Last week’s intense debates on Brexit and the future of the country were interrupted by a drone flying over Gatwick airport runway. Numerous sightings at the time of drones flying at the airport indicated a malicious intent. The dangerous consequences of a drone colliding with a flying aircraft or its engine are very real.
The military and armed police were called in with the eventual plan of shooting them down. Due to safety concerns, the airport authorities suspended all flights for 36 hours. Some 140,000 passengers were left stranded, costing airlines dozens of millions of pounds.
The democratisation of this tiny flying object is an unprecedented reality for our airspace and its nefarious consequences have now been brought to the attention of the public.
This year, there have been a recorded 117 incidents in the UK involving drones and aircraft compared with 93 in 2017. In the US, drone sightings by pilots are on the rise. Some weeks ago in Mexico, a Boeing 737 airplane suffered serious midair damage after a suspected impact with a drone. Last year, a commercial aircraft in Canada suffered minor damage on one of its wings after such a collision.
The reaction to this chaos has been people calling for stricter regulations and oversight of commercially sold drones. Novel technological solutions that can remotely disable or control drones are being given attention. Companies are presenting options such as jamming drones, catching them with a net or shooting them down with a laser.
This cycle of public anger and ensuing calls for stricter laws and counter technology solutions is not new when a novel technology appears. We saw the same happening for smartphones and their integrated video cameras after a trend of upskirting incidents were reported on public transports. The government introduced a new bill in reaction to the problem.
However, focusing on more law and counter technology is missing the wood from the trees. A drone is only an object equipped with a computer chip and rotors. What makes it dangerous is a human using it with ill intent.
So the question that begets is why are we seeing an upward trend of drones being flown deliberately near airplanes or critical areas. What made a handful of individuals able to wrong over 100,00 travellers.
When reflecting on it, one can realise that such reasons are no different to those that make people drive cars dangerously, or to those that make people take pictures of women up their skirts on the train. And these reasons are the secular liberal values promoted by society. Secularism tells us that outside of mosques or churches there can be no place for religion or morality in everyday life. Secular liberalism teaches us that only this present life matters and therefore our goal should be to seek our happiness. And this happiness is attained by doing the things which are fun, which please us. It is true that secularism doesn’t advocate to deliberately harm others, but it makes the idea of an afterlife irrelevant thus removing any concept of self-accountability. So combining this lack of personal accountability with a mindset to seek one’s own pleasure creates a class of individuals not feeling any guilt seeking pleasures while wronging others if they feel there is a low chance of being caught by the authorities. This cocktail of dangerous ideas is what create patterns of young men snatching iPhones while riding on mopeds, company executives abusing vulnerable women at their workplace, or politicians victimising migrants to deflect attention from their corrupt policies.
An airport as large as Gatwick is impossible to be policed inch by inch. You can introduce a GPS based solution to remotely disable a drone but experts warn that progress in computer vision will allow drones to fly in total isolation rendering such a solution useless.
The point is that while societal values remain profoundly secular and individualistic, people looking for their adrenalin rush will always find alternatives, dangerous to the rest of the population.
The Islamic vision for a society is one where individuals and relationships between them is deeply ingrained with a sense of accountability to Allah (ﷻ), Ar-Raqib the All-Watcher: not a society of self-interest-driven individuals. An Islamic society would prevent the promotion in schools, media or entertainment of the idea of life’s meaning being about finding the newest adrenaline kick. Instead, there would be dissemination of this concept of accountability to Allah (ﷻ), based on rational proofs and not on blind faith. An example of this is the incident where a daughter at the time of the Khalifah of Umar ibn Al Khattab (ra) dissuaded her mother not to deceitfully sell milk mixed with water even though they thought no-one was watching them.
Connection of this life with the afterlife is present both inside and outside the mosques, including airports. A second layer of protection is the Islamic responsibility of enjoying the good and forbidding the evil by fellow citizens.
The final nest for those not deterred by the first two layers is the state and its severe punishment system. Dangerously flying drones would fall under the discretionary punishment, ta’zeer, decided by a judge.
A notable difference of these societal mindsets is that, historically, we observe that Islamic societies were not plagued with the high rates of crime and violence that we find in Western societies. For example, the application of the punishment for theft was recorded a hundred times or so over 1300 years of the history of the entire Khilafah state. In the city of London alone, over a burglary a day was recorded last year. The current high rates of crime in the Muslim world is not an indictment of Islam, but rather of the secular Western system and thoughts which have been applied by our colonised rulers.