Sunday, June 06, 2004

Angry Arab Angrier: Branded with an SSSS (S for Salsa not Security, of course) Stamp.
From London: I have never been subjected to more scrutiny and searches since the late 1980s when I had a mustache, which seemed to alarm US security officers. Once (in the late 1980s) I was asked by ABC News to depart to Lebanon at the spur of the moment after a reporter-friend of Peter Jennings (Charles Glass) was kidnapped in Lebanon. Jennings was very concerned about his friend, and he also offered the then graduate student $10,000.00 for the week trip, plus first class travel and accommodation. I was supposed to be met at London airport by an ABC staffer who had a visa for me. Pan Am would not let me board the plane that day. I showed them my fully paid 1st class ticket, and they claimed that UK authorities would worry that I would not have enough money for myself, and that I may become a burden on the UK social services' system. I them showed them a cash advance of some $10,000.00 which made matters worse. Only when Jennings and the vice-president of ABC News at the time talked to them I was allowed to board the plane. Today, I was met with this person at the entrance to the gate who upon looking at my US passport greeted me with two Arabic words. When I asked him if he knew Arabic, he said no, that he only knew a few words. It was obvious that he was trained in recognizing Arabic names. I was then escorted to a new section, where you stand like an idiot surrounded by tape. It was designated the Official Angry Arabs Waiting Area. I got really upset. You say but you once saw some old white American male searched. Yes, that is random. When it happens to us it is not random. It is a pattern. Randomness clashes with patterns. I was so thoroughly searched upside down (and my Archos gadget which I had featured here before seems to have required a special meeting of the National Security Council), back and forth. And in those situations, I get very snippy and snappy, which often makes matters worse. (Once, in New York, I was snippy with one officer, and he said: I will make things worse for you; I bet you are one of those radical professors that I read about. I lied to him. I said: No, I own a falafil stand in Washington, DC.) They stamped an SSSS sign (and circled it) on my boarding pass, which only meant a repeat of the special treatment before boarding the plane. The Syrian woman who happened to sit next to me on the plane (was it random that they placed her next to another Arab?) also had an SSSS stamp on her boarding pass, and she also told m about the special treatment to which she was subjected. We asked the white guy sitting next to us for his boarding pass, and it did not have that SSSS stamp. It almost had Have a Nice Day Dude, sign instead. I asked the officers today: On what basis am I being selected? Is it may hair? My Arabic sounding name? My place of Birth? My ethnicity? or what? One said: It is all by computer. I said: but the computer is NOT a human being, although some computers are known to enjoy a beverage of lemonade once in a while. What do you program your computers to look for, I asked. Having received no answers, I left angrier than ever. When my checked-luggage came, it was so messed up that the brand new bag was destroyed...And how was your day? And you still wonder why Angry Arab is Angry?