The Detroit lesson: Prevention is the best cure

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Umar Abdulmutallab 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Umar Abdulmutallab 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
I'm a modest person. While known for being overly loquacious, by nature I'm a conservative man. What rankles me greatly though is the knee jerk reaction after the recent Christmas miracle. On December 25, suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a Northwest Flight from Amsterdam and less than one hour prior to landing in Detroit attempted to make a bomb using a powdery substance he managed to smuggle onto the plane. Only the quick reaction of fellow passengers coupled with the Nigerian's inability to succeed in detonating the bomb saved hundreds of people from near certain death. The facts of this incident have been reported widely. His own father reported him to the US Embassy in Lagos concerned that having dropped out of school, his 23-year-old son had adopted fanatical beliefs. Security personnel had prepared a report which somehow was not distributed to all the parties involved. I have full confidence that an in-depth investigation will result in only cosmetic changes and a clarion call for deeper interaction with the world's bodies designed to stop such attacks. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have made such strident statements. Passengers have quickly become accustomed to staying in their seats the last hour of their flights. No opportunity to avail themselves of the restroom or stretch their legs. Some airlines have refused passengers the simple comfort of covering themselves with a blanket. Others were instructed to turn off their in-flight entertainment system. This was done so that a potential terrorist would not 'know' when they were over a large US city but would only be able to hazard a guess. In other words we have entered into a reactive cycle. A terrorist tries to light his shoe on fire…so let's make all clients remove their shoes. What is needed, and quickly is a Proactive reaction. To that end the most intelligent, preventive step should be the mandatory use of full body scanners. Keep in mind these scanners are not fool proof; they will however greatly increase the detection of smuggled items. The Dutch government has already announced it will begin using such scanners on all flights to the United States. At this stage the Dutch are less concerned about flights to other countries. I do find it a wee bit shortsighted that the only country that terrorists wish to attack is the US. Leaving aside that these scanners are not inexpensive there is objection to the use of these scanners from many people. It has been widely reported that groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union call the scanners "overly invasive." Some critics have raised the issue that the way the machines can see through clothing can cause privacy issues as they show the entire body with embarrassing clarity. Keep in mind that the person viewing the scanner is in a closed space and thus the lack of privacy argument is tepid at best. The media has widely reported, without naming sources, that these concerns should be addressed before installing these scanners. What poppycock. Are we really stating that the safety of passengers should be put aside to shield some modest people in going through these scanners? In fact with all of the noise generated the last few weeks, I've yet to hear anyone daring to make this objection public. However the second step in lowering the risk has had no shortage of defenders. That is the policy which very few countries have the courage to practice - profiling. Israel though has no such problem and is known wide and far for her practice of profiling. All passengers who have passed through Ben-Gurion Airport can attest to the constant and often illogical questions one is asked. Apart from who packed your bags, I've been asked what youth movements my kids are involved in. The profiling in Israel is designed to weed out nervous people, to discover discrepancies and not to overtly discriminate. In the US and most of Western Europe, the practice is an anathema to be shunned at all costs. Far better to not insult anyone. Flying recently on a US airline I watched the security people stopping every fourth person. Their diligent work had them asking both a 14-year-old girl and an 80-year-old man. Granted that anyone can be a terrorist, I would have felt a wee bit better if they had asked the unshaven 20-year-old in front of me a few questions. This leads me to my final plea. We, the flying public, must be more cognizant of our surroundings. When I fly, I tell my seatmate that I'm not being rude but that conversation is not high on my agenda. I do, however, love to observe my seatmates. Playing the voyeur grants me an insight into the frustration of the crying mother, the businessman talking incessantly on his cell phone and the loud teenagers flirting with a stranger. My personal game is to try to pick out the air marshal. Usually sitting by himself, he's the one sitting ramrod, perusing a magazine and taking in all of his surroundings. Let's be quite clear; the reason we had a Christmas miracle wasn't because the airlines discovered the explosives. It wasn't because the billions of dollars investigated in computer software spat out his name. It wasn't because the air marshal was alerted to his suspicious behavior; no such person appeared to be on that specific flight. It was a combination of divine intervention and heroic action on the behalf of passengers on the plane. No longer will we sit captive on aircraft. Far better to raise your suspicions to a flight attendant. Rather risk an uneasy encounter than have to tackle a potential terrorist. I'm not calling for a vigilante society, just one more attuned to the surroundings. Until airports pony up the funds for full body scanners, it behooves all of us flying to be alert. My mother taught me a simple maxim - "Far better to be safe than sorry." Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at