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More Precautions, More Fear

A Bomb in My Briefcase?

by MOHAMMAD ALI SALIH

Many terrorists’ tactics used in London will be repeated here. First, it was shoes; last year it was liquids and baby formulas; and this year it is propane tanks in cars and Muslim physicians.

I am not a physician, but every weekday I dress up in a suit, carry a briefcase and go to work. I wonder what would happen here if London police had arrested someone wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase with a bomb inside it.

More precautions make me more afraid than less precautions and the nations’ capital that I have worked in for 27 years, is, since 9/11, increasingly scaring me.

* * *

Highway signs that used to warn people of traffic jams and construction sites, every now and then flash terrorism warnings. Recently, my family went to Baltimore International airport to pick up my college-age daughter arriving from Germany with her German friend with whom she had spent two weeks. The friend will stay with us for two weeks before she returns to Germany.

Electronic signs along the highways to the airport flashed: "Report Suspicious Activities." The airport was guarded and our car was "randomly" stopped, but a security man was nice as he quickly checked inside and signaled us to proceed.

The German girl took far longer than my daughter to pass through customs. Both of her hands were finger-printed, her picture was taken and she was asked extensively about the purpose of her visit. "I can’t believe this; the Americans are scared of everything. There is fear in Germany, but nothing like this," she said.

* * *

Plans for a simple cookout now involved fear of being suspected of building an IED. Going to Home Depot to buy a propane tank brings to mind recent reports that the security authorities "have been contacting local businesses, asking them to report unusual sales of propane tanks, fertilizer or other materials that could be used to make crude bombs."

When my children borrow my car, I asked them, tongue-in-cheek, to check if there are "protruding wires, bitter odors" and other "suspicious characteristics" that the police was reported to be looking for in cars.

* * *

Recently, there was a debate about an immigrant from Morocco who was arrested in Florida for saying "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) and threatened to blow up a building while his car was playing loud Arabic music. (Later, it was reported that no bomb was found and his roommate said he had problems with a girlfriend).

Now, this immigrant not only repeatedly says "Allahu Akbar" (as a quite prayer) days and nights; not only plays Arabic music in his car; but also keeps Koranic CDs in his car!

But I always check to be sure that I also have my Bible CDs, and the Christian literature I pick up from churches.

* * *

Of course, the security authorities should take precautions to protect people.

But it just seems that these are endless precautions:

First, there will always be terrorists and crazy individuals who would want to kill people. Second, the security authorities should not be expected to theoretically declare, "No more security threats; let us dismantle our agencies." Third, President Bush inflames the situation every time he declares that if the terrorists in Iraq were not defeated, "(t)hey would follow us here, home."

* * *

In a recent address, President Bush warned people about his "new and unprecedented war" on terrorism. If he could only imagine the fear, stress and depression that have inflicted me, and many other Muslims I know here in America, as this endless war goes on and on!

That was one of the reasons I stacked my car with Islamic and Christian CD’s and literature, after I had found refuge in mosques and churches. I never thought I would go to churches this often; but I have found in them a different type of Americans. They don’t seem to minimize this unbelievable fear that engulfed this greatest nation in the history of mankind, but they seem to trying to calm themselves, and to find refuge (and explanations) in their faith.

I can’t but compare them to Washington politicians who I have covered for almost thirty years, and who I have found, since 9/11, to do the opposite: scare people (and promise to protect them, to win their votes).

Finally, if someone becomes suspicious when hearing me saying "Allahu Akbar" a little too loud, or because of a loud sound of Koran from my car, I will eagerly bring out my Bible CDs.

MOHAMMAD ALI SALIH is the Washington , DC , correspondent for London-based "Asharq Alawsat," an international Arabic daily newspaper, and other Arabic publications.