The Watch List Prism

Category: Americas, Life & Society Topics: Civil And Political Rights, Thomas Jefferson, Travel Channel: Opinion Views: 3292

"Thomas Jefferson once said: "The most sacred of the duties of a government is to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens."

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 state".

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 people.

Watch lists only provide false sense of security by pacifying the public with the perception of added security.

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 civilization 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 subjected to.

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 for years now does not constitute an infringement on 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 Washington Post OpEd. "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, who 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 is used as a tool to punish dissenters.

"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 has) 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."

Dr. Ahmad Al-Akhras is the vice chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He participates in educational forums, interfaith events, and diversity training to build understanding and cooperation between Muslims and the wider community. He also serves on the City of Columbus Community Relations Commission, the Ohio Conference of the NAACP and the Ohio ACLU Board. He contributed this article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Columbus, Ohio, USA.

  Category: Americas, Life & Society
  Topics: Civil And Political Rights, Thomas Jefferson, Travel  Channel: Opinion
Views: 3292

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Older Comments:
I also want to comment on this "Brzezinski" person I don't know who this person is, however their have been a large number of people impersonating Islamic people did not come to Islam for Allah, but for their own selfish needs or to come up something they have done. In Canada Ontario their is a person by same name first Name (real) Andrew if this person says he is Isalmic I very much doubt it and probably does not no the meaning of the word much less eat West Indian / East Indian or Arabic food.
He planed to do crimes on purpose!

I am sorry this person is not Islamic, and intends harm to people!

No need for a Watch List! We are accountable to Allah - Allah Subhana Wa Ta Allah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Salam Alaikum to all my brothers and my sisters,
I found that this article was interesting. Honestly, harrassment at the airlines or the borders is really not a new thing. Some of you may remember a few years ago a prominent basketball coach was harrassed at the airport as well. The author thinks that it is only Arabs that get harrassed. This is not the case. African-Americans have been harrassed just as much. I know of African-American muslims who go through the same thing. I for one felt harrassment many times crossing the border into the US. This time, it was not so bad. I kind of disagree with the author whenever he states that it is an Arab thing. No, it is a minority thing and a Muslim thing. I once told my husband that homeland security was set up to harass minorities, Arabs, and Muslims. I still do believe this.

Salam Alaikum,


A little history Romesh:

Ah, don't worry. Nobody will be flying soon. At the rate airlines are going out of business, soon only little bit of air travel will exist, and the cost will be extremely high and beyond the means of ordinary people. Most of the travel will be local by bus, train or bicycle. God is not brewing any more oil. Soon, we will be running out of oil. Now would not that be great; US will have no interest in Middle East and will not respond to any threats there; you need oil to run the war machine.

That way, TSA can keep all of its lists and they will be useless.

Rather it will be a great idea to create camel caravans in US. Would it not be great to have a camel caravan going on I-40 from San Francisco to NY and on I-95 from Boston to Miami?

So, relax, let TSA do its stupid things. May be it will have travel list by camel caravans.