It’s 7:00am on Wednesday, 9 August in Walton Drive, High Wycombe.
All is quiet, mock-Tudor bliss. Empty-nesters are taking their morning walk in nearby Forest Way, as they always do. City accountants reach for ties, scrambling to catch the 7:09 on its glide towards boutique Marylebone Station, as they always do. And mothers, if they’re not dropping by Marks and Spencer for fresh bread, are hitting ‘snooze’ as they often don’t.
It’s still the early stages of the summer holidays a time for sleeping-in, not school. Cleaning the wooden kitchens and bay windows can wait.
Indeed, the streets of High Wycombe look like a postcard from Enid Blyton’s England. Playing fields to the left, golf courses to the right. Population 72,000. Nestled in the Chiltern Hills on the fringes of the Home Counties, this part of Buckinghamshire nurses the Thames southwards to London. It’s the sort of place where regular train commuters have unmarked but reserved seats, and greet each other by name. The greatest moral dilemma is whether to report the neighbour who’s breaking the drought-inflicted ban on hosing the garden.
But that was Wednesday, 9 August.
As Thursday’s 7:09 train pulled out of High Wycombe’s flowery station, nearby Walton Drive and Micklefield Road were police investigation scenes. And the Islamic child of local White, Christian, Conservative Party activists was in handcuffs, under suspicion of terrorist activity. Enid Blyton didn’t write about this sort of thing.
Abdul Waheed formerly Don Stewart-Whyte 20 year-old, Muslim convert and terror suspect, is the new face of the new strand of the now old threat posed by Islamists to the world’s liberal democracies. It was bad enough that independent polling shows one third of Britain’s Muslims want Sharia (or Islamic) Law introduced, and that one in four believe the 2005 London bombings were justified. But the realisation that this net of hate has spread so widely that it’s caught a well-educated offspring of Tory activists is one chill too many for the burghers of High Wycombe.
The town’s many housewives previously content and not desperate at all suddenly have something grave to ponder. And whether you live in London, Bowral, Mansfield or Applecross, so do the rest of us.
If terrorists can live undetected in High Wycombe, then it can happen anywhere.
Once upon a time, this would have been a drama only for the well-off for those who could afford to fly and the villains would have been merely swarthy, male, Middle Eastern and State-sponsored. Not anymore. Flying is everyone’s business in the Easyjet, $5 flight era. And, while no one can successfully pin a terrorist stereotype after Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City bomber), and Germaine Lindsay (London 7/7), everyone is still sure 70-year-old women don’t fit the profile.
And, as the wet t-shirt competition that is queuing at London airports has grown into a farce, so the calls for greater ‘passenger profiling’ have grown louder.
Passenger profiling has been in existence since 1994, and is both rampant and covert. Personally, I try not to stand behind Black people in passport queues especially Nigerians. You get stuck forever — guess why.
Thanks to Bill Leak.
Profiling can be racist or common sense, and Britain now has to figure out which is the most right answer. Legitimate profiling is based on actual intelligence (type of ticket, travel history, etc). Other sorts will only increase tension. The real question, given we do not have unlimited resources and patience, is how we make the best generalisations possible.
Considering this, my iPod and my bootleg sleeping tablets are no more relevant to the frontline of the ‘war against terror’ than is this website or a packet of cornflakes.
Zoom south from High Wycombe to London’s Whitechapel. Home of Jack the Ripper and the Kray brothers, this groping, aspirational mess of street markets, urban poor and professional elites is where thousands of budget jaunts to the Continent are booked 24/7. Here, in the shadow of the City, the greatest and quickest voluntary migration of people the world has known assembles itself in a new combination every day. People come here to make and break dreams by the thousand, using the Underground just one stop from one of last year’s bombs.
I am among them. I am part of this living, breathing, multicultural proof that there is little support outside of the insidious Islamist circles themselves for a world without female flesh, debate, TV and Mardi Gras. And what are we supposed to do? Give up those dreams and Spanish holidays to terrorists? Shall I walk four hours to work instead of taking the train?
No, we are, collectively, too clever for that. And in this world of hyper-commerce, we are also too dumb, and hedonistic, to give up our duty free shopping. Will we really forfeit gin at $15 a litre. Sign away those tempting Freakonomics plus The Da Vinci Code bundle deals? I doubt it.
Common sense (and English stoicism) says we must continue our regular lives as if last week’s arrests never happened. Clean those bay windows, take the Underground, vote in elections and enjoy our iPods on our hard-earned flights.
The British Airports Association Chief Executive, Tony Douglas, calls the new airport security measures ‘unsustainable’. The country’s two biggest airlines, Ryanair and British Airways are fuming. And they didn’t even have to drink their own breast milk, as travelling new mothers now do, to get through their day.
But the best proof that life (and hand luggage) can still go on is the absence of the UK’s leaders this week. Tony Blair is yachting (‘Crisis? Yacht Crisis?’ bellowed the Right-wing Daily Mail). The humble Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, is caravanning. And the Acting Prime Minister, John Prescott, is nowhere to be seen. The next generation of not-so-new-Labour leaders are assuming the spotlight.
Last week’s averted disaster should be of grave concern to us all. But these Islamist fascists have no hope of winning. Sydney Airport’s Max Moore-Wilton wouldn’t put up with the hand luggage nonsense crippling London airports. Neither should we.
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