From protection to discrimination: How 9/11 changed air travel forever

Passengers place their belongings in bins before passing through the passenger security checkpoint at John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 8 on October 22, 2010. (File/AFP)
Passengers place their belongings in bins before passing through the passenger security checkpoint at John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 8 on October 22, 2010. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 September 2021

From protection to discrimination: How 9/11 changed air travel forever

From protection to discrimination: How 9/11 changed air travel forever
  • As security measures reshaped the industry, Arabs and Muslims began to face racial and religious profiling
  • Twenty years on, many air passengers still face a challenge that experts call “flying while Muslim”

LONDON: “It was the most horrible, humiliating day of my life,” Issam Abdallah said in 2019 after an American Airlines flight he had boarded from Alabama to Texas was canceled because crew members felt “uncomfortable” with him on the flight.

Once removed from the aircraft, Abdallah was detained by an FBI agent and quizzed about his name and employment. When he asked why he had been singled out for questioning, he was allegedly told by the agent it was because he “went to the restroom and flushed twice.”

Twenty years on from the 9/11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. by Islamic extremists of Al-Qaeda using passenger planes, the way people travel by air has changed irrevocably.




TSA officers give a demonstration of the first Advanced Imaging Technology unit at John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 8 passenger security checkpoint on October 22, 2010.  (File/AFP)

For the vast majority of travelers, the safety measures implemented at airports and on aircraft in the aftermath of the attacks have led to the minor inconvenience of body scans or extended waiting times in queues for a security check.

With all lighters banned on commercial flights since 2005, smokers now have to wait for their checked-in luggage to arrive before satisfying their craving. Cockpits are now locked so that no passenger can access the controls, and if a pilot needs to leave, cabin crew receive training to protect the cockpit to prevent anyone from potentially hijacking the plane.

Other measures have their roots in foiled terror plots.

Air passengers now have to take off their shoes when going through security checks following British terrorist Richard Reid’s attempt to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami in December 2001 — just months after 9/11.




A Transportation Security Administration worker screens passengers at LaGuardia Airport on the day before Thanksgiving, the nation's busiest travel day on November 22, 2017 in New York City. (File/AFP)

And after British police foiled a large-scale terror attack in 2006 involving explosive material disguised in soft drink bottles, which had been scheduled to detonate aboard 10 transatlantic flights, air passengers have been restricted to liquid containers of no more than 100ml.

As new threats emerged, aviation security evolved, adapted and implemented measures that have become standard and the accepted norm, simply part and parcel of modern air travel, all while making flying considerably safer, according to the advocates.

But for Arabs and Muslims, like Abdallah and his co-passenger Abderraoof Alkhawaldeh on board that Birmingham-Dallas flight two years ago, there has been a consistent, additional layer to these measures. One of profiling based on their religion or ethnicity, which they have had to contend with ever since 9/11, usually disguised as “random” security checks.




A man and woman pause at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) on March 24, 2016 in New York City. (File/AFP)

Abdallah’s story, just one in a litany of incidents over the past 20 years involving passengers deemed to have the “wrong” skin color, religion, or to speak the “wrong” language or have the “wrong” name, brings into question the so-called randomness of these checks.

Faizah Shaheen, a mental health worker in the UK, was removed from a flight and questioned on the way back to Britain from her honeymoon in 2016 because cabin crew had spotted her reading a book about Syria.

FASTFACT

* A 2017 study showed 2/3 of passenger inspections at an airport upon entering the US occurred to “non-white” people.

Two years before Abdallah’s ordeal, Iraqi-born student Hasan Aldewachi was also thrown off a flight from Vienna to London Gatwick Airport because a fellow passenger had seen a text message he was sending to his wife, simply alerting her the flight was delayed and he would be a little late getting home. The issue? The message was written in Arabic.

The list goes on.

Fast forward 20 years from 9/11, a proportion of air passengers, some born and bred in countries such as the US, the UK and France, are still falling foul of a phenomenon experts have called “flying while Muslim.”

This involves the racial profiling of Muslims or people who are deemed to be “Muslim-looking” at airports or on board aircraft. These people are instantly under suspicion for otherwise normal and mundane activities — including speaking Arabic, watching or reading news on their phones, or simply because they “look” Muslim or, more often than not, are of Middle Eastern origin.

This stigmatization from the moment they step foot into airports has contributed to some Muslims deciding against traveling by air altogether, according to entrepreneur Soumaya Hamdi, who founded the Halal Travel Guide, which runs holiday tours specifically tailored for Muslim tourists after she discovered they were drastically underserved by the travel industry.




A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worker screens luggage at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) on September 26, 2017 in New York City. (File/AFP)

“It’s just standard, it’s kind of a joke, you ask yourself: ‘Am I going to get stopped today?’ and nine times out of ten, yes you are,” said Hamdi, who herself has been stopped at British airports.

“I appreciate that it’s really important for people to feel safe and I think a lot of Muslim and Arab travelers do appreciate that as well, which is one of the reasons why I think we’re willing to go through the charade of these security checks.

“In some European countries, places like France, if you’re a visibly Muslim man or woman — and typically women get the worst of it — there’s a lot more of a feeling of not really being wanted there.”

Hamdi added: “The cultural narrative around 9/11, such as films that have come out, has not helped and deeply contributed toward stereotypes of Muslims, so for a lot of Muslim travelers it has entered our internal psychology in that we have started to limit ourselves as to the destinations we feel comfortable traveling to.”




Members of the US Army patrols along a concourse in the departures area at LaGuardia Airport (LGA), June 30, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City. (File/AFP)

Since 9/11, the consequences of this security approach entrenched in suspicion have been felt on an individual level for travelers like Abdallah, Shaheen and Aldewachi.

But, at times, they have also escalated to include millions of Muslims around the world in one fell swoop with policies such as the so-called Muslim travel ban in 2017, ordered by then US President Donald Trump.

A study published in the same year by Uzma Jamil, a senior research equity adviser at McGill University in Canada, concluded that these security measures, along with the arbitrary inclusion of thousands of Muslims on “no fly” lists, are part of an ongoing process of “securitization of Muslims,” which she believes has sought to construct them and the religion of Islam as a threat to the West since 2001.




US Soldiers stand guard near a security line at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) on March 24, 2016 in New York City. (File/AFP)

“The ‘no fly’ list contributes to Islamophobia through disproportionately profiling racialized Muslim and Muslim-looking passengers as members of a suspect community,” she wrote.

“Information collected by the state, which includes the ‘no fly list,’ is used to confirm the existing ‘knowledge’ of Muslims as a suspect community.

“Knowing who Muslims are, what they are doing, where they are coming from and where they are going to, only because they are Muslim, facilitates their racial and religious profiling and contributes to the institutionalization of Islamophobia,” she added.

Hamdi feels the same way.




People wait in a security line at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) on March 24, 2016 in New York City. (File/AFP)

“I don’t know that anything is being done to resist profiling. In fact, I would say there is a concerted effort to make it part of policy, and there has been for the past 20 years or so,” she said.

“It’s one of the things that puts me off traveling to the US. People get put on ‘no fly’ lists and there is a very similar ethnic or religious connection between the type of people that get put on those lists, as opposed to a material connection to terrorism.”

Statistics would appear to confirm their conclusions.

A US study in 2017 showed two-thirds of all passenger inspections at an airport upon entering the country occurred to “non-white” people, and 97 percent of those selected for physical, pat down searches were completely innocent of any crime.




Transportation Security Administration K9 handler Tommy Karathomas and his explosive detection dog Buddy perform a demonstration at LaGuardia Airport on January 20, 2016. (File/AFP)

Figures released by the UK Home Office in the same year showed that 88 percent of people detained at UK ports of entry were also not white. The fact that only 0.02 percent of those stopped for questioning were charged with an offense shows the full scale of the problem.

Sept. 11, 2001, undoubtedly changed the world in so many ways, and air travel will never be the same again for anyone. It instilled within passengers a generational fear of terror attacks at airports or on board aircraft, which has led to the widespread acceptance of extensive — and, for Muslims, often intrusive — security measures as a necessary pay off for safety.

But two decades on from the attacks, a sad reality lingers: Overnight, the atrocities made scapegoats and suspects out of ordinary people who, just by doing something as basic as traveling on a plane or going abroad, have had to bear the brunt of suspicion and paranoia ever since.


Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’
Updated 26 min 20 sec ago

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’
  • The seventh aerial bombardment in the war-hit region this last week

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military launched an air strike on a rebel-held facility in Tigray’s west on Sunday, a government official said, the seventh aerial bombardment in the war-hit region in a week.

“Today the western front of (Mai Tsebri) which was serving as a training and military command post for the terrorist group TPLF has been the target of an air strike,” government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been locked in a war against the TPLF since last November, though Tigray itself had seen little combat since late June, when the rebels seized control of much of Ethiopia’s northernmost region and the military largely withdrew.

But on Monday Ethiopia’s air force launched two strikes on Tigray’s capital Mekele that the UN said killed three children and wounded several other people.

Since then there have been three more strikes on Mekele and another targeting what the government described as a weapons cache in the town of Agbe, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the west.

The strikes coincide with ramped-up fighting in Amhara region, south of Tigray.

They have drawn rebukes from Western powers, with the US last week condemning “the continuing escalation of violence, putting civilians in harm’s way.”

A strike Friday on Mekele forced a UN flight carrying 11 humanitarian personnel to turn back to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and the UN subsequently announced it was suspending its twice-weekly flights to the region.

The conflict has spurred fears of widespread starvation, as the UN estimates it has pushed 400,000 people in Tigray into famine-like conditions.


Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government
Updated 24 October 2021

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government
  • Pakistan government had agreed to drop pending charges against the party's leader
  • The head of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labiak party was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad

LAHORE: A radical Islamist party agreed Sunday to suspend for three days its march of thousands toward the capital Islamabad after Pakistan agreed to drop pending charges against the party's leader.
Party supporters Saturday departed the eastern city of Lahore, clashing for a second straight day with police who lobbed tear gas into the crowd. The group began its journey a day earlier with the goal of reaching Islamabad to pressure the government to release Saad Rizvi, head of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party. Rizvi was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
Raja Basharat, provincial law minister, told The Associated Press that under the agreement Punjab will withdraw charges against Rizvi and release all those detained during the protest march by Tuesday.
Rizvi had been detained pre-emptively on a charge of inciting people to assemble unlawfully. It was unclear when he would be released.
Basharat also said the agreement stipulates that the federal government will honor a previous agreement with the TLP to address diplomatic ties with France over the publication of the caricatures.
Sajid Saifi, spokesman for Rizvi’s party, confirmed the minister’s account and said thousands of party supporters will stay in the town of Mureedke waiting for the release of party leaders and members who have been detained.
Pakistan Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters that the TLP's demand that the French ambassador to Pakistan be expelled over the caricatures would be taken to a parliamentary committee in the coming days.
Basharat, Ahmed and Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri took part in the talks with the TLP executive council.
Violent clashes erupted between security forces and the Islamists in Lahore killing at least two police and injuring about a dozen, police said. Saifi claimed four party supporters were killed by police fire and “many” others were injured. Police said the demonstrators torched several police vehicles there.
Ahmed said the government was unaware of any deaths of TLP supporters.
Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. It has a history of staging violent protests to pressure the government to accept its demands.


President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’

President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’
Updated 24 October 2021

President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’

President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’
  • ‘It seems to be a terrorist act but we shall get the perpetrators’

KAMPALA:  Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said Sunday that an explosion in the capital Kampala that killed one and injured five was “a terrorist act” and vowed to hunt down those responsible.

“It seems to be a terrorist act but we shall get the perpetrators,” Museveni said in a Twitter post about the explosion late Saturday in northern Kampala.

Police said the “serious blast” occurred at around 9:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) at a popular street side restaurant strip in Kawempe, a Kampala suburb.

Museveni said he had been briefed that three people “left a package” at the scene that later exploded, killing one person and injuring five others.

He said investigators were still combing the bomb site and more details would be released later, including advice for the public in “dealing with these possible terrorists.”

“The public should not fear, we shall defeat this criminality like we have defeated all the other criminality committed by the pigs who don’t respect life,” Museveni said.


Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan
Updated 24 October 2021

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan
  • Taiwan’s central weather bureau said the quake was of magnitude 6.5 while the US Geological Survey gave a lower figure of 6.2

TAIPEI: A strong earthquake struck northeastern Taiwan on Sunday, with residents reporting violent shaking in the capital Taipei but there were no immediate reports of widespread damage.
Taiwan’s central weather bureau said the quake was of magnitude 6.5 while the US Geological Survey gave a lower figure of 6.2.
It hit northeastern Yilan county at 1:11 p.m. (0511 GMT) at a depth of 67 kilometers (42 miles).
An AFP reporter who lives in Yilan said the shaking seemed to last some 30 seconds.
“The walls of the house were shaking, both sideways and up and down, it felt quite strong,” the reporter said.
There was no damage in his neighborhood.
The main quake was followed by a 5.4-magnitude aftershock and Taipei’s MRT metro system shut down as a precaution for a little under an hour before service resumed.
Tom Parker, a British illustrator who lives in Taipei, said he was riding the subway when the quake hit.
“First time I’ve felt a quake on the MRT. Like a tame rollercoaster,” he tweeted, adding he and other commuters were told to shelter in place in the station for now.
Many others reported the tremor on social media.
“I was scared to death, I screamed in my room,” Yu Ting wrote on Facebook.
“This earthquake is really big, glass has shattered in my living room.”
Some grocery stores reported food and other goods were thrown from shelves by the shaking.
Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes as the island lies near the junction of two tectonic plates.
Some earthquakes of this magnitude can prove deadly, although much depends on where the quake strikes and at what depth.
Hualien, a scenic tourist hotspot, was struck by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in 2018 that killed 17 people and injured nearly 300.
In September 1999, a 7.6-magnitude quake killed around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s history.
However, a 6.2 earthquake struck in December 2020 in Yilan with no major damage or injuries reported.


Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub
Updated 24 October 2021

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub
  • Junta says it upholds the principal of peaceful coexistence with other countries and would cooperate with the ASEAN
  • Myanmar leadership accuses ASEAN of departing from its principals on consensus and non-interference

Myanmar’s military rulers pledged on Sunday to cooperate “as much as possible” with a peace plan agreed with ASEAN, despite a stern rebuke of the regional bloc for excluding the country’s top commander from a summit this week.
In an announcement in state media on Sunday, the junta said it upholds the principal of peaceful coexistence with other countries and would cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in following a five-point “consensus” agreed in April, a plan backed by the West and China.
ASEAN foreign ministers decided on Oct. 15 to sideline Min Aung Hlaing, leader of a Feb. 1 Myanmar coup, for his failure to implement that plan, which included ending hostilities, initiating dialogue, allowing humanitarian support and granting a special envoy full access in the country.
The junta struck back late on Friday, accusing ASEAN of departing from its principals on consensus and non-interference. It refused to agree to send a politically neutral Myanmar representative instead of Min Aung Hlaing.
ASEAN chair Brunei has not responded to Myanmar’s rejection.
A spokesman for Thailand’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Saturday, citing the sensitivity of the matter, while Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Teuku Faizasyah, said ASEAN’s consensus on who would represent Myanmar at the summit was the “common guide for all ASEAN members.”
The exclusion is an unprecedented snub from a bloc long criticized for being tardy and ineffective at dealing with member governments accused of atrocities.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in a post-coup crackdown in Myanmar, with thousands more detained, many tortured or beaten, according to the United Nations, citing activists. The junta is accused of using excessive military force against civilian populations.
The junta has insisted many of those killed or detained were “terrorists” determined to destabilize the country. The junta chief last week said opposition forces were prolonging the unrest.
ASEAN’s special envoy, Erywan Yusof of Brunei, had sought a meeting with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military government said that was impossible because she was detained and charged with crimes.
The junta warned Erywan not to engage with opposition forces it has outlawed, including the shadow National Unity Government, an alliance of pro-democracy and armed ethnic groups, Japanese broadcaster NHK said, citing an unpublished report.
A Myanmar military spokesman and Erywan’s office did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment on Sunday on the reported warning.
In Sunday’s announcement, Myanmar’s rulers first reaffirmed their own five-point plan for restoring democracy, which they announced after the coup.
The military insists it is the legitimate authority in Myanmar and its takeover was not a coup, but a necessary and lawful intervention against a threat to sovereignty posed by Suu Kyi’s party, which it said won a fraudulent election last year.