As a former professor of Anti-Terrorism law, I am an expert on the subject and should really be on CNN giving my two dinars worth on defeating extremism. My experience flying as an Arab (Iraqi Catholic) is not unique to me. Fellow bloggers (Muslim Travel Girl and Travel Summary) have shared similar stories.
As a child, I always went through security separate from my parents because their passport said ‘Birthplace: Iraq’ while mine said United States. Sorry mom, enhanced interrogation techniques is not a family affair. You and dad are on your own. Minutes or hours later, their bags disheveled but their dignity still intact, my parents finally made it through security. I hope they let you keep the curry you bought from the bazaar. It smelled suspiciously delightful.
Then September 11th happened. After that, it didn’t matter if my passport said United States or if my name was Alexander Smith instead of Bachuwa. All TSA saw was a young, handsome ‘Arab looking’ man. This meant that I was entitled to VIP treatment.
Here is what that entailed:
After walking through screening machine:
TSA Agent: Sir you have been randomly selected for additionally screening.
Me: Randomly selected?! (Ickey Shuffle ensues)
Agent: Sir, please take a seat.
Me: Oh how nice they want me to be comfortable.
Agent: Please take off your shoes.
Me: They really are pulling out all the stops.
Agent: Sir, we are going to run your bag again through the machine.
Me: How personal!
Agent: Sir, I need to swipe your hands.
Me: How thoughtful to make sure I wasn’t exposed to explosives.
Agent: Sir, thank you and have a great flight.
Me: Who else gets that sort of red carpet treatment?
And off to the gate I went.
Being angry would have done nothing to stop this ‘random screening’ from occurring. In fact, I try to be all smiles before making my way to security in anticipation of the bullshit that I am about to endure. Terrorists have that stern, serious look, a dead giveaway that they are plotting something. Maybe if I’m happy and easy-going, the agent checking my passport will see that I am not one of them. My field tests have shown that this approach doesn’t work.
Maybe if I sign up for Global Entry I can avoid the hassle of extra screening. Global Entry makes it unnecessary for the government to spy on me since I’m voluntarily giving them access to all of TPOL’s deepest, darkest secrets e.g., I once got a speeding ticket going 50 in a 35 when I was 16. The first time I used Global Entry I was stopped for ‘random screening’. The last time I flew I received extra, extra screening thanks to the Superman SSSS tatted on my chest. I hope they enjoyed running all my electronics one at a time through the x-ray machine. My poor Jambox always has to suffer invasive touching on account of my ethnicity.
Even if I could rationalize the need for extra screening at international airports, I still can’t figure out why I was stopped (with TSA PreCheck) at the tiniest airport. All I could do was laugh.
And that’s my point. If you are of Arab descent, Muslim, or if you’re from South America and happen to look like you could be from Yemen, be sure to pack your sense of humor before you arrive at the airport. Like many of us who have gone through the charade of airport security, you too will be subject to VIP treatment and it isn’t because you are flying Etihad Apartments. It’s because you look the way you do.
I used to think that I was performing my civic duty by dealing with this nonsense. My reasoning was that many terrorists today are of Arab descent and their actions eliminated the benefit of the doubt for people who look like me. If I have to endure a few minutes of embarrassment in the interest of national security, so be it.
The truth is profiling does not keep us safer. It wastes the time of law-abiding citizens. It is predictable and misguided. While Mr. TSA is running chemical experiments on my carry on, the Scooby-Doo perpetrator is sneaking by checkpoints disguised in a blond wig and hipster lensless eyeware.
Maybe somebody should stop him for being a douche bag.