Terror books

A few days ago I joked with colleagues that I was going to spend my break setting up my new business: taking a henna pen and writing short stories and poetry onto passenger’s arms and legs in order that they could have something to read on flights now that books and magazines are officially Weapons of Mass Literature and verbotten on flights out from the UK. Today on Boing Boing I read an article about printing out some copyright free text of a classic from the excellent Project Gutenberg onto a long scarf, since clothing (so far) has not been banned.

Some people have commented that we shouldn’t rubbish these draconian new flight rules because they are there for our safety. Personally I don’t completely buy that – I do think the authorities are trying to stop bombers on aircraft, but their methods are slipshod, reactive, illogical and often contradictory. You need to have your shoes scanned but the scanners used often are not able to detect explosives if indeed you had some hidden there. All liquids are suspicious, except a few days ago they were not. Liquid explosives have been used for years by terrorists so why was it suddenly a no-no for a few days? What about liquids taken onto the plane by crew? Seems to me that if you were a determined bomber trying to avoid the new hand luggage restrictions you would infiltrate the catering company and conceal liquid bombs in among the drinks being taken onboard.

Phones are a no-no, yet as we saw in the news the other day a passenger on an incoming flight left their phone behind on a plane which later rang during the outgoing flight, forcing the captain to return the flight to the airport. So we’ve banned phones from outgoing flights here but people are flying in with electronic equipment and sometimes leaving them behind while no-one even during the heightened alerts notices this is on the plane. Does reinforce the impression that the new security measures are there to make it look as if the government is doing something to protect us rather than actually doing so in reality.

Meantime Blair’s hard-nosed enforcer John Reid tells us all the authorities have foiled at least four large-scale terrorist campaigns since 9-11. Well perhaps they have, but since we only have the government’s word for that and no evidence I don’t see why I should believe them. Especially considering he trots this out during a crisis, the timing of which makes me think it was designed to shut up those critical of events and make is all grateful to the government for protecting us all. And then there is the level of credibility – no evidence has been brought forward, no big trials held, yet we are expected to take his word for it that they have saved us time and again. I’m not daft – obviously some material is too sensitive for the public and would give away intelligence methods, but if four attempts have been foiled what happened to the perpetrators? Are they being held without trial in Bellmarsh? Are they too be tried? What were the targets and methods (the public deserve to know that, plus they need to know it in order to be more vigilant surely – they are happy to tell us about liquid bombs last week but nothing about these other alleged successes, again an utterly inconsistent approach).

Considering this is the same government who changed their reasons for taking us into the war in Iraq time and time again with solid ‘intelligence’ which proved to be wrong or even falsified repeatedly I really don’t believe a damned word any of the cabinet says unless they can produce evidence; they have zero credibility. And if the threat was indeed so dire why the hell was parliament not recalled from the summer recess and the Prime Minister return from his holidays? This threat was so dire we left John Prescott in charge of the country? Yeah, must have been really serious. I can just picture Prescott in his controversial gift cowboy outfit, sitting in Tony’s office with the desk turned over to make a fort, firing his toy six guns at imaginary bad guys…

And then there are the books and magazines. Now obviously I am biased being a serious reader and a bookseller, but why the hell were books and magazines banned from flights? I read a lot of history and am unware of books being used as deadly weapons in either small-scale guerrila warfare or large-scale battles. I can almost understand jitters over electronic media such as palmtops and Ipods but books???? Then again reading tends to create more neural pathways in the brain, a process we technically call ‘thinking’; reading expands both knowledge and the cognitive tools required to utilise that knowledge by asking questions and expecting logical and coherent answers; reading can be dangerous because it enhances your ability to detect pure bullshit.