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.


US screened 2.45 mln passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020

US screened 2.45 mln passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020
Updated 12 sec ago

US screened 2.45 mln passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020

US screened 2.45 mln passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020
WASHINGTON: The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 2.45 million airline passengers on Sunday, the highest number of daily passengers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said Monday.
The tally was the highest for one day since mid-February 2020. Volume for the 10-day Thanksgiving travel period was 20.9 million, about 89 percent of pre-pandemic travel numbers, TSA added, and more than twice the volume over 2020.
Despite fears the jump in demand could strain the system, US air travel was relatively smooth over the holiday period, in part due to favorable weather. US airlines have been racing to add more staff and flights to handle the rising number of travelers, offering bonuses and other incentives for current staff.
Airlines are also worried about new travel restrictions that the United States imposed Monday on eight southern African countries that bar nearly all foreign nationals in response to a new COVID-19 variant, and are concerned these curbs may expand to other routes with higher traffic.
On Nov. 8, the Biden administration lifted travel restrictions for fully vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries including China, Brazil and much of Europe.
Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said that in the week ended Nov. 14, US airline passenger volumes were 10 percent below pre-pandemic levels, with domestic air travel down 8 percent and international down 25 percent.
Travel group AAA had forecast 53.4 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13 percent from 2020, with most travelers going by car.

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful
Updated 29 November 2021

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful
  • Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles
MOSCOW: Russia said Monday it had carried out another successful test of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, as world powers race to develop the advanced weaponry.
Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles — defined as reaching speeds of at least Mach 5.
As part of “the completion of tests” of Russia’s hypersonic missile weapons, the Admiral Gorshkov warship launched a Zircon missile at a target in the Barents Sea at a range of 400 kilometers, the defense ministry said.
“The target was hit,” the ministry said, describing the test as successful.
The missile has undergone a number of recent tests, with Russia planning to equip both warships and submarines with the Zircon.
Putin revealed the development of the new weapon in a state of the nation address in February 2019, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a speed of Mach 9.
Russia’s latest Zircon test came after Western reports that a Chinese hypersonic glider test flight in July culminated in the mid-flight firing of a missile at more than five times the speed of sound over the South China Sea.
Up until the test, none of the top powers had displayed comparable mastery of a mid-flight missile launch.
China denied the report, saying it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.
Russia has boasted of developing several weapons that circumvent existing defense systems, including the Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles.
Western experts have linked a deadly blast at a test site in northern Russia in 2019 — which caused a sharp spike in local radiation levels — to the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’
Updated 29 November 2021

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’
  • Pair left the hotel where travelers who tested positive for the virus were staying after arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from South Africa

AMSTERDAM: A couple caught trying to escape from COVID-19 quarantine in the Netherlands after testing positive for the coronavirus have been transferred to a hospital where they were being held in isolation, an official said on Monday.
The pair, a Spanish man and Portuguese woman, left the hotel where travelers who tested positive for the virus were staying after arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from South Africa.
“They have now been transferred to a hospital elsewhere in the Netherlands to ensure they are in isolation. They are now in so-called forced isolation,” said Petra Faber, spokesperson for Haarlemmermeer municipality, where Schiphol is located just outside of the capital.
“We don’t know who tested positive for the new variant and we wouldn’t say because of privacy,” Faber said.
The couple fled the hotel on Sunday and had boarded a plane to Spain when they were detained by military police at the airport, said Faber. They were among 61 out of the more than 600 passengers who arrived on two flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town on Friday and tested positive for COVID-19.
At least 13 of those infected have the newly identified omicron variant of the virus, Dutch health authorities said on Sunday.
Security at the hotel has in the meantime been increased to ensure the quarantined guests stay in their rooms. It is being guarded by regular police and military police.
The discovery of omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.
Dutch authorities are also seeking to contact and test some 5,000 other passengers who have traveled from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe.
In the Netherlands, tougher COVID-19 measures went into effect on Sunday to curb record daily infection rates of more than 20,000 and ease pressure on hospitals.


India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws
Updated 29 November 2021

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws
  • Narendra Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament

NEW DELHI: India’s parliament on Monday passed a bill to repeal three laws aiming at deregulating agricultural markets, bowing to pressure from farmers who have protested for over a year to demand that the laws be rolled back.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration introduced the farm bills last year through an executive order, traditionally reserved for emergency legislation, triggering India’s longest-running farmers’ protest. Parliament then passed the legislation via a voice vote, drawing widespread criticism that it had rushed through the laws without proper debate.
In a bid to end the protests ahead of the state assembly election in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state early next year, Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament.
As parliament reconvened for its winter session on Monday, both the lower and upper houses passed the bill to withdraw the laws meant to deregulate and open up agricultural markets to companies. Farmers have said the laws would leave them with scant bargaining power against big private purchasers.
The controversial laws saw tens of thousands of people, including many elderly growers and women farmers, brave extreme weather and a severe second wave of coronavirus infections to camp out on the outskirts of New Delhi over the past year.
In addition to their repeal demand, protesting farmers are also asking that Modi’s administration introduce a law to secure government prices for produces beyond just rice and wheat.
The government currently buys rice and wheat at state-set Minimum Support Prices (MSPs), but the subsidies only benefit about 6 percent of India’s millions of farmers.
Protesters are demanding MSPs for all crops – a move that has galvanized growers across the country and taken the protest beyond India’s grain-growing states of Punjab and Haryana.
The government has not yet made any comment on the protesters’ demand for MSPs.
Farmers celebrated the development but said the protest would only be called off when the government promised legislation on MSPs for all produce.


Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia

Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia
Updated 29 November 2021

Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia

Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia
  • Greeks who chose to remain should limit their movements, stock up on food, water and fuel, and stay in contact with the Greek embassy in Addis Ababa
  • The US, Canada and other nations have also told their citizens to leave the country amid fears that Tigrayan rebels could march on the capital

ATHENS: Greece’s foreign ministry on Monday urged Greek nationals to leave Ethiopia, warning that conditions in the war-torn country were becoming “increasingly unpredictable.”
“It is recommended to Greek nationals living in Ethiopia that they leave the country on available commercial flights as soon as possible,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said safety conditions in Ethiopia were “particularly fragile.”
It said Greeks who chose to remain should limit their movements, stock up on food, water and fuel, and stay in contact with the Greek embassy in Addis Ababa and the ministry’s crisis management team.
The US, Canada and other nations have also told their citizens to leave the country amid fears that Tigrayan rebels could march on the capital.
The war erupted in November 2020 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into the Tigray region to topple its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The civil war has left thousands dead and displaced more than two million people.