Is profiling at airports justified and effective?

Category: Americas, Life & Society Topics: Travel Views: 3513
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Everyday hundreds of passengers, mostly Muslims, returning from countries of their origin or arriving as tourists are held at various international airports across the U.S. for long hours of questioning by security staff for reasons best known to only Washington authorities. Those being held are US citizens including some very prominent Muslim leaders and academics with a long established track record of community work and civil service. The names, addresses and background information of these people is available in immigration and FBI files, yet they face intrusive questioning and humiliation by the law enforcement agents.

This article is based on the account of several prominent and average Muslim Americans returning to the US from their international travel. It must be noted that this policy of screening people at airports is not only being applied to American Muslims but it is also being applied to other American citizens who are publicly expressing their political disagreement against the Bush administration.

During the last five years many of the Muslim leaders who are being targeted at the airports, were invited by the president or governors of their states or even FBI personnel to discuss matters of security. They were even given awards by various agencies for their commitment to peace and pluralism. Yet, upon their returns they are treated as suspected terrorists. As soon as they stepped out of the plane, they are singled out and asked to cooperate with the officials. In some cases the language used by officials after singling them out was significant. "We got him!"

At the interrogation counter, their luggage and handbags are thoroughly searched. The searching agents make photocopies of their contact business cards and note the titles of the books they brining in. Some times even pages of the Quran where they find some bookmarks are noted. Ironically, while searching the luggage, the agents have been reported to express, that they don't like what they are doing and they are only following the orders of their superiors. Some passengers have reported searching agents say, "I know not all Muslims are terrorists, but we have been asked to do this for your own protection." Another agent is reported as saying, "I don't agree with what is happening to you and many others like you, yet I have to do it, because I have a job to do."

Some arriving passengers have been asked very interesting questions. Though some of the questions may be valid but the gist of the questions do not seem to yield any security. e.g. Did you meet any terrorists? (As if terrorists are roaming the streets of Far East or the Middle East with a banner on their forehead.) Did you distribute any funds to terrorists? Whom did you meet? Give us their names and addresses? Why did you meet them and what did you discuss? What was the nature of your meetings? Did any of your family members ever support any terrorist groups? If yes what is his name? How much money did you spend? Where did you stay in countries you visited? What are the addresses of contact persons of places you visited?

In reviewing the experiences of at least 100 Muslim passengers, all of whom were US citizens, the following investigative patters emerge. 

All of them were singled out because they were Muslims. In some cases the passengers were selected because they were on a watch list and in some cases where it was random they were selected based on their ethnicity or dress. For instance, many were stopped because they had long beards, some women were stopped because they were wearing headscarf's, others were stopped because they were wearing middle eastern dress.

The interviews were conducted by two or more officers. The whole process of interview usually lasted between 2 to 8 hours and in some cases even more. A number of passengers who arrived at US airports after a journey of 17 to 32 hours journey found the process very taxing. Almost all of them suffer from lack of sleep and rest and are prone to be incoherent in their responses. Many of them are very tense and fearful of discrimination and even detention. They all cooperate. Even though the officers asking the questions were polite, the passengers felt the policy was humiliating and many of them felt that their religion, culture, nationality and ethnicity were subjected to suspicion. Although the passengers are allowed to leave, yet the traumatic scars do not leave them for a long time. Because of the airport experience several people are now hesitant to make international journeys unless the situation improves.

A similar attitude towards people who come to the USA as tourists has caused a steady decline in tourism from Europe and other countries. According to Geoff Freeman, Executive Director of the Discover America Partnership, a coalition of American business leaders working to strengthen America through the power of travel, we have lost nearly 60 million international travelers since 9/11 and the problem is only getting worse.

Unfortunately, no one in the country is willing to question the relevance and usefulness of these "security" policies at our airports in our "war on terror". How many terrorists did our law enforcement agencies identify as a result of these policies? How many leads did our law enforcing officers get from those Muslim American passengers who were held at airports. Indeed, the American public has a right to know the answers of these and many other questions.

Apparently, all that is being done at airports or at international borders is fed into data bases to prepare long bureaucratic reports about our "war on terror". The reports proudly inform the American people that thousands of suspects or potential witnesses were questioned successfully. The reports also say that based on the information received by agents a realistic profile of terrorists or potential terrorists was successfully prepared.

All this is done to justify every thing in the name of security without any practical reason. As far as "terrorism" goes the government  fully knows that the method they are using would not yield any significant results. They know fully well that the terrorist don't make their intent known publicly in most of the cases. How many times does a killer; out of those 675 killers who engage in killing someone in our country every week; inform the authorities in public that they were ready for their action. How many times their own family members were aware of their intent? How many of their co-religionists were aware of their criminal designs.

There is something fundamentally wrong in the way our law enforcement agencies are conducting their "preventive investigation". They appear to be more like the secret police from communist block countries or the police in autocratic regimes who primarily function as intimidation tools and keep people under constant fear. It is the fear that these agencies are creating rather than fighting the real terrorists who are out there trying to harm people. They are wasting U.S. tax dollars without any check and balance. They are misusing the constitutional provisions to misinform people about their efforts.

By engaging in these types of tactics, the government is hiding their incompetence in promoting security. We the citizens of this country have every right to question the strategy and tactics of our law enforcement agencies. Our congress and representative must raise their voices on these issues. As Muslim Americans, it is our duty to ask our representative to hold congressional hearings on this unjustified profiling of all American citizens. But our representatives will not intervene unless we become active and raise our concerns over this unjustifiable policy. Civil liberty organizations have been successful in a number of cases that involved discrimination pertaining to beard and hijab, but they also need to lead a successful campaign seeking the restoration of dignity of Muslim Americans and all others at our borders. We must not sit quiet because those who remain silent in the midst of injustice are often described by history as accomplice in crimes.


DHS (Department of Homeland Security) has recently setup a Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP). Only time will tell if this is helping law abiding citizens avoid being targeted at airports and other transportation hubs.

Dr. Aslam Abdullah is editor in chief of the Muslim Observer, director of the Islamic Society of Nevada and recently appointed director of programs at the Lahore based International Iqbal Institute of Research, Education and Dialogue. He can be reached at [email protected]

If you have experienced difficulties during your travel screening at airports or other transportation hubs, please email [email protected]


  Category: Americas, Life & Society
  Topics: Travel
Views: 3513

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Older Comments:
YOHAN DAHAL FROM BHUTAN said:
Mohammad Shafique, your understanding of Christianity as a supplanter is impressive! It would be more convincing if you could cite the incidence where and when the Christians ever killed the fellow muslims in their effort to convert them.

We believe that what is made crooked can not be straightened. If some like to remain different by choice, they can not be changed or converted. It is better to know things in their own, proper form. Changing the outer name keeping the same inner frame that men can not change yields deception.
2007-04-24

? FROM USA said:
Well, I was born and raised in the USA, I was born in New York, and have lived here my entire life, yes I do think that "Americans" are a little compulsive with respect to terrorism, but I must say that I love my country, but we do support the biggest terrorist state of all time and that is Israel, are their "Muslims" who kidnap people and murder them and do suicide, pretty much, did America support the terrorist state of Israel, yes it does, did Bush lie to the American people about Saddam and the WMD, yes, so we in essence are hypocrites for calling others terrorists, are we terrorists for supporting Israel and illegally invading Iraq, yes. Are we terrorists for taking away the land fromt he Native Americans who by the way we here before us and this is their land rightfully. But for all the hypocritical things that we as Americans do, I see the light, I see young people reverting to Islam and inshallah one day Islam will continue to rise in this nation and make us better people.
2007-04-22

SAM FROM USA said:
If you have nothing to hide, why must we fear racial profiling? I am a non-muslim but when I take a trip to the middle east with my wife, no one questions me. When I come back alone, they ask me a lot of questions since I am a single-male travelling alone in the 24-35 range. I have no problems with it knowing they are doing it to make the country safer. I have been questioned and detained for a period of time. I have nothing to hide so I don't worry and if you don't have anything to hide neither should you.
2007-04-21

MOHAMMAD SHAFIQUE FROM CANADA said:
One can clearly understand from Martell remark how much hate
and little knowledge he has got about Islam and Christianity and
it's history. I wonder how many Muslim Country he has visited in
his life time and how much of anti Islamic propaganda he has
read. Muslims never attacked another community until they have
been attacked or threatened but all Muslims Countries are
attacked and interfered in their internal matter of Muslim
countries directly or indirectly by USA. The 1st World, 2nd World
all of them were not fought with Muslims. The Muslims ruled
Spain for more than six hundred years, Ottaman emperor ruled
Eastern Europe for more than 6 hundred years, the Mughals
ruled India for more than 6 hundred years but Muslim and
Christen lived and still living. But what happen when Muslims
were defeated in those Countries they killed all muslims and
forced them to accept Christianity. According to you if a country
does genocide and mass killing like Bosnia, Kosovo, Palestine
and Iraq that's the acceptable and it's a civilized way of killing
human being. But if some one blows up himself in protest that is
terrorist act. When an Iranian passenger plan was gun down by
US Air Force in the Persian gulf it was an act self of defense and
anti terrorist act. Having said that I am 100% against suicide
bombing. Please do think the matter impartially and humanly.
There are bad people in every religion and we all condemn them.
If Hitler is a bad man that doesn't mean all people of that faith
are bad people.
2007-04-21

YOHAN DAHAL FROM BHUTAN said:
The veil for ladies I agreed in my posting earlier mean head veil and not the face vail practiced by "...neither shall ye touch it" communities.
2007-04-20

MARTELL FROM OURS said:
Profiling is an appropriate response to a religion whose basic tenets are antithetical to our constitution and way of life. Terrorism throughout the world is 90% produced by muslims. This is a fact. After 9-11 it would be non-sensical to do anything less than we are doing. If I had it my way we would ban immigration to this country from any islamic predominant nation.
You complain about intolerance here!! Ha!! Is there any muslim majority nation in the world where non muslims are treated with equality?? Let me answer...NO. Is there any nation in the world with a large muslim majority where there is not religious strife?? Again let me answer...NO!!! And you can honestly wonder why there is suspicion?? PAH-LEASE!
2007-04-19

DARWIN AL-SAYEED FROM USA said:
Interesting how you criminals sensor this site ... only publishing comments the are in line with the propoganda that's to your liking.

This is AMERICA you criminals ... not Sauid or Iran ... stop sensoring the responses .... you political evil doers who use islam as your means to fill your pockets.
2007-04-19

ABDULLAH FROM U.S said:
I disagree with this author and I am a Muslim. The thing is profiling does work. Think about it, there have been only Muslims that are wiling to hijack a plane and slam in to a building. If we just profile Muslims we then get ride of the suicide radical Muslims.
2007-04-18

MOHAMMAD SHAFIQUE FROM CANADA said:
Brother Aslam I must thank you for picking up a serious problem
being faced by Muslim Travellers all over the Western World
especially in getting into USA. I do agree with you that how
much of a security problem has been solved and how many
terrorist has been identified and arrested by concerned authority
by harassing the innocent travellers. The US security with it's
very advance technology and security measure can make the
process much more simple and more effective. Definitely if I put
myself in their shoe security is a problem but would it not be
possible to find some easy, simple process for innocent
travellers.
2007-04-18

YOHAN DAHAL FROM BHUTAN said:
... For instance, many were stopped because they had long beards, some women were stopped because they were wearing headscarf's, others were stopped because they were wearing middle eastern dress. (It is shame for Muslims that defy the Muslim appearance. Our women are taught to put on their own garment with veiling. They look so comely in the earth and accepted for heaven in the fashion approved for them. Any liberty above this level would lead to unsafe state ...)
...campaign seeking the restoration of dignity of Muslim Americans... (American Muslim would have been right in my view for the incompatible muslims. America is already a "Muslim" country and therefore pre-fixing another muslim would change the meaning giving it a superfluous look ...)
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. Heb 6:4-8.
2007-04-18

DARWIN AL-SAYEED FROM USA said:
Salaam Alaikum,

How else to find some point misser who think murder and suicide is "just" and a service to Islam and ALLAH?

We have to profile those who fit the mold ... it's no crime and the best way of keeping the murderers out of our lives.

I am a Muslim and I love Islam as much as any other soul who claims to believe in the Kalma.

I would never question another souls' claim to be close to ALLAH and practice the teachings of our beloved Prophet (SAW)

That said, no other soul has the right to take my life in it's attempt to meet our RABB....it's so written in the book of all books!

I'll gladly stand in a line at any airport as I am a Muslim male who fits the profile of the 9/11 murderers.

It's a reality for me today because of the actions of my brothers.

peace and love

2007-04-17