This is my latest column for Jewish News…
I travelled to Amsterdam for New Year’s Eve to witness the city’s breathtaking celebrations as the sky is lit up with more fireworks than you can imagine. My trip came just days after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to pull off an even more spectacular explosion on the Detroit-bound plane that had started its journey from Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. Consequently, I arrived early at Schipol for my journey home, expecting tighter security checks in the wake of the Detroit incident.
Surprisingly, the process was as laid back as usual. No wonder I felt a touch twitchy on the flight home. It always surprises me when people complain about heavy security at airports. It seems a reckless stance to take – and sometimes a hypocritical one. In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks people in England rolled their eyes about how “naive” Americans were about airport security, particularly for internal flights. “It’s scarcely tighter than it is for train journeys in England,” they complained. But when America tightened security many of the same people complained that they were being too rigorous.
You won’t catch me moaning about ‘over-zealous’ vigilance when it comes to air travel – the tighter the better, I say. Indeed, the only times I’ve felt truly safe on a flight is when I’ve flown to Israel on good old El Al. The airline’s stringent safety measures on the ground and in the air are legendary. They are enough to reassure the most neurotic of passengers and are stunningly effective. If the whole world flew El Al-style then the would-be terrorists would soon be hanging up their box-cutter knives, shoe bombs and explosive pants.
My first trip on El Al was great fun. I was sitting next to a stunning Jewess. On learning she was Scottish I attempted a bit of break-the-ice humour. “I suppose,” I said with a bashful smile, “that being Scottish you find it even easier to pronounce words like la’chaim”. Dear reader, never in the history of mankind has a joke fallen more flat. Luckily, we soon hit it off as we sat watching the usual El Al passenger behaviour. (Has the airline ever thought of adopting Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up as its anthem?)
My time in Israel was wonderful, it really is the best country in the world to holiday in. The journey home was fun, too. As I checked in at Ben Gurion, I received a fairly thorough questioning. “Don’t be offended,” they told me. Offended? I loved every moment. I had nothing to hide, and every holiday maker loves to find a captive audience to talk to about their trip. The work that El Al has done to keep its passengers safe is just wonderful. It’s time more airlines and airports looked to the El Al example.
The attempted Detroit attack has come as a shock to some. An Islamic terrorist attacking Obama’s America on Christmas Day: that’s a wake-up call and a half. Or is it? Malcolm Grant is the Provost of University College London, where Abdulmutallab studied and became President of the Islamic Society. In a painfully defensive article in the wake of the incident, Grant wrote of Abdulmutallab: “What induced this behaviour remains a mystery. He has not emerged from a background of deprivation and poverty. He came from one of Nigeria’s wealthiest families.”
This suggests spectacular naiveté about Islamic terrorism on the part of Professor Grant. Speaking of which, the attempted bombing might also have come as something of a shock to President Barack Obama. You can imagine him shaking his head in despair as he tucked into his Christmas dinner: “What, so you mean prostrating myself in front of our enemies, blaming everything on Israeli settlements and chanting empty self-help slogans isn’t enough to stop terrorists?”
Yes, it’s quite a challenge to keep the skies over America safe, Mr President. If you want some help you could do worse than give El Al a call.
You can visit the Jewish News website here.