Aviation, Hijackings, and the Eclipse of the ‘American Century’ in the Middle East
Dr. Waleed Hazbun (University of Alabama)
Between Catastrophe and Revolution: Essays in Honor of Mike Davis, Daniel Bertrand Monk and Michael Sorkin, eds. New York: Urban Research/OR Books, 2021. pp. 223-247.
This chapter argues the rise of airplane hijackings in the 1970s, followed by a series of more violent attacks against airplanes and air travelers in the 1980s, contributed to a late Cold War anxiety about the limits of American global power. The expansion of aeromobility managed by private commercial airlines with extensive US government support was central to the expansion of American global power in the post-World War II era. In the early 1970s, the adoption of hijacking as a tactic by militant Palestinian and other self-described “revolutionaries” transformed the act of illegally diverting an aircraft into a new category of violent threat referred to as “international terrorism.” These disruptions to air travel and threats to American travelers abroad were viewed by US policymakers as challenges to the entire US-dominated system of global aeromobility. As a result, US policy shifted away from its goal of seeking to expand aeromobility globally and sought to impose new security procedures at airports abroad and discourage travelers and airlines from operating in locations that refused. This securitization of air travel only increased American fears of vulnerability and led to an increasingly militarized effort to police global airspaces and travel flows far beyond its borders.