White guy threatens to bomb airport, gets slap on wrist, much whingeing ensues

Last week a guy called Paul Chambers was fined a total of £1,000 (all but £385 of which was either costs or a “victim surcharge”) for posting a tweet threatening to blow up an airport. The guy was delayed at Robin Hood Airport near Doncaster and posted the message which read, “You’ve got a week and a bit to get your sh** together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”. Needless to say, neither the airport, the police nor the courts saw the funny side and he got prosecuted. He’s also lost his job as a result of having a criminal record.

Chambers was given a space for a whinge in the Guardian yesterday. Blogger Shane Richmond on the Telegraph website compared his tweet to messages saying the authors wanted to kill or assault some politician or other, and pointed out that Chambers wasn’t at the airport when he sent the tweet. In the “New Review” in today’s Observer, David Mitchell also took Chambers’s side:

Certainly, the threat – and I suppose it is theoretically a threat, in the same way that an aspirin is a food and George Osborne a successor to Gladstone – was classified as “not credible” by the airport. I don’t know if that means they thought it was funny. Maybe these people sit in front of Morecambe and Wise, sides splitting, tears streaming down their faces, yelling “Not credible!” as Eric picks up André Previn by the lapels.

However, despite Chambers’s manifest lack of credibility, the security people were apparently obliged to inform South Yorkshire police, who arrested him a week later. They were obviously convinced he was a man of his word in terms of the week-and-a-bit timescale. With many plausible terrorist threats, they might have rushed straight round there. Or maybe they’re not morons and knew perfectly well that he had no intention of blowing up an airport but had decided to make an example of him.

It’s vindictive and it’s humourless. Could they not just have had a quiet word? Was bringing him to trial really in the public interest? Is a large fine, unemployment and a criminal record proportionate punishment for an irritated quip, albeit one made within the earshot of others? He didn’t actually send the message to the airport, written in letters cut out from a newspaper, wrapped round a raw liver and a holy text (Christian, Muslim or SMS).

The reason why, as Mitchell says, “we live in serious times” is because planes have been flown into buildings and on a few occasions nearly blown out of the sky, and because if you’re on a plane (as opposed to, say, a train) and any part of it blows up while the plane is airborne, the plane will be destroyed and you will die. People are nervous about flying at the best of times in a way they aren’t about car or train travel, because a plane is inescapable. That is why we take threats to blow up the air infrastructure seriously.

If the guy who had posted that tweet had turned out to have a Muslim name, regardless of the circumstances, there would have been no qualms about prosecuting him and giving him a much more substantial sentence than this idiot got. He may not be a Muslim and he may also not be a Nazi, but there have been quite a few cases of white guys having stashes of weapons found in their homes, intended for use in a race war. Just because you’re white and have an English name, it doesn’t mean you’re not a terrorist. As with the case of the English-Canadian married couple denied a visa because the wife is “underage” (19 years old), people whine about laws aimed at Muslims or other “foreigners” when “their own” people find that the rules apply to them too.

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