Airports get in a sweat about terrorist threat

Guest Writer

Martin Amis, the famous English literary stylist, once wrote that terrorism was a “great symbolic victory for boredom”, serving only to increased the tedium of international air travel. While perhaps not being one of his most sensitive suggestions, Amis certainly has a point. But he also misses a few other key victories that aviation terrorism has achieved. It won a great victory for thirst; with liquids banned, passengers are all completely parched until the first round of in-flight drinks. Victory was also achieved in the field of well-fitting trousers; with belts being sacrificed at security gates, it’s now imperative that trousers are secure enough to stay up of their own accord. But most of all, terrorism has achieved a victory for nervousness and paranoia.

Sadly airports, which should be exciting places, celebrating the start of exciting new adventures, are now centres of suspicion. Heightened security measures serve to criminalise everyone, subjecting even the most law-abiding of us to ‘stop and search’ measures. For most of us this has now become so routine that we barely consider it. But spare a thought for the hyperhidrosis sufferers among us - or, in layman’s terms, people who sweat a lot.

I must admit I hadn’t really considered this section of society, until the International Hyperhidrosis Society (yes, it does exist) released a statement calling on airports to exercise “common sense”, when screening sweaty passengers. The appeal follows the news that US airports may train officials to examine passengers’ body language, with ‘excessive sweating’ described as a ‘warning sign of potential criminal activity’. This seems a little excessive, doesn’t it? I can sympathise with our afflicted friends; I have the annoying habit of being late for flights, and regularly turn up at security gates out of breath and with a shining glow on my forehead. To then be singled-out as a potential terrorist would be incredibly irritating. So imagine if having a glossy sheen was your permanent state of being. 

Of course Middle Eastern and South Asian travellers have long complained of mass profiling, and it all comes down to one thing; intelligence. The security services need to improve their intelligence gathering, so that any airport threats are identified and singled out. And airport security officials need to display a semblance of personal intelligence, rather than just believing that sweatiness and skin colour are sure-fire signs of a terrorist threat.

“We are arriving at an axiom in long-term thinking about international terrorism,” Amis wrote in his 2008 book, The Second Plane. “The real danger lies, not in what it inflicts, but in what it provokes.” If what terrorism has provoked is the suspicion of sweaty people, then our intelligence has surely failed on both counts.

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