British passengers on a flight from Malaga to Manchester did a little impromptu terrorist profiling recently. Some already on the aircraft got off, while those waiting to get on refused to do so, until the flight crew removed from the plane two apparently South Asian young men who seemed to be talking Arabic.
The press has widely condemned the action of the skittish passengers. After all, the two young men had gone through searches like everybody else. Besides, there are many Muslims and very few suicide bombers.
The passengers would no doubt have arguedrightlythat security services have not always been efficient. Officials have uncovered bomb plots at the last possible moment and permitted rabid clerics to proselytize mass murder for years, usually at taxpayer expense. The less cerebral British newspapers have sent reporters to breach security at airports and other transport installations, and they have often succeeded. Furthermore, surveys of British Muslims have repeatedly demonstrated an alarmingly high degree of sympathy with suicide bombers and even a willingness to become martyrs. Why should they, the passengers, take a risk, however small, to gratify someone elses sense of political propriety?
By their action, they drew attention to two concerns. The first is the cowardly failure of the British government to oppose implacably the spread of Islamic extremism within Britain. The second is the unwillingness of Britains Muslims to recognize without equivocation that something evil is at work among themsomething that has a relationship to their religion.
Astonishingly, the passengers got their way: the two men had to get off the flight. Presumably, they flew on the next flight, but one can easily imagine their feelings. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the experience would make them less rather than more receptive to the siren song of extremism. They are not likely to use their experience to reflect deeply upon surveys such as the one that found that 30 percent of British Muslims believe British Jews legitimate targets, or another that found that 7 percent of British Muslims (100,000 people, if the results were representative) believe that suicide bombing in Britain is justifiable. More likely, the young men will use the experience to stoke the fires of resentment, the embers of which rarely if ever fully are extinguished in any mans breast, even in the best of circumstances.
After all, no one so lacks compassion that he fails to pity himself, and the two young men removed from the flight have some reason for self-pity. Far lesser things have maddened men. Ill-treated, they will blame the passengers for it, not the men who created the atmosphere that prompts such ill-treatment.
The Islamists will use the episode to dramatize not the consequences of what they themselves preach but rather the Wests insuperable prejudice against Muslims. The extremists want a polarized world with a fight to the finish, which they assume they will win, having, as they suppose, God on their side.
This was a small twist in the downward spiral toward such a possible apocalypse, for which the pusillanimity of the government and Muslim tolerance of extremism will be as responsible as the extremists themselves.