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.


Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini
Updated 8 sec ago

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini
  • Greece’s Oct. 28 national holiday, known as Ochi Day, or No Day, marks the day in 1940 when Athens rejected a pre-dawn Italian ultimatum to allow its forces to enter Greek territory
  • Italian troops invaded hours later, prompting Greece’s entry into World War II, in which outnumbered and outgunned Greek forces successfully repulsed the Italians

THESSALONIKI, Greece: Fighter jets flew over the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki Thursday as parachutists landed and troops marched in the city’s center to mark a national holiday commemorating Greece’s defiance of Fascist Italy that forced it to enter World War II.
But some student parades traditionally held in municipalities across Greece were canceled, especially in northern areas which have seen a spike in coronavirus infections, fueled by low vaccination rates in those areas.
Greece’s Oct. 28 national holiday, known as Ochi Day, or No Day, marks the day in 1940 when Athens rejected a pre-dawn Italian ultimatum to allow its forces to enter Greek territory and take control of parts of it.
Italian troops invaded hours later, prompting Greece’s entry into the war, in which outnumbered and outgunned Greek forces successfully repulsed the Italians only to be overwhelmed months later by a separate German invasion.
“The anniversary of ‘No’ is a day of honor and pride for our nation,” President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said, adding that the country’s actions in 1940 “remind us of everything we can achieve when we are united.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who attended a student parade in a southern suburb of Athens, said the day honored “those who fought against fascism and the conqueror.”
“Today we have the right to look to the future with more confidence and more optimism,” he said, adding that Greece was now stronger both geopolitically and economically.
“I wish and hope we can move forward in this future with the unity the times demand and always have the discretion to tell the difference between the useful ‘yes’ and the necessary ‘no’.”
Last year’s parades were canceled as the country grappled with the coronavirus pandemic. This year, most were allowed to go ahead, although Thessaloniki’s military parade was somewhat pared down, with only military, fire service and security forces parading without the participation of many of the civic groups and associations that traditionally take part. Participants and spectators alike were asked to wear masks.
But several municipalities and regions across northern Greece canceled parades by schoolchildren amid spiking coronavirus cases.
Just over 61 percent of Greece’s population of around 11 million has been fully vaccinated, and only slightly more — just under 64 percent — has received at least one dose. The country has been seeing increasing coronavirus infections, particularly in the north, with intensive care units beginning to fill up.
New infections are over 3,000 per day with dozens of deaths, and ICUs set aside for COVID-19 patients in the country are now at an average 77 percent capacity. On Wednesday, Greece reported 63 deaths and 3,651 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total death toll to 15,770 since the start of the pandemic, with 728,210 confirmed cases.


Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted
Updated 28 October 2021

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted
  • David Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent, warning it would ‘open a can of worms’
  • The former Royal Air Force officer admitted in court he had feared an investigation into his business dealings

LONDON: The businessman who organized the 2019 flight that killed Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala was Thursday found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft.
David Henderson, 67, was convicted by a majority verdict of 10 to two over the death of the 28-year-old forward by a jury at Cardiff Crown Court.
The plane carrying Sala crashed into the English Channel on January 21, 2019, killing him and pilot David Ibbotson, 59.
Sala had signed for Cardiff City, who were then in the Premier League, for a club-record £15 million (18 million euros, $20 million) from French side Nantes.
It took the jury seven-and-a-half hours to convict Henderson, the aircraft operator, whom the trial heard had arranged the flight with football agent William “Willie” McKay.
He had asked Ibbotson to fly the plane as he was away on holiday with his wife in Paris.
Ibbotson, who regularly flew for Henderson, did not hold a commercial pilot’s license, a qualification to fly at night, and his rating to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired.
The jury heard how just moments after finding out the plane had gone down, Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent, warning it would “open a can of worms.”
The former Royal Air Force officer admitted in court he had feared an investigation into his business dealings.
Prosecutor Martin Goudie said Henderson had been “reckless or negligent” in the way he operated the plane, putting his business above the safety of passengers.
In his closing speech, he claimed Henderson ran an “incompetent, undocumented and dishonest organization.”
Stephen Spence, defending, said his client’s actions were “purely a paperwork issue” and had not led to a likelihood of danger.
He told the court the only difference between a commercial license and the private license held by Ibbotson was whether you could carry passengers for money or not, and not about ability.
Henderson had already admitted a separate offense of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorization.
The judge granted Henderson bail to return to be sentenced for both offenses on November 12.
He faces maximum sentences of five years’ imprisonment for endangering the aircraft and two years for the lesser charge.
A British air accident investigation report published in March last year concluded Ibbotson was not licensed to fly the plane or to fly at night.
It assessed that he lost control and flew too fast as he tried to avoid bad weather, and that both he and Sala were affected by carbon monoxide poisoning before the crash.
Sala’s body was recovered from the seabed in February 2019 but that of Ibbotson was never found.
Two months after Sala’s body was discovered, his father, Horacio Sala, died of a heart attack in Argentina.


UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26
Updated 28 October 2021

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26
  • Climate adaptation means adjusting to the current effects of climate change and preparing for its predicted impacts in future
  • UN's trade and development agency said a round-the-world effort was needed to address the climate crisis

GENEVA: The United Nations on Thursday called for nations at the upcoming COP26 climate change summit to increase funding for developing countries to adapt.
Climate adaptation means adjusting to the current effects of climate change and preparing for its predicted impacts in future.
The approach is crucial in developing countries, which are more vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change — floods, drought, heatwaves and wildfires, for example.
The UN’s trade and development agency said Thursday that a round-the-world effort was needed to address the climate crisis, with a focus on helping poorer countries adapt to changing weather.
“Climate change has no borders. So our strategy to adapt to it must be globally coordinated,” UNCTAD chief Rebeca Grynspan told reporters.
“Aligning ambition and action will require... a concerted effort at the multilateral level to ensure adequate funding for developing countries to adapt to the worsening impact of ever-increasing climate change events.”
The cost of adapting to climate change in developing nations could reach $300 billion in 2030 and, if mitigation targets are not met, up to $500 billion in 2050, said UNCTAD.
However, current funding levels are less than a quarter of the amount envisaged for 2030, and the report warns that relying on private finance will not serve the countries that need it most.
UNCTAD called for debt relief and restructuring for developing countries and for increased availability of capital for multilateral development banks.
UN economists have said that this capital could be financed by green bonds or by reallocating subsidies from fossil fuels.
According to the UN, the economic losses from climate disasters are proportionally three times worse in developing states than in high-income countries.
The landmark COP26 climate change conference kicking off Sunday in Glasgow is being billed as the best chance to reverse catastrophic climate change before it’s too late.


Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub
Updated 28 October 2021

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub
  • ‘Myanmar is an integral part of the ASEAN family, and their membership has not been questioned’

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei: Myanmar remains an “integral part” of Southeast Asia’s regional bloc, member Brunei insisted Thursday, despite the coup-hit country boycotting annual talks in protest at a ban on its junta chief.
The crisis in Myanmar, which is still in chaos following February’s military takeover and subsequent deadly crackdown, dominated this week’s virtual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The bloc decided to exclude junta chief Min Aung Hlaing after his regime refused to allow ASEAN’s special envoy to meet ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
It was an unprecedented snub from an organization long accused of being toothless, and infuriated the junta — which rejected an invite to send a senior official to the meeting in his place.
ASEAN is facing calls to go further by suspending or even expelling Myanmar but Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, the summit host, instead sought to ease tensions.
“Myanmar is an integral part of the ASEAN family, and their membership has not been questioned,” he told a press conference.
“ASEAN will always be there for Myanmar.”
However, he added that the 10-member group hopes “Myanmar will return to normalcy, in accordance with the will of its people.”
Saifuddin Abdullah, the foreign minister of member state Malaysia, hinted the junta could be barred from further meetings of the bloc.
Asked if Myanmar will join future talks, he responded: “That is a million dollar question which I cannot answer now.”
“We would want to look at the implementation of the ‘five-point consensus’,” he added, referring to a roadmap to restore peace drawn up by ASEAN.
The bloc appointed its special envoy for Myanmar, Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, in August after months of wrangling.
But he is yet to visit the country after the regime’s refusal to allow him to meet Suu Kyi, who is facing a raft of charges in a junta court and could be jailed for decades.


Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran
Updated 28 October 2021

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran
  • The aid comes after Human Rights Watch claimed Iranian mismanagement has harmed the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

TOKYO: Japan provided Iran with grant aid of ¥695 million (about $6.3 million) to strengthen health and medical capabilities to fight coronavirus in the country, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said.

The aid comes after Human Rights Watch claimed Iranian mismanagement has harmed the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The HRW also called on Tehran to honestly and clearly communicate with the public about the situation. 

Iran’s official government statistics showed that the country experienced its fifth wave in August, with with at least 655 daily COVID-19 deaths.

Hirotaka Matsuo, Japan’s Charge d’Affaires and interim in Tehran exchanged the letter of agreement on this aid with the World Health Organization representative Dr. Husain Syed Jaffar.

The aid, in cooperation with the International Health Organization, will help in providing six MRIs to hospitals in five Iranian locations and obtaining equipment needed to diagnose COVID-19 complications.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan