Muslims and Irishmen in Britain
"No Irish or dogs" the sign in the guest-house in Cambridge succinctly said. It was the mid-1970s and Britain had just suffered an onslaught of IRA bombs. In those days, before the notion of political correctness had been invented, people felt free to expose their racial preferences to the public at large. And for sure, we were well warned to stay away from that door. I wasn't that bothered. I don't like people who don't like dogs anyhow.
My memory of those distant days was stirred by Ryanair's Michael O'Leary's predictably forthright rant about the ineffectuality of the blanket response of the security chiefs of British Airport Authorities to the recent alleged terrorist attacks on British/American airplanes and airlines. To paraphrase him, if you suspect Muslims, go after Muslims. If certain airlines and routes are the problem focus your security attention on them but do not cause chaos by tarring all passengers and routes with the same top security brush.
O'Leary in his inimitable way has stood on a few corns of political correctness. Indeed such is peoples' worry of being seen to be racially intolerant, that even discussing his thesis brings with it a frisson of nervousness, lest one be accused of racism. But surely the present crisis of terrorist threat, with the massive disruption in business and leisure travel, not to mention the potential ineffectiveness in preventing terrorism when wholesale screening becomes routine, deserves, not embarrassed silence but intensive and public scrutiny of all possible options.
In the 70s it wasn't just the Cambridge guest-house owners who singled out the Irish for special attention. The government and its public associated institutions when faced with a terrorist threat from the IRA put in place anti-terrorist policies and practices that singled out all people from Northern Ireland for special attention.
Special powers were introduced in legislation in this country, powers that infringed and curtailed the liberty of everyone living here, whether terrorist or not. Passengers flying into and out of the country were herded into a special gate, invariably as far away from the terminal as possible. This was at a time way before it became internationally necessary to up the ante in security for everyone. Irish people, especially those who fitted the Special Branch notion of a potential IRA person, were regarded with hostility and suspicion and stopped, searched and questioned regularly.
In fact, even to this day we are still being subject to 'special attention' in airports 10 years after the IRA declared that its war with Britain was over and ergo, their terrorist threat gone.
So, if all of the people coming and going from Northern Ireland could be specifically targeted, with some who fitted the stereotype being given relentless attention, why, when the threat to the safety of British and American planes and passengers is coming from one specific race/culture /religion, is there not the same singling out of all those peoples for particular attention in the way the Northern Ireland citizens are so used to?