By George S. Hishmeh – Washington D.C.
A very good friend, a classmate of mine in the fifties when we were both students at the American University of Beirut, called me from Germany last week abruptly announcing that he and his German-born wife will not be coming to Washington in June as promised. His reason was the screening that U.S.-bound travelers face at American consulates and before boarding or disembarking from planes on arrival in the U.S.
My friend, who has been living in Germany for over 50 years and is a full-fledged German citizen said his wife was not allowed into the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt because she had a cell phone in her possession. She asked the officer whether he could hold on to it until she finishes her interview but he said was not allowed to do so but she could place it in a public kiosk several blocs away until her departure from the consular grounds.
And my friend, a retired entomologist “Papa Cockroach, as his daughters called him)” from Bayer, had a valid visa to Saudi Arabia stamped on his German passport, much like the previous time he came to the U.S. and he was then subjected to an intense interrogation as to why he was going to Saudi Arabia and who was he meeting there.
My friend, a Christian, who was born in Jerusalem during the British mandate, resented going through this procedure again. In turn, his wife, who was treated “impudently and rudely” when asked why was she visiting the Canary Islands a couple of months ago. Both then decided to cancel their travel plans. They told me they are now planning to vacation in Canada where the authorities there treated them much better.
Several friends and acquaintances have related similar shocking incidents and hence have stopped coming here, much to my chagrin and repeated reminders of what Americans have experienced on 9/11 (I lost a second cousin there) and last Christmas Day when a Nigerian student was caught with explosives in his underwear. Many of these friends had wanted to send their children here for their higher education despite the presence of branches of several American universities in the Arab Gulf region. Much as I sympathized with all of them, I repeatedly told them I never want to be on a plane with a terrorist on board and explosives in his underpants.
In a bid to appease international and local protestors of all walks of life, the Obama administration took a small step recently by abandoning using nationality alone as one criterion in determining whether all U.S.-bound air travelers would face additional screening. Most of the travelers who had faced this scrutiny came from Muslim-majority countries – – Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Liberia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen. Travelers from Cuba, Syria, Iran and Yemen were also subjected to body searches and additional bag checks because the U.S. considers them state sponsors of terrorism, much as this charge may be disputed. Even American citizens who were born in these countries faced harsh screening on returning to the U.S. from overseas trips.
Dropping the nationality criterion was applauded by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Whether the new policy will live up to the official promise that the number of passengers who will subjected to secondary screening will be reduced remains to be seen.
CAIR’s national executive director, Nihad Awad, stressed that the Obama administration should only focus on “behavioral” and not racial, religious or ethnic profiling because it could, The Washington Post reported, “potentially affect 675 million people, including American Muslims and religious pilgrims.” Airlines were also said to be unhappy with the new measure, suggesting that it ought to be eased before the busy summer season.
Moreover, the paper said the new measure, based on “Intelligence-based” data, could “also broaden the universe of potential target for secondary searches, expanding the focus from the 14 named countries to dubious passengers from anywhere in the world, a move also designed to outsmart terrorist plotters who knew which countries were affected.” At present, it is reported that about 24,000 people around the world are on those “no-fly” and “selectee” lists.
What is sorely missing in these measures and analyses within and without the administration is the fact that U.S. foreign policy, for long unbalanced, had contributed to this state of malaise. ow that President Obama had scored a couple of successes in the domestic arena, it will serve him and his countrymen to pay more attention to some of the Middle East’s troublespots, the root of all anti-Americanisms there.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.