The Guardian- Megabus scare: where there's smoke, beware of brown men on buses
06 July 2012Apparently we all think the class of terrorist we get nowadays is deteriorating. Once they used to blow up Boeing 747s, now people think they're going to do a bus where you can travel for £1 (plus 50p booking fee). This is budget terrorism for the recession.
Yesterday a passenger of "Asian appearance" on a bus owned by the coach company Megabus, managed to cause a terror alert when he appeared to be pouring liquid into a recepticle and creating fumes or smoke.
It was only an e-cigarette, but the entire M6 was shut down for four hours. Armed officers, troops, firefighters, and bomb disposal experts were all called to the scene.
It's surely a sign of the intense paranoia that has surfaced in the UK, given that, based on initial reports, the man could have been making a Pot Noodle. Panic might have been avoided if the driver had simply stopped the coach and asked if anyone knew anything about the smoke coming from a bag. The smoker would have owned up, as he had nothing to hide (smoking an e-cigarette on a coach is legal as it only emits water vapour). But the person who alerted the police must have thought: brown face + smoke = terrorist. That's like saying white hair + leprechaun T-shirt = IRA. But we no longer fear people who look like Father Ted, we fear people who looked like a tanned-up version of Jesus. My Irish friends are sitting at home thinking, "Well at least it's not us" and who can blame them. There was a time when being Irish meant you were guilty - all of you. The Birmingham six and the Guildford four weren't guilty, they were Irish.
It has been obvious for some time that being a brown man at an airport automatically makes you suspicious, and that being a brown man with a rucksack on the tube means you get a whole carriage to yourself. Now being brown on the Megabus makes you a terrorist. These people have watched United 93, The Day of the Jackal and Syriana: they know what people like us get up to when we get passionate about something.
Surprisingly, America is the place I feel this the least. That's because everyone thinks I'm Mexican. They therefore believe I'm more likely to be caught making a burrito then a bomb. I don't feel offended - I'd rather fit the national stereotype of a cleaner than a terrorist. Something the man on the Megabus will probably now be feeling.
Of course people will say the police had to take the threat seriously and react quickly, but it wasn't so long ago that the police thought they were nipping a terrorist attack in the bud but ended up shooting an innocent Brazilian dead. Of course, we're all influenced by stereotypes, and fear faces that fit certain crimes. Recently, while travelling to New York, I found myself sitting in the waiting area near a man with a big beard holding a pocket size version of The Qur'an. My first thought was "I hope he's not on my flight". I couldn't stop watching his every move, and when he got on my flight I was scared to go to sleep in case he struck just as I nodded off. The irony is, he was probably praying that no crazy terrorist blows up the plane. It's a tricky one. But there's got to be a better way. Perhaps it's just a question of us putting ourselves in the other person's shoes. So long as they've been checked for explosives, of course. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/06/megabus-smoke-buses-terrorist?INTCMP=SRCH