I was dismayed when I read the revised air travel baggage regulations soon after Christmas and realized that I could take a laptop on board but not a handbag containing my books. I love to read on flights, forsaking the movie, the chatting with my neighbour, or the drinking and eating, just to catch up on my reading. Flights give me overt permission to read, my favourite pastime. I am unable to work, socialize or sleep while flying – so I read.
But now, some incompetent wannabe terrorist, who could not even ignite the bomb he stored inside his pants, has started an unanticipated vendetta against bookworms. For a moment I thought that this was a conspiracy by the e•book publishers who were secretly trying to get us conditioned to reading books off our laptops. Or perhaps it was a plan by those airport bookstores (who were quickly exempted from the book ban within days of the failed Christmas Day bomb scare) wanting to peddle all the New York Times bestsellers to us (that’s all they seem to carry these days, except for perhaps magazines, newspapers and chewing gum).
Then I realized that this dumb•ass terrorist had succeeded after all, by scaring the pants off the rest of us while burning his own. Books, not bombs, lead to enlightenment and peace. Greg Mortenson, the man behind the “The Three Cups of Tea” project, promotes this theory through his singular mission to build schools for children in Pakistan and Afghanistan so that those countries’ future citizens will learn to extend the olive branch and not the Kalashnikov. Bombs only lead to more bombs, lobbed in both directions, until the warring factions are exhausted, their assets destroyed, and fear and suspicion has taken firm root, never to be dislodged for generations.
Therefore, I wondered whether I should write to all the airport security organizations around the world asking them to scrap their plans to buy those intrusive super X ray machines that they are planning to install in airports shortly. Let them give those machines to hospitals and medical clinics instead, so that they can be used to detect hidden tumours and other cancerous foreign bodies growing inside us, and help get us timely remediation. Instead, pass a law that requires every passenger in an aircraft seat to be reading a book while in flight! In fact, add “book tax” to the many taxes on airline tickets these days and give each passenger his pre•ordered book at the departure gate – after all, if advance seat selection is possible, why not advance book selection? It could be all part of your “booking.” Just think of it – the publishing industry would enter a new renaissance. Airplanes would become the universities of the future, forcibly educating the teeming masses hurtling through the skies.
And as for those terrorists – I’d like to see one of those guys, with his face glued to a book in a cramped aircraft seat, try to stuff a bomb up his ass and light the fuse!