This is ridiculous. Modadi's disregard for our safety regulations and national security was so incredible that U.S. authorities should assume malintent, and immediately prosecute him as an enemy of state. He might not have inflicted any physical damage, but his actions were a deliberate attack on measures designed to keep us safe; he committed an act of psychological warfare.
It's not entirely clear whether Modadi, a Qatari diplomat, was joking about having lit his shoe on fire on an airplane, or if the air marshall on board simply assumed that's what he was doing. What is clear is that he was smoking a cigarette in an airplane bathroom, and when he was confronted, he led the air marshall to believe he was lighting his shoe on fire. This would be a huge deal in itself, but Al Modadi's status as a foreign diplomat based in Washington, D.C. makes it much, much worse. Max Fisher at The Atlantic has a good explanation why:
Qatar is an extremely wealthy state, and Modadi, as a diplomat, is an established middle class professional. Had he truly become a terrorist, and done so under the presumably watchful eyes of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, it would have meant that just about anyone could be recruited.Fisher also claims that "Modadi's only crimes appear to be impatience, addiction to cigarettes, and possibly a poor sense of humor," but that misses the mark. There is no excuse for a foreign diplomat to make the whole of America believe it was under terrorist attack for a full half hour.
If a diplomat is living and working in America, safety protocol and domestic security should be his top priorities. Modadi is not just a guest but an official guest of the United States who is serving here only by way of our permission and good will. Simply dismissing his actions in the name of cigarette addiction and poor humor gives the benefit of the doubt to someone who deserves none.
At the very least, Modadi shouldn't be allowed within our borders, and his embassy should suffer consequences.