The terrorist threat to air travel should be taken seriously – but probably not this seriously:
Ben Paarman turned up at Luton airport for a flight to Berlin. Having forgotten to remove toiletries from his hand luggage, he was hauled over for further inspection, and two books were discovered. A German novel passed without comment, but Murder in Samarkand, Craig Murray’s memoir of his incident-strewn stint as British ambassador to Uzbekistan, didn’t. “‘Is that about terrorism?’ asked the lady that examined my onboard luggage,” wrote Paarman on neweurasia.net, a collection of blogs by and about Central Asians. “‘Humm, well, it contains mentions of that, but it’s about your former ambassador to Uzbekistan and more about diplomacy,’ I replied politely. ‘Does it have al-Qaeda in it?’ I looked a bit confused. ‘Well, I have to check this with my manager, the rest of your stuff is fine, though.'” The manager arrived, asked Paarman where he got the book (Waterstone’s, Islington), then pronounced: “I am afraid you cannot take this onboard, Sir.” The book was duly confiscated.
Apparently the book, which the Foreign Office tried to prevent Craig Murray from publishing, has been confiscated a couple of times at British Airports recently. Murray, with his unerring eye for self publicity, is claiming that it is now British policy to seize
every copy of the book it can copies of the book at airports, and is planning to seek a High Court injunction on the grounds that his (or perhaps the reader’s?) human rights have been curtailed.
Oddly, the Guardian article mentions that Paarman wrote about the incident on his blog- neweurasia. I’ve just had a quick look, and couldn’t find anything, but Ben’s a reputable guy, so I’m sure the article’s around there somewhere. (Update 9/11/06: I’ve just found Ben’s blog post, over on neweurasia’s Uzbekistan blog. Now why on earth didn’t I think of looking there in the first place?).
Whatever, seizing books from passengers is an alarming precedent, which does absolutely nothing to make the skies a safer place. The practice deserves to be exposed and ended as soon as possible.
Update (11/9/06): Post amended at Craig’s request to correct my error – see comments.