Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Rights and Freedoms

An Ugly Kind of Security

Thomas Ruttig 3 min

The new security regulations announced in the US already draw criticism. Rightly so because they smell like racial and political profiling – plus a pinch of the bad old ‘axis of evil’ thinking.

All citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen plus ‘nations considered “state sponsors of terrorism”’ – Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria – ‘must receive a pat down and an extra check of their carry-on bags before boarding a plane bound for the United States’ reports today’s New York Times (see the full article here).

This – already debatable – differentiation reverts into generalization when even mainstream and usually quality media report and comment on it. ARD – the first German TV network – yesterday reported in its major 8 pm news program that citizen of ‘14 countries that support terrorism’ will be subjected to the new security measures. This shows how deep this kind of ‘war on terror’ thinking already has penetrated our language.

ARD added a report from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport that according to the ARD reporter is considered by many experts ‘the safest airport in the world’. The reporter explained: Israeli security experts ‘do not look for the bomb, but for the bomber’. This includes extensive questioning and interest ‘even in small details’ by the psychologically well-trained personnel. People who start sweating or becoming nervous while questioned become suspicious. ‘Jewish Israelis, elderly people and families with children get through the procedure quicker. Arabs and women travelling alone are scrutinized most painstakingly’, he added. The ARD report sounded as if this were a good suggestion for everywhere – and I am sure it will be considered by other countries’ authorities. (Find the report in German here.)

Well, this is being done since a long time. Come to Berlin Tegel airport and police already waits at the end of the bridge over which you leave the airplane and asks certain people to show their passports even before they reach passport control. Guess how most of those people look like…

One of the results of this will be that our Afghan friends and colleagues who – like the majority of the citizens of their country – are far beyond any suspicion of being terrorists will even have a harder time to travel abroad than over the past few years.

Already without the new security procedures, they face enormous trouble when travelling. That starts with the fact that most European countries do not issue visas in Kabul and they are expected to go to Islamabad, Tehran or Delhi for it. And it does not stop with – let’s put it mildly – intransparent procedures during visa application, often left to be done by fellow Afghans as personnel who sometimes develop strange habits when sitting behind a counter. (Not an Afghan speciality, though.) When people are denied a visa, they are even not entitled to know why. It might be a technical or even a spelling error (the forms are really horrible and not easy to fill in even by a citizen of the very country; and some of my Afghan friends do not keep copies of their earlier applications) or because they are on one of these terror watch lists like the US Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment with 500,000 names and the narrower Terrorist Screening Data Base).

Here starts what I call political profiling. To borrow two sentences from my favourite Berlin newspaper taz’s leader of today: ‘An Islamist gets a travel ban because he is an Islamist, not because he wants to detonate a bomb. This is the thinking of Guantanamo that enters in the slipstream of the absurd debate about scanners on airports.’ (See the whole commentary ‘Please Do Scan Us!’ here).

Do we really want to accept a general suspicion against whole nations for the sake of our security?


Intervention US