The mile high club of rank idiots

Caution in the air is justified

Reports of a major thwarted airline bombing plot are fresh on your mind. Airports around the world are on high alert in anticipation of more terrorist attacks. You notice a dozen young men of ‘South Asian’ origin board on the plane. Their behaviour is different from that of other passengers. They “fidget with their mobile phones”, plastic bags and laptop computers. They don’t listen to the crew and exchange seats. Reporting and restraining them in such circumstances would be an act of caution, not racism. Yet racism is what the relatives of the suspects—since proven innocent—are making it out to be. The religious dimension is also bogus—for not everyone who is ‘South Asian’ and Muslim is singled out for such treatment. It was their behaviour that made them suspect.

Let’s face it. The “people like us” in Pakistan have made us all targets of suspicion. There can be a fair debate over racial and religious profiling. But going by most media reports, it does not apply to this boorish dozen from Mumbai. They have only themselves to blame. The Dutch government has been gracious enough to apologise. This is as correct as their decision to err on the side of caution. That should be good enough for everyone.

Update: This incident is hardly worth a diplomatic row. The Indian government would do well not to pursue this matter further once the rhetorical phase is over.

25 thoughts on “The mile high club of rank idiots”

  1. I think they are playing the ‘victim’ card too much. Even a silly cricket match incident and they say its “racism” now someone takes extra precaution in such tense times and they shout “racism”.

    I hope they have read that story about the shepherd who called wolf too many times and when a wolf really turned up nobody believed him anymore and none came to his aid.

  2. I think NDTV carried it a bit too far. Their poll question last night was “are non-whites targets of security paranoia”. Unsuspecting people (86% of them in all) voted yes. Heard of chinese or africans being targetted?

  3. What an amusing yet apropos headline! It’s a pity all good writers are in business and technology and all jerks are in journalism.

  4. The question is, if they were whites, would they be treated the same way ? My guess is, no, they would not. That, IMO makes it racism. As for exchanging mobile phones on the aircraft, is there a law against that ? Is there a law against people having three or four mobile phones ? Changing seats, not tying their seatbelts when the sign was on, walking around in the aircraft, hell, even I have been guilty of that.

    I am open to people being subjected to searches at the security counter in whichever way the authorities deem fit, but not to being searched/interrogated/tested by fellow passengers on an airplane. Which is what happened in this case – a couple of white passengers got the heebi-jeebies on seeing 12 obviously ‘South Asian’ muslim males and alerted the flight crew which alerted the air marshalls and you know the rest. What happened is not very different from mob-rule, where passengers can be evicted from their flights if people sitting next to them ‘dont have a good feeling about them’.

  5. Ref:Sudeep

    But don’t you think that since all the incidences of terrorism are arising from the same group, the burden of group lies on the same set of people.

  6. Given the tensions around airline security after the recent episode in England, I think the Mumbai group was a bit stupid to act the way they did. They obviously didnt realise that they were attracting the bad eye of the flight crew and air marshalls but there in lies their stupidity. So, i agree with you when you say that they brought it upon themselves.
    How many times have you and I witnessed loutish and deplorable behaviour of Indians on airplanes? How many times have we witnessed blatant disregard for the most basic airline rules? The Dutch might have been wrong to jump the gun, but they were also quick to apologise.
    Right on, the people and pathetic NDTV can play the victim card and cry about being racially profiled and being victimised but get a reality check, they were being noisome and deserved a wrap on the knuckles.

  7. I have been subject to extra security checks several times when travelling in the US on domestic flights. I am not Muslim, but I am Indian. A couple of times on business trips, I was travelling with another Indian background guy, and 3 white people. I and the other Indian were singled our for so called “random” spot checks, while our white colleagues were let go. I can tell you that it is personally annoying and humiliating.

    I suspect a lot of the people ranting about crybabies would feel differently if they were themselves subject to this sort of extra attention without justification.

  8. What’s wrong with even racial profiling when people’s lives are concerned? It can atleast save time at the airports. Humiliating? Yes, but its well deserved for not acting up to push the politicians or the people in the communities where majority malaise is.

    As for these guys, I personally don’t know the truth, but whatever has been written in newspapers, they should’ve been atleast fined for endangering the lives of other passsengers and the safety of the aircraft. I’ve seen this behaviour so many times in airplanes, and it was about time someone did something about it.

  9. As a ‘South Asian’ who does a fair amount of time flying myself, usually with at least a facial stubble, I’ve probably been lucky not to be singled out so far.

    Not just that, I’ve seen old white men, middle aged mothers with children in tow, suit-wearing Japanese/Chinese men being taken aside. However, I would not make a statement on whether or not there is racial profiling based on my personal experience alone. That is the subject of a fair debate, and a necessary one. But as I said, it does not quite apply in this case. These chaps were not systematically profiled before boarding the plane. Regardless of how their behaviour is explained away, the fact is that it was their behaviour that caused them to be suspected.

    The question whether they would have done the same if white passengers were behaving suspiciously is hypothetical and beside the point. [As an aside—where’s the racial profiling in these incidents?]

    Here’s a suggestion for those who notice fellow passengers behaving suspiciously: report them to the crew (don’t care what their race or religion is).

  10. “What’s wrong with even racial profiling when people’s lives are concerned? It can atleast save time at the airports. Humiliating? Yes, but its well deserved for not acting up to push the politicians or the people in the communities where majority malaise is.”

    So if I were a Sikh, whom some people took to be Muslim because of my turban and beard, and were profiled for that reason, I should protest to whom, again ? Or if I were a non Muslim South Asian (as the majority of South Asians are), I should protest to whom again ?

  11. I live in New York, by way of Jammu and Kashmir, India and travel frequently.
    I am forced to grab a drink[to calm my frazzled nerves], everytime the airport security neglects to single me [a brown man]out for a extra scrutiny.
    Profile away, I say….Just keep me/us safe.

  12. Mangal

    So if I were a Sikh, whom some people took to be Muslim because of my turban and beard, and were profiled for that reason, I should protest to whom, again ? Or if I were a non Muslim South Asian (as the majority of South Asians are), I should protest to whom again ?

    Hmm. I think to the governments of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Tell them that all of us are being tarred with the same brush because of the sins of the Government of Pakistan.

    At the risk of over-generalisation, the irony is that those who seek an overarching “South Asian” label, or hold out that Pakistanis are “people like us”, don’t also think it is neccessary to compel Pakistan to undo the damage it has done to that collective identity. I have little sympathy for the ‘South Asian’ label, but am surprised that many of those who support it don’t realise that they are getting a poor deal because of Pakistan’s association with international jihadi terrorism.

  13. Profiling of passengers is the rational thing to do. Terrorists are not random people. Randoming checking people may be a worthy PC thing to do but it endangers the average Joe Blow because resources wasted on giving a body search to little old nuns and babies in arms are not available to screen the most likely suspects. Time for the general public to brush up on their Bayesian priors.

  14. While it is humiliating to be singled out and searched (even worst, arrested), I agree behaviour profiling is a must during air travel, especially after the latest London planes bombing case (race profiling doesn’t get one anywhere unless there is specific intelligence).

  15. I would say the Marshalls on that flight were not doing ‘racial profiling’ but ‘stupidity profiling’. And you cant blame them for that. Moving around when seat belt signs are on, during take off, using/passing around cell phones during take off – these are all behaviour guaranteed to raise suspicion. If these were not enough, being dressed in attire that Osama is seen in wont help matters much either. The Marshals dont have a lot of time before they act so they have to err on the side of caution.
    I am not sure how the Indian government is pulling up the Dutch ambassador – may be they are inspired by the cartoon rows and expect to score some points using this – but the air Marshalls could have been American agents – the plane was a Northwest plane.
    There is no evidence authorities in Amsterdam ill-treated the passengers. Contrast this with the plight of Indian labour in Saudi at the hand of the muttawa – the muttawa can pick up someone and the Indian consulate wont even bother to get access for days. has some nice comments on the indian consulate in Saudi Arabia.

  16. Mangal,

    To answer your query and add to Nitin, atleast to your legislative representative. Just for record, unlike Kaul, I’ve been lucky enough to have been taken aside for extra checks myself, and I’ve thought so many times that if only these people (all white men women and kids on many occassions) who were ahead of me were not there, I could’ve saved so much of time getting through the security.
    Besides, Indian airports have it mandatory for ALL passengers, in case you havent noticed.

    Some have suggested thorough background checks for all passengers. A great idea, but would need so many resources again. Terrorists come in all hues and colours, but the majority is brown. If probability matching picks me out to be screened, its also my fault that the majority of my kind are screwed up in the head. As for the sikhs who some westerners think as Osama’s countrymen, they have company in people like me who are of the same skin colour as Osama’s countrymen.

  17. It’s funny. The CPI(M) is up in arms about it. Calling for compensation and suspension of Northwest operations in the country. What a bunch of idiots.

  18. I think everybody will agree that
    1)India,like USA and UK,is the victim of internationally sponsored terrorism
    2)Correct me if i am wrong,but no Indian citizen is accused of terrorist activity in a foreign country or bombing of plane belonging to foreign airlines
    And hence diplomatic protest is justified.Any independent country worth it’s salt will protest.
    I agree that behaviour of passengers is nothing short of buffoonery and like other readers,even i will welcome if i am singled out for security check.I was singled out at Amsterdam,hence i know it does’nt feel bad at all

  19. Do excuse me for posting out of context. Thought you ladies and gents might be interested in the piece below.

    From the Wall Street Journal

    Where ‘Whisky’ Can Be Rum
    August 26, 2006; Page P14

    Comment truncated -Ed

    p.s. nitin, for future reference, is there a different way of bringing articles of potential interest to your attention?

  20. Kaul,

    That was a very interesting article indeed. Thanks for pointing it out to me. However, I attempt to keep discussions on this blog “on topic” so I had to truncate it.

    The best way to bring up interesting topics is to mail me using the Contact Nitin Pai link on the sidebar. There is another link to “Open Thread” which is intended as a general forum for the community to put up comments and links of mutual interest. However, I noticed that the comment spam control plugin locks up that space. Until I find a workaround the contact form remains the best way.

  21. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Imagine the counterfactual. Had the air marshalls ignored the fellow passengers’ concerns, and had there been a mid-air explosion in which all but a handful of passengers perished, what would our pollsters, politicians, and press have done? Cried “foul”, of course. After all, an overwhelming majority of the victims were “South Asians”. The “White imperialists” care only about lives of their ilk. The massacre could have been prevented if the crew had acted immediately to return to Shipol, and apprehend the culprits…blah, blah!

    I was flying out of LAX on August 11, the day after the British Jihadis’ plot to blow up US aircrafts. For the first time in decades of my life in the US, I saw gun-toting Nationbal Guardsmen walking around the airport. I felt very secure and grateful to these men and women, who would not hesitate to give their lives to save mine and those of hundreds of passengers in the Bradley International Terminal. They were there to protect everyone – brown, black, white, clean shaven, bearded, with yarmukh, turban, head cover, and what not; no racial profiling here!

    By the way, if clubbing of Islamic terrorists and law-abiding muslims into a coarse-grained profile were abhorrent, then why is the clubbing of Islamic terrorists, other muslims, and non-muslims into an even more coarse-grained profile labeled “Indians”, “South Asians”, or “Brown skinned” preferred by the media and the Government of India? As Abdel Rahman al-Rashed wrote in this article in the London-based pan-Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat,

    It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims.

    . By indulging in an overarching label such as “Indians”, the media and the government are making it worse for all Indians instead of some Indians!

  22. Tavleen Singh:

    “Indian reactions to the detention by Dutch authorities of 12 Muslims from Mumbai last week would be amusing if they did not provide evidence that we continue to be in denial about the transformation of ordinary, supposedly moderate Indian Muslims. Instead of being upset that Indian garment exporters should have disobeyed flight attendants, the media spoke almost in one voice to condemn ‘‘racial profiling”…

  23. Headline quotes like ‘They targetted us because we’re muslims’ have been flying around. I feel like telling them, ‘You were targetted because you acted like dumb idiots’. An aeroplane in flight is a metal tube hurtling through the air in a state of dynamic equilibrium, for heavens’ sake! Anything that is out of the ordinary is bound to instill fear in such conditions. What the passengers and flight attendants did on flight NW 0042 was more an act of self-preservation than racial profiling. Yes there was perhaps racism involved. But even though not all Muslims are terrorists, an overwhelming number of terrorists this world has seen in contemporary times have been muslims. Its time we realize this once and for all!

  24. When I saw this story, my first thought was that it was an exercise by Al-qaeda operatives to observe US air marshalls in action – i.e. an intelligence gathering operation.

  25. To people like SUDEEP:
    Would you rather be bombed out of the sky or security checked??
    To argue that there is nothing wrong in violating normal security instructions by using mobiles, swapping seats, not buckling seat belts etc is all right because you keep doing it all the time, is plain stupidity. Don’t you get it that you were endangering the safety of the aircraft with such antics?
    And what’s wrong in racial security profiling? Just because of your misplsced ego should security checks be relaxed. You talk like the typical Indian babu who will set up all types of security hurdles for the public(in order tp protect your ass) but then expect that your lordship, because of your importance, should not have to go through these very same hurdles. Wake up man.

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