Like racial profiling, the
so-called Watch List hinges on a false premise that people commit crimes
because of their racial, ethnic or religious background. This false premise
caused huge suffering to African Americans, Japanese Americans and now Arab and
American Muslims. The worst part of this is the assumption that practicing
Islam, never mind being an activist at that, gives one an appetite for
terrorism. In the process, people who are in good standing who did not commit
nor had a criminal record are treated as "posing a threat to civil
aviation or national security" or as "potential enemies of the
Karen DeYoung of the
Washington Post reported last year that since 2003, a database that stores
names of "individuals that the intelligence community believes might harm
the United States" has quadrupled from 100,000 to 435,000. I am sure the
numbers now are way higher. The question is that if the US has these many
"terrorists" or "dangerous people," then we have a real and
huge problem that cannot be solved by a watch list that selectively targets
Watch lists only provide a
false sense of security by pacifying the public with the perception of added
Jim Harper, in his
congressional testimony, "The Promise of Registered Traveler,"
highlighted the folly of travel watch lists and identification-based policies
intended to deter terrorists: "Checking identification for the purpose of
comparing air travelers to lists of suspects or no-flyers is . . . deeply
flawed and unlikely to interdict committed terrorist groups. Terrorists have
ways to bypass these security checks." In the meantime, people who are in
the trenches of building the bridges of civilizational understanding and peace
are alienated by humiliation.
On a recent trip back to
Columbus, I was instructed to deboard the plane since my boarding pass was not
"quad S'd," [pronounced quad "esd"] In plain English, my
boarding pass was not labeled for what is called secondary screening. In other
words, I was not subjected to extra screening, something that I am routinely
This time around, however, I
was in fact "quad S'd." And, as a common sense, since my return
flight was on the same day, I requested the return boarding pass just before I
started my trip, and I got it. Interestingly, the boarding pass of my return
trip was not "quad S'd." So, the first leg was "quad S'd and the
return flight was not. This is great, I thought. At last, I would not have to
go through the routine of additional screening on the way back. I thought this
particular airline has gotten enough background information about me that they
opted to give me a break this time around.
Long story short, I was
instructed to go back to the security checkpoint and to request a
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent to conduct a "secondary
screen" on me and then come back to board the plane. Needless to say, I
missed my flight. And ended up staying overnight before catching another flight
to Columbus the next day. This meant an added cost of a hotel room and a second
trip to the airport before the break of dawn. But that is not all.
You guessed it, when I tried
to check in to get my boarding pass from the self-serve kiosk, I was denied and
was instructed by the kiosk to see an agent. The agent had to call a
"special number" to clear my name (at least temporarily) and declare
me eligible to board the plane.
This part of my trip
normally takes between 15 minutes and 2 hours and 15 minutes, as was the case
while flying back from a west coast trip a few months earlier. I usually do not
take chances, so I try to be at the ticket counter at least one hour before
departure time, just in case. I am lucky most of the time except the three or
four times when I had to miss my flight because the security clearance took
longer than my estimate.
I often wondered if this
kind of routine harassment that has been going on for years now does not
constitute an infringement of at least one of the most important principles
enshrined in the US Constitution, the freedom of movement, and Article 13 of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The notion of making us
safer by subjecting people to extra screening is absurd. In his book,
"Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National
Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them," John Mueller describes this
"security Industry" as the only beneficiary of this culture of fear.
"The �war on terror'
has created a culture of fear in America," opined Zbigniew Brzezinski in a
Washington Post op-ed. "Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security
entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own
momentum . . . The atmosphere generated by the �war on terror' has encouraged
legal and political harassment of Arab Americans (generally loyal Americans)
for conduct that has not been unique to them," he added. A case in point
is the fact that an astronomical number of Americans, mainly Muslims, are
placed on the government's watch list and are subjected to unwarranted delays
and detentions while traveling or crossing US borders.
While the proponents of the
policy that led to the establishment of the watch list argue that it is in
place to protect national security, facts indicate that it used as a tool to
"I was denied a
boarding pass because I was on the terrorist watch list," said Walter
Murphy, a renowned constitutional scholar, a lecturer at Princeton University,
and decorated Marine veteran. Why? Because "in September 2006, [he had]
given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of
George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution."
Thomas Jefferson once said:
"The most sacred of the duties of a government is to do equal and
impartial justice to all its citizens."
Ahmad Al-Akhras has a collection of his boarding
passes for the past four plus years. Most of these boarding passes were marked for "secondary
screening." Dr. Al-Akhras is the Vice Chairman of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, CAIR. He can be reached at email@example.com.