I mulled long and hard what I’d put up as a reflection of the terrorist shootings here in Chattanooga last Thursday. Given that the shooter was an electrical engineer and graduate of the same institution where I teach, I think it proper to repost–with a few updates–my piece Coming Home from Heathrow, which I first posted nine years ago. The title refers to the return from the month long trip I took to the UK the summer before I graduated from Texas A&M. Although it focuses on the air transport system, it’s just as applicable to terrorism on the ground, too.
Any time terrorism or its threat strikes our air travel system, things turn into a mess, with long lines, cancelled flights, and a lot of precious cargo ending up as rubbish. Our security agencies keep “moving the goalposts” on what’s contraband on board and what’s not in response to the latest threat, successful or not. Because of the drastic change in security wrought by 9/11, we’re conditioned to start our “security clocks” at that date.
In reality, things really got going on airport security in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in response to two events. In North America, people were hijacking planes and taking them to Cuba. In Europe and the Middle East, the Palestinians were hijacking planes and blowing them up. Zero Halliburton tried to capitalise on this: their advertisements showed their aluminium luggage surviving the plane’s demolition. So, when it was time for me to make my first overseas jaunt to the UK, I trotted off with Zero Halliburton case.
I spend some time—probably too much—on this site about my first trip to the UK. From going atop Hergest Ridge (the photos from which now enjoyed by the Goths) to watching a film about Mohammed with a theatre full of his followers, the trip was fabulous. But it was also at an important point in my walk with God. I had grown up in a church and society which tended to set definite limits on how transforming the power of Jesus Christ in one’s life could be, and now those limits could be discarded without retreating into a monastery.
In this quest I was not alone. As an engineering student, I had many friends who were experiencing the same kind of thing. Some experienced renewal; others were simply reborn in Jesus Christ for the first time. For me, I had concluded that ridding our country of those who were destroying it was beyond the existing political process. (That turned out to be right, but fixing it is beyond the limits the New Testament sets for the followers of Jesus). Living in love with fellow Christians deflected my thinking from that. Many of those watching us thought we had gone off of our individual and collective rockers. But the aftermath has been singularly boring: most have married and raised families in the intervening years, complete with gloriously bourgeois careers in industry or government.
Thinking about engineering students in the 1970’s should make a person think about one in particular. The scion of a successful family, he wandered about his native region as a student, visiting various places of sin on the way (sangria at the Mexican restaurant was about as far as most of us got in that.) At one point, this engineering student had a religious experience that changed his life and catapulted him in a trajectory that ended up crediting him with a well-publicised “engineering” feat: the destruction of two of the world’s tallest buildings. The student, of course, is Osama bin Laden, and the buildings were the World Trade Centre, destroyed on 9/11. The religion is Wahhabi Islam.
Liberals, of course, would be unhappy with both of the courses taken on either end of the oil patch (they weren’t happy with the oil patch either.) But they need to have a serious, collective reality check and come to the understanding that all religion isn’t the same. There’s a significant difference between people who’s most potent political weapons are prayer and the ballot box and those who are willing to kill themselves if they can take enough “infidels” with them. Christianity has, in some ways, been too kind to its mortal enemies. Think, for example, what the result of l’affaire Dreyfus would have been in an Islāmic state and not Catholic-secular France? Dreyfus wouldn’t have made it to Devil’s Island, let alone back.
Getting liberals to see daylight isn’t easy. In the meanwhile we must go on, hoping that our civilisation has enough grit to stand down its most serious rival this century without throwing Christians into jail to satisfy their leftover hatred from the last one. The stakes are high because, if the West fails, all of these baubles we count as necessities will vanish and there will be no coming home from Heathrow—or anywhere else.