In this space was supposed to be installment No. 6 of my multiweek
dissertation on airports and terminals. The topic is being usurped by one
of those nagging, Web-borne issues of the moment, in this case a
reactionary scare story making the cyber-rounds during the past week.
The piece in question, “Terror in the Skies, Again?” is the work of Annie
Jacobsen, a writer for WomensWallStreet.com. Jacobsen shares the account of
the emotional meltdown she and her fellow passengers experienced when,
aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Detroit to Los Angeles, a group of
Middle Eastern passengers proceeded to act “suspiciously.” I’ll invite you
to experience “Terror” yourself, but be warned it’s quite long. It needs to
be, I suppose, since ultimately it’s a story about nothing, puffed and
aggrandized to appear important.
The editors get the drama cooking with some foreboding music: “You are
about to read an account of what happened,” counsels a 70-word preamble.
“The WWS Editorial Team debated long and hard about how to handle this
information and ultimately we decided it was something that should be
shared … Here is Annie’s story” [insert lower-octave piano chord here].
What follows are six pages of the worst grade-school prose, spring-loaded
with mindless hysterics and bigoted provocation.
Fourteen dark-skinned men from Syria board Northwest’s flight 327, seated
in two separate groups. Some are carrying oddly shaped bags and wearing
track suits with Arabic script across the back. During the flight the men
socialize, gesture to one another, move about the cabin with pieces of
their luggage, and, most ominous of all, repeatedly make trips to the
bathroom. The author links the men’s apparently irritable bladders to a
report published in the Observer (U.K.) warning of terrorist plots to
smuggle bomb components onto airplanes one piece at a time, to be secretly
assembled in lavatories.
“What I experienced during that flight,” breathes Jacobsen, “has caused me
to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold
the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its
citizens from terrorist threats…”