JULY 2002
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Flying While Arab

From The Arab Voice
05/11/2002

During the past three weeks, I made at least six flights between different airports where I faced various levels of security and encountered different degrees of treatment. I carry a green passport, green of course meaning I’m from Saudi Arabia. The fact that my passport is dark green did not help me in most airports.

Naturally, the treatment was good in the Arabic airports where we have already become accustomed to the security procedures. This has helped Arabs to become adept at handling airport security.

Although the security measures were high at European airports, they were acceptable. The green passport was still respected, or at least I had that impression.

Then, I arrived in New York. It was not my first time entering the United States through JFK Airport, but it will surely be my last.

I will not go into details about their response to the green passport, but instead will speak about the treatment I received during the flight.

First Flight: Domestic

I was not asked to show my passport, only a photo ID, so I presented my American driver’s license, and I was treated like any American citizen. I was asked about the items in my luggage: if anyone had given me anything or had asked me to carry on or check any items for them; if my luggage had been in my possession in the past 24 hours; or if I have exploding materials. Of course I answered "No" to each question.

Did this inspector really think that I had been sitting in my hotel and watching my luggage for the past 24 hours?

Did he really think that if I wanted to commit a terrorist act, I would have told him that I have explosives in my luggage?

I checked in without any problems, and entered the plane just by showing my photo ID again.

Second Flight: International

I showed my passport to the airline’s representative who told me with a smile that the computer had randomly chosen me for security search. Yeah, right!

While I was asked to stay out, the security agents took my luggage---the same I used on the internal flight---to a special room to be checked by an X-Ray machine.

I was then called to the room to open my luggage for them to search by hand. I tried to stay calm, telling myself that these procedures were for my own protection.

They asked me the same stupid questions, and of course, I answered "No" to each of them. I don’t know what would have happened if I had said that the luggage wasn’t mine, or if somebody I didn’t know had given me some packages. I thought of saying that to annoy them, but then decided to keep it to myself.

First Phase:

I walked through the metal detector and my computer, my handbag, and my shoes went through another one. Only at this point did they asked me for my boarding pass, so I had to present it like other passengers.

Second Phase:

While boarding this international flight, I had to show my passport in order to the airplane. Some passengers boarded without any problems. Then it was my turn. The green passport’s turn…

The agents chose to search me in front of everybody. When I left the line they started searching me again. They began searching my belonging piece by piece, and took samples from my luggage to be examined.

The worst thing was the way these security agents were looking at me. The gave me looks of hatred and resentment and most of all, they had looks of (curse)

While boarding, I looked at the passengers. Some of them had fear on their faces and then an idea struck me. What if you are on the plane and you see an Arabic person and you hear him threatening to do something, or even you think that he will commit a terrorist act?

Do you report him?
Do you leave the plane?
Do you stay on the plane and pray?
What do you do?

Translated from Arabic by Elias Saber

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