Skip to Content


Are biscuits a terrorist threat?

Why can’t you take biscuits on board at JFK, when computer games are fine at La Guardia? Rod Liddle, in the US, is mystified

16 August 2006

4:09 PM

16 August 2006

4:09 PM

Why can’t you take biscuits on board at JFK, when computer games are fine at La Guardia? Rod Liddle, in the US, is mystified

Aurora, Illinois

I’m here to look at a particle accelerator. They’ve got a big one in Aurora, Illinois, all these neutrinos whizzing round and round, wishing they were anywhere but here — and with some justification. Aurora is too distant to properly associate itself with Chicago, 40 miles to the east, but sufficiently attached to the city to not exist in its own right. A desolate concrete ‘hi-tech’ suburb, a hastily tarmac-adamed prairie festooned with Taco Bells, pay-day loan outlets and anti-matter. A sort of endless Slough, except without the charm.

Here’s a guess, though: particle accelerators are one of those things which you’re still not allowed to take as hand baggage on flights out of British airports. I think we can be pretty sure about that. It may be the only thing we can be sure about. When I flew out last Saturday you could take absolutely nothing as hand luggage, not even the huge

family-size packs of Nicorette chewing gum which I need for flights of more than two hours. The rules were at least straightforward, even if they seemed absurd: no hand baggage, nothing, nada. OK, maybe a sanitary towel or two, but even then make sure you carry it in a transparent plastic bag.

Since then I’ve been through a further four airports, all in the US, and each time the rules have changed. Everybody is still pretty worried about liquids, especially liquids of a medical or pseudo-medical nature, or hi-energy drinks — but those other taboos change by the minute. At JFK you were not allowed to board a plane with biscuits, even if they were in an unopened packet. I assume that stricture went for all biscuits: I tried with some Hobnobs, but you may have better luck with, say, Morning Coffee. Whereas eight miles away, at La Guardia, baby milk and — bizarrely — computer games were considered perfectly safe. At O’Hare, in Chicago, you were suddenly allowed to carry Gatorade, and at Pittsburgh the staff were so bored I don’t think they’d have cared if you had a particle accelerator in your backpack.

There is the feeling, over here and back in Britain, that the authorities don’t really know what they’re doing. The constantly shifting rules on what can be taken on board planes is one sliver of evidence of this; these terrorists are ingenious — one day they may try to kill us with some Lucozade and an MP3 player, the next day, who knows? Hobnobs and a Game Boy? The chaos and confusion at Heathrow, and the palpable anger of the airlines, is another indicator. So, too, the mystifying status alerts: are we about to be killed right now, or merely quite soon in the future? Is the threat substantial, imminent and substantial, critical? The deployment of these words seems to me a sort of whistling in the dark; the truth is, nobody really has a clue.

Not that things are very much better in the United States. At the beginning of the week US authorities announced that they had arrested three ‘Muslim terrorists’ in Caro, Michigan. They were paraded on the news, these chaps; swarthy, religious-looking people with shifty expressions. Their plan had been to blow up the Mackinac suspension bridge which connects the north part of the state with its southern section; it is, as you will be told if you dare to go anywhere near the place, the third largest suspension bridge in the world and the biggest ‘in the western hemisphere’. This was, for one morning at least, the lead story on what passes for news programmes over here. It was then revealed that the three men were arrested nowhere near the bridge in question — and the sole reason for their being apprehended was the fact that they had purchased 80 pre-pay mobile phones. The authorities didn’t let on why they were worried about such a purchase; sure, one mobile phone could be used as a detonator — but why would they need 80? Were they planning to irritate us, in the name of Allah, with inappropriate ringtones? The story began to slip from the front pages when the wife of one of the men revealed that they had a job buying and selling mobile phones. Still, another couple of darkish-looking people were arrested somewhere else in the Midwest, again for buying too many mobile phones.

Nothing, though, quite revealed the uncertainty and panic behind the scenes so much as John Reid’s statement that the security services had their eyes on another ‘couple of dozen’ possible terrorist attacks — a little nugget he seemingly dropped into the conversation almost as an afterthought. Did he mean two dozen, i.e. 24? Or was it simply a figure of speech, an approximation?

Both over here and at home, the Muslim leaders have been doing their usual thing of denouncing terrorism and then, in the next breath, sort of justifying it. The subtext of their statements (and of the egregious letter signed by the various self-appointed panjandrums of the British Muslim world) is always the same: it is wrong to kill innocent people, obviously, but if you lot continue to pro-secute a war in Iraq and don’t smack Israel about a bit then you can expect to be blown up when you next board a plane. We’d rather you weren’t blown up, but it’s likely to happen. And while one might excuse the panic and confusion on the part of the British and US governments as being the best that they can do in response to a threat which is sometimes real, sometimes non-existent, is forever changing shape and strategy and right now lives among us, they might at least see that here is a nettle which they can grasp. Britain’s Muslims — and especially their ‘leaders’ — simply do not get it. There has to be no equivocation over acts of terror; no weasel words which will give succour to the adolescent Muslim strapping on the Semtex in his Birmingham bedsit. There should be no equivocation over suicide bombing against Israeli civilians, either. If (which I doubt) Islam is truly peaceable and finds such actions ‘haram’, then be steadfast about it and say as much.

It is a problem, in the end, of our own making — by which I do not mean the decision to invade Iraq. Unquestionably that decision has left us open to more terrorist attacks than would otherwise have been the case — but this does not mean we should necessarily have refrained from overthrowing Saddam. (I think the invasion was wrong, but that’s another issue.)

The problem is of our own making because, through following a multicultural agenda, we first allowed into the country too large a number of immigrants possessed of a culture and beliefs which are antithetical to our own. And then we encouraged them to keep those beliefs rather than integrate.

Show comments