However President Obama is judged on various subjects for his first year in office, he has already made history in the way that neither his predecessor nor any other leader has ever managed.
On January 3, 2010, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued new security directives to all United States and international air carriers with inbound flights to the U.S. effective January 4, 2010. The TSA press release sought to assure the traveling public: “The new directive includes long-term sustainable security measures developed in consultation with law enforcement officials and our domestic and international partners.”
At midnight Washington DC time, January 3, it went into effect and placed 675 million more Muslims and Arabs on yet another ‘Terrorism’ list. Also added were Nigerian and Cuban Christians but they were not the target.
So 675 million is the approximate total number of people on the new list from the ten “prone to terrorism countries” as the Washington Post called them, or “terrorist leaning countries” according to Fox news, (Sudan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen) and the four current “State sponsors of Terrorism” (Iran, Syria, Libya and Cuba).
All 675 million of these citizens are subject to being watched, patted down, and full body scanned under arrangements calling for ‘intense screening’ by the national airlines transporting them to the US. As with the new H. R. 2278 Congressional initiative against satellite TV providers, the airlines flying from or via the 14 countries will have to enforce the new stringent security measures or themselves risk losing their lucrative US bi-lateral landing rights and potentially, end up on yet another US Special Global Terrorism facilitator list.
In addition to the approximate 675 million covered by the new measure, with the average birth rate of these countries being approximately 45 live births per 1000 per year, it means that more than 17,000,000 newborns will join the new US T list even before their first gulp of their mommy’s milk.
The new list initiative is enough to warm Dick Cheney’s heart, reputed as he is to have never seen an Muslim or Arab (except those he does business with) he didn’t want terrorized by a listing or other means, but the international rebellion against this latest US War on Terrorism initiative has begun.
As this report is being prepared, Nigeria has just weighed in via media reports reaching Beirut around noon on 1/5/09 and its government has demanded that their 150,000,000 (150 million) citizens be immediately scratched from the new T list of 14 countries singled out for special treatment. Nigeria Information Minister Dora Akunyili announced today that “Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, did not accept the new Terrorism list and we do not have a history of terrorism and such a move could not be justified. It is unfair to include 150 million Nigerians on the US list for tighter screening because Nigerians do not have terrorist tendencies.”
It’s no secret these days that anyone who even looks as though they could be Arab or Muslim is already on a ‘mental US Terrorism watch list’ evidenced by reports of some passengers deciding not to board flights after observing Hijab wearing females or Abaya wearing Muslim or Arab men as fellow passengers. What often happens according to airport security officials is that non Muslims sometimes stare at Muslims trying to detect something unusal or suspicious about them and then the Muslims stare back wondering why they are being stared at and both parties become paranoid.
The Lebanese, bless them all, ever alert to foreign intrigues, were among the first objecting to being placed on the new US T list.
On Sunday night’s (1/3/09) late and wild van ride back to Beirut from Beital in the now frigid and frequently bitterly cold and windblown, Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, this observer got an ear full. Our driver, by appearance, down to the “Akek” (Amber) ring on his little finger, neatly trimmed short beard, black wool jacket and black baseball cap, was a Hezbollah guy. Fellow passengers were accepting as “Abass” treated us to his new CD of Resistance music, (again and again!), including the popular songs “Haydar, Haydar” and “Oh Hussein!”, and the catchy “Ali, Ali!” (Ali was the cousin and son in law of the Prophet Mohammad who Shia Muslims believe should have been the first Khalifa (successor) of the Prophet rather than Abu Bakr and his line including Omar (the second Khalifa) and Othman (the third Khalifa).
In important respects, from this succession argument grew the Shia-Sunni conflict now deeply splitting Islam. On the van, it was a party atmosphere among the fifteen or so passengers, most of whom were returning from week-end visits to their families toting Bekaa delicacies of one kind or another. Van users, including this one, prefer Hezbollah drivers on the Beirut-Bekaa run because they know every pot hole on the route over the West Lebanon Mountains, don’t try to overcharge riders, are unfailingly polite to the elderly and infirm-assisting them on and off the vans, and perhaps most importantly, these guys drive like bats fleeing hell, which cuts travel time by about one-third.
But those probably most grateful for riding with drivers like ‘Abass’ are those whose documents might not be quite in order or they just might be carrying contraband of some sort. For them our driver was golden, because drivers like him are routinely waived through various check points en route once their affiliation is noticed.
One can’t help wondering what would happen if a US ‘profiling’ system was in place and a van was pulled over by a Pennsylvania State trooper named Lawrence and his flashing red light, for ID and luggage inspection or just to sniff inside the vehicles quickly rolled down windows. Would the van still have passengers traveling to Beirut or would he ask to share a smoke?
The friendly young man sitting next to me opened a carry-on case and while not wanting to appear snoopy, one could not help noticing that it was packed with filled honey comb and softball sized clumps of Red-bud Hashish (known locally by Western clients as ‘H & H’, with sometimes the prized honey fetching more than the Red-bud), two ancient Bekaa products. Appreciated from before Roman times each harvest achieved bumper crops this year. The near record yield was recorded despite a couple of DEA funded ‘photo op’ anti-drug ‘raids’ last summer that the locals laugh at. The chatty kid told me lots of couriers make at least twice weekly Baalbek trips.
One Baalbek young lady, a member of the large Jaafar clan (which producers some of Hezbollah’s best fighters) , studying Journalism at Beirut’s American Lebanese University (LAU), commented to me after our driver took a music break to tune in the news, “Oh, your country just added 14 more Muslim countries to another airplane Terrorism list. Mabrouk!”
This opened an animated discussion of the ways things are going these days between the Obama administration whose sweet words last spring have become the source for scowls and ridicule in Lebanon due to deep disappointment and, once more dashed hope of America becoming an honest broker in the region — and of course, the various US Terrorism lists.
A teenager from the back of the van sing-songed, “Wouldn’t it be easier just for you Americans to put the whole world on your terrorism list and then let everyone on the planet convince you they should be taken off?” And another smart alec grinned: “Or you could just stop giving Israel weapons to kill and terrorize us and then there would be no need for any terrorist lists at all?”
Within two seconds, not more, an old woman who must have been in her 80s, wrapped in an Ashoura black covering, and who appeared to be sound asleep, lifted her head and shouted “Enshallah! (God willing!)” and returned her head forward to slumber. With that sage intervention the van erupted and shook in laughter.
The strongest reaction came from ‘Mustapha’ who appeared to be some sort of Salafist recently arrived from the gulf. Claiming to have friends in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, he expressed a strong opinion and with anger in his voice:
“Does your government think Muslims with self respect and who value the Koran will allow his family especially his wife and his daughters to be body scanned? He would rather die. This will not happen. One phone call and your Embassy in Lebanon will close faster than the one in Yemen. I think sometimes that you Americans have no idea about these latest aggressions against Muslims? Are you out of your minds? We are a peaceful people with a few extremists doing some crazy things but only in response to crimes against us like in Palestine. Stop provoking us and leave us and our lands!”
Will frequent flyers start to Glow?
As Mustapha expressed, Muslims and Arabs find the full-body scanner treatment abhorrent. In this they are not alone with many questions being raised from cost (approximately $ 200,000 each or 10 more expensive that the usual metal detectors) to questions whether such devices would have even detected the type of bomb allegedly used on Christmas Day in Detroit.
While the Israel Defense Industries has announced a crash program to build and distribute quickly a cheaper and improved full body scanner (FBS) version, the stock of American Science & Engineering, a US company that makes the full body scanners skyrocketed after Christmas and hit $82 dollars per share on 1/4/09, up from around $ 42 this summer.UK companies like L-3 Communications and Qinetiq hope to fend off competitors in landing quick orders. Qinetiq announced yesterday that it can perfect a “stand-off” full body scanner to reduce privacy issues.
Former Bush Homeland Security director, Michael Chertoff admitted to NPR the other day that he is in the hunt for contracts for his new consulting firm, while denying that his advocacy of fbs when he held his post is a conflict of interest. Jane’s Defense Weekly claims the FBS are here to stay.
There are many critics of FBS including claims that it tends to fry hearing aids, and sends massive doses of ionizing x-rays radiations to the thyroid and breast areas. Others insist dogs are more effective and much cheaper.
The rapid introduction of full body scanners at British airports threatens to breach child protection laws which ban the creation of indecent images of children. Terri Dowty, of Action for Rights of Children, in London claims that the scanners could breach the Protection of Children Act 1978, under which it is illegal to create an indecent image or a “pseudo-image” of a child.
The ACLU and similar civil liberty organizations in England and Europe are waging a campaign against FBS on privacy grounds some arguing that the images created by the machines are so graphic they amount to “virtual strip-searching” and have called for safeguards to protect the privacy of passengers involved. US and European Child porn laws are applicable in the view of some lawyers and there is growing concern that TSA type at airports around the World do not commit offences under child pornography laws or sell to the likes of the National Enquirer, the UK Sun, NY Post etc. full body scan images of celebrities, movie stars and others. Some governments are expressing concern that images could end up on the Internet.
A 12-month trial at Manchester, England airport of scanners revealed naked images of passengers including their genitalia and breast enlargements only went ahead last month after under-18s were exempted.
The Obama administration’s new list is meant to parry the coming expected rampage from the likes of Russ Limbaugh. Already some conservatives such as retired Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney who wants to get young Muslim men strip searched in the worst way. The former US Air Force general’s comments during a recent Fox News broadcast. “We’ve got to go to more than just the normal process that they’re talking about now,” he opined on Saturday. “We have got to go to very; very strict screening and we’ve got to use profiling. And I mean, be very, very serious about the profiling. If you are an 18-28-year-old Muslim man, then you should be strip searched. If we don’t do that, there’s a very high probability that we’re gonna lose an airliner.”
The Obama administration has expressed for months an interest in revamping the terrorism lists and who is on them who should not be. Now is the time to rethink the whole T list concept.
FRANKLIN LAMB is doing research in Lebanon. He is reachable at email@example.com.