Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thanks, Al-Qaeda, for the full-body scan

It doesn’t surprise me that the United States has put Saudi Arabia on the “countries of interest” list for passengers flying out of the Kingdom.

In the wake of the failed terrorist attack at the Detroit Metro Airport on Dec. 25, the US placed Saudi Arabia and 13 other countries on a list that requires intensified scrutiny of passengers originating from those countries, and apparently people passing through or visiting.

Occupying the top four spots on the list are what the US considers state sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan.

In addition to Saudi Arabia of so-called “countries of interest” are Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.

What that means in the coming months or years is anybody’s guess. Yet I know it means that I will be treated differently from other passengers. It means my carry-ons and checked baggage get a double inspection. It means that as a Muslim woman I am now required to undergo a full-body pat down. It means that I will be required to go through the whole-body scanner that checks for hidden bombs or makeshift weapons at airports in the United Kingdom and in Amsterdam.

I see the potential for public humiliation for Arabs passing through airports. All eyes will be on us as we are pulled aside and given a good once-over. Those passengers will remember us on the plane. So all in all, the plainclothes air marshals traveling with us will have an easier job since there will a couple hundred extra pairs of eyes watching our every step to the restroom and as we reach for our carry-ons in the overhead bin.

I don’t mind, though. I fly a lot between Saudi Arabia and Europe and I expect full protection from the airlines, airport security and the countries I fly to and from like any other passenger. I want to be safe, even if it means having a stranger put her hands on me. It’s the world terrorists have created for us.

The optimist in me has a tendency to believe the US is overreacting a bit. Previous security measures in place have been remarkably effective since 9/11, and airline passengers have been in safe hands.

Governments must sort through the never-ending messy business of moving millions of fliers annually through airports. To believe that any security system is full-proof is naïve. It’s the law of averages: the longer the US stays in Afghanistan and Iraq the more likely the new attacks will be attempted. It’s not an excuse for the failed attempt in Detroit, it’s just an evolution of the war.

I have Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula to thank for these new security measures and how people will view me. These are the idiots who wreaked so much havoc in Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2006 that left a lot of innocent people dead in Yanbu, Riyadh, Al-Khobar and Al-Ras. Al-Qaeda then reconstituted itself after the Ministry of Interior’s security forces beat the stuffing out of them and set them on the run.

Al-Qaeda would like nothing better than for me and my fellow Saudi students to stay at home. But I won’t allow Al-Qaeda to make me a victim in my own country and the country where I am pursuing my studies. I won’t allow Al-Qaeda to put an end to my plans for future tourist visits to the US or the annual academic workshops that I attend in Sweden and Germany.

Al-Qaeda may hope that Saudi students think twice about being subjected to profiling at airports and stay at home like “good Muslims,” in their view.

Good Muslims, however, get an education and bring that knowledge home to help Saudi Arabia become a better country. Good Muslims don’t hide out in Yemen planning attacks on planes with children aboard.


Chiara said...

Excellent post! You have covered a variety of perspectives on the topic well.
As someone who travels with an Arab I am always conscious of the potential for extra scrutiny through any border by any travel mode, for any reason: looking for illegal immigrants, security, or just plain suspicious brownness.
I was particularly struck by your comment on the other passengers' responses, since there are so many true stories of Arab or Muslim passengers being escorted off a plane because some passenger panicked at their "suspicious" behaviour, including a Saudi-Canadian doctor praying at his seat and the 2 doctors accompanying him on the journey back to Canada from an international conference in the US.
Of course we are all happy that we are being protected but is this really, as you suggested, an initial over-reaction, or as I suspect, part of an electoral ploy to make sure that Democrats look tough on terror, both for the 2010 congressional elections and the 2012 presidential one?

Anonymous said...

Now Saudis also talking about Discrimination!!!!.
Good!! now you know the feeling if some one discriminate you.
We (all Asians –Pakistan, Indian, Indonesian, Philippines, and Nepal etc) visit Saudi Arabia for Umra and work, daily experience discrimination from your Saudi Immigration officials. In Riyadh, Jeddah, Dmmam Airport every day.

If you want to see just visit any of these airport and wait for a flight from Asian countries, and see how your official deal with them. Same time you can compare how they deal with other flight passengers from Egypt, Europe, US, Lebanon etc.
They will harass and make Asian passenger (with out family) wait for 2 to 3 hours just stamp their passport,
but same time they allow non-Asian passengers with out any delay
God is great !!! He now shows you people what is discrimination

Foxxi said...


Sorry, wrong blog. If you're a regular reader of this one you should know that Sabria's well aware about that problem ...and BTW, where's the point in your comment? Discrimination of asian people in Saudi Arabia doesn't justify discrimination of arabs elsewhere. In such cases minus and minus are definitely not plus!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it really sucks... but for what it's worth, anyone flying from or through those countries, regardless of citizenship, gets sent through the extra screening lines too. All the diplomats and oil expats will get it too. Hurray for all!

Jman said...

I think a lot of people havent realized what these scanners will be capable.

Once the muslim male population finds out that their mothers sisters and daughters private parts are lit up like xmas lights for the airport to see....there will some sort of outcry!

Then again...we only have "ourselves" (muslims!!!!??) to blame!

Sandy said...

Good article. I guess I can leave an hour earlier and plan an extra hour for any layovers. I don't really mind- I've had my share of pat-downs, extra questions and swiping luggage for explosives already. I've found that airport staff- especially in the UK is very polite and respectful, while looking at every little thing. The US not so much.

I do think it is a bit of an overeaction, but they have to try. I do hope they are working on streamlining their intelligence, however. That is how they foil most of the plots.

Sandy said...

Also, I think Anonymous has a point. For so many years Saudi was so hard to get a VISA to, while Saudi's could get them to anywhere. And it is also true that they are not always respectful to their guests at airports. So now it is harder for them to get both Visa's and respectful treatment at airports.

While two wrongs DO NOT make a right- it does see there is something Karmic going on here.

FANI said...

I would like to say that the writer is either still very short of perspective or unaware of the current situation.

She is insisting on 'Al Qaeda' factor too much as if these people are to blame. The question of the century is that who is to blame in the end? she is not aware of the reports that are popped out in the media about the multinationals that are benefiting from all these hoax.

Recently, the chief medical officer of none other than the European Union cried out the Swine Flu is a scam of the multinational pharmaceutical companies and they must be scrutinized. Will you say that whoever doesn't get vaccination for the same is responsible of spreading the swine flu!!!

I think its time that people should start to say who is behind all the stories that create the situation for us to go through the scanners..