become official policy. Britain is not, thankfully, a country that would simply shrug it’s shoulders if our airports had two lines at security — one for people who might possibly be Islamist terrorists, those called Mohammed for example, and another for the rest of us, including Lord Stevens.

And while no-one likes airport hassle, holiday cancellations and delays, people put up with them and there has been, thankfully, no clamour for the introduction of profiling. The practice shows that in the end, most British people would rather be delayed and stand in long queues, be refused a book, have their mobile phones taken off them for hours etc etc rather than accept a regime of discrimination at airports. It is a selfless, liberal and tolerant stance by the overwhelming majority of the population.

So when faced with the constant complaining from the likes of Altikriti, the government and progressive opionion in general should be reminding the public of what we have not done in the ‘war on terror’ and should be proud of the spirit of fairness and unwillingness to discriminate.

It would be helpful if moderate Muslim opinion were also able to make these points as a way of undermining the widespread belief that the British state is engaged in a ‘war against Islam’. Likewise it could be highlighted more often that even after mass murder on London transport the much talked about violent ‘backlash’ against Muslims thankfully never happened – another tribute to the tolerance and fair-mindedness of the average British citizen.

This government has long since lost the ability to communicate effectively and defend its policies forcefully. The Prime Minister talks rightly of the importance of the battle of ideas in the struggle against Islamist terrorism yet his government has failed to highlight the great strengths that liberal democracy has shown in the past few years in the face of extreme provocation. The government, particularly in the sphere of legal justice, has been tempted to sacrifice some important principles but their generally restrained reaction to terrorism and Islamist extremism and, more significantly, the fair-mindedness shown by the British people as a whole, should be a matter of pride and much more should be made of it.