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November 3, 2002
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"The first flight we took my wife and I, we were greeted by a ticket agent who cheerfully told us that we had been selected randomly for a special security check. Then it began to happen at every single stop, at every single airport. The random process took on a 100 per cent certitude." Canadian award winning writer Rohinton Mistry cancels his US book tour after being subjected to racial profiling.
posted by tranquileye (78 comments total)

 
"I did feel for the first few weeks, right through to December when I was travelling, that a brown skin and a beard were not a felicitous combination..."
and thats the way he should have stayed feeling. i suppose the politically correct non-thinkers feel we should be waving all indians, pakistanis and other middle eastern peoples through without a glance to display our trust and brotherhood, while concentrating our anti-terror precautions on hippies and old maid caucasians. if you want to intercept a volkswagon beetle, you don't keep your eyes peeled for humvees.
posted by quonsar at 6:28 AM on November 3, 2002


Um, yeah, and how 'bout that *other* terrorist in recent memory, you know, Tim McVeigh. If the recently accused DC sniper turns out to be the real killer in that case, perhaps we should start doing "random" security checks on all people who used to be in the military. That seems a fairly good indicator.
posted by wheat at 6:46 AM on November 3, 2002


From one of the sidebar articles: "The type of treatment people get when they cross the border is left to the discretion of each individual immigration officer," said Audrey Jamal, executive director of the federation."

And that's always been the problem. I can't tell you how many times I've crossed the border wondering when I'll get out of the airport. Most of the guards are doing their job under trying circumstances. Some simply are in it for the power.

As for the danger of profiling: if you know the guards are stopping Volkswagen Beetles...you make sure they find a few while you start sending undercover Audis.
posted by ?! at 6:47 AM on November 3, 2002


Yeah Qunsar, the darkies should be made to travel on their own transport and shouldn't be allowed into the same areas as honest, god fearing white folks. Maybe there should be laws to stop them living in white neighbourhoods?
posted by daveg at 6:51 AM on November 3, 2002


what is there to say to this...? this is a nation that is running around like a chicken with it's head cut off trying to achieve something that's unattainable. they won't be able to prevent further attacks and they don't have anyone smart enough to come up with better, less alienating policies. who could...? there's no such thing as "mission impossible" or "james bond". people who work for homeland security, the military, or your various intel agencies are just regular 21st century janes and joes, bumbling along doing the best they can. throw in some good old fashioned american racism and you have a world renowned author routinely humiliated and harassed during a book tour. pathetic, yes. surprising, no.
posted by t r a c y at 6:55 AM on November 3, 2002


Setting aside racial profiling for a minute, I think this guy should know that it's not only middle-estern looking people who get this. My mother, for example, gets stopped all the time, and she's a blonde caucasian from virginia in her 50's. So, it's not so much racial profiling, the screeners act like assholes to alot of people...
posted by unreason at 6:57 AM on November 3, 2002


my remarks were about the idiocy of pc thinking as applied to airport security in the post-brown-skinned-muslim-terrorist-attack america, and implied no racism.

?!, i appreciate what you say, but mcveigh is a limp argument, mcveighs are few and far between. so are domestic snipers. the 'war on terror' is, like it or not, a war on potential brown-skinned-muslim terrorists - there are a lot of those, and they have made regular threats, and carried more than a few of them out.

daveg, you are an asshole, and there's no way to even profile one of those.

and on preview, what t r a c y said.
posted by quonsar at 7:02 AM on November 3, 2002


This same heinous treatment happens to my father. He travels as part of business and often gets stopped at every airport in his route. Of course, he's a white guy in his mid-fifties. I think security is also picking on people travelling alone.
posted by yerfatma at 7:09 AM on November 3, 2002


I've done a huge amount of international traveling on business over the last 15 years. Twice I've had to get new pages added to my US passport. I've learned that when I take an airplane, I have to make sure to shave and dress well. Every time I don't, I get to spend some time answering extremely detailed questions at immigration about everything I've ever done ("what was the name of the person you visited in Turkey 18 months ago?"), or else watching the customs inspectors take apart my bags. Sometimes the immigration inspectors can be very aggressive and contemptuous. In Europe, this is pretty much the same both pre- and post- 9/11.

And I'm "white", albeit a dark Mediterranean version of white. This has nothing to do with racial profiling -- it's beard profiling. Here's a picture of the author. If he shaved his beard and wore a suit when he travelled, maybe he'd have no problem.

In an ideal world, the authorities would magically separate the bad guys from the good ones. Law enforcement has always had its idea of who looks suspicious. Many years ago, my company sent a Slovakian developer to the US for a week to give a training course. He was denied entry at immigration. I've known a 19-year-old French girl as well who was turned back from the US because she spoke English well and had an open ticket. The Swiss will make your life miserable if they think you're coming into the country to launder money. Every country has its criteria.

I've learned the rules: stay polite, always leave an extra hour for complications at international borders, always tell your travelling companions with EU passports to wait for you to come through immigration, know how to give the right answers. Crying racism, talking about "visions of Guantanamo and of concrete slabs", and cancelling his tour all seem a bit petulant and melodramatic to me.
posted by fuzz at 7:12 AM on November 3, 2002


Mistry is a serious A-list author, and a major, major name in Canadian literature (and with a not too shabby reputation elsewhere in the English-speaking world). He got picked by Oprah, fer cryin' out loud. In the grand scheme of things an author is a minor celebrity, but you'd think that one or two of these screeners might have heard of the guy. Additionally, he would likely not have encountered this flying domestically in Canada, so he's probably noticing the difference as much as anything else.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:19 AM on November 3, 2002


Y'know, the general opinion of "it's not that bad, really" is why our personal freedoms are being slowly eroded over the last couple of years.

As for petulant and melodramatic, I seem to remember that the United States just deported to Syria a Syria-born Canadian for no apparent reason, despite protests by Canada and the fact that he is a Canadian citizen. We've been holding Canadian citizens incommunicado for months, and letting Canada know about it when we feel like it. I think this author has some valid concerns.

The United States feels that it now has the ability to countermand the policies and laws of other countries in its role as avenging angel, and Canadians are taking steps to ensure that they're not caught in the cross-fire.
posted by FormlessOne at 7:32 AM on November 3, 2002


This is a total comedy of errors and it's getting out of control when it comes to Canadian citizens. It tells a lot about a nation, when you're seen to be abusing your good neighbor with such regularity and it leads me to believe that Canada and the usa will never be truly good friends and allies (not that this breaks my heart in any capacity). How can that ever be when you consider that the majority of Canadians aren't white? And hello with the racial profiling. What is the point of it if you're too stupid to tell the difference between ethnicities? Oh, maybe because people's facial features don't always follow the rules. So look at the passport Mr. I-Got-My-GED airport security, Canada isn't on your axis of evil and Rohinton Mistry is a Canadian.

Once I've let the initial, fleeting feeling of outrage pass over me I find the usa has never been more entertaining. The Keystone Kops are in charge, Cnn is the new comedy network.

mcwetboy - with the amount of credit you're affording american airport screeners they'd be eligible for a college degree and a much better job.
posted by zarah at 7:58 AM on November 3, 2002


"Crying racism, talking about "visions of Guantanamo and of concrete slabs", and cancelling his tour all seem a bit petulant and melodramatic to me"

thank goodness for rational.

this is a nation that is running around like a chicken with it's head cut off trying to achieve something that's unattainable.
Whos nation, yours or mine. So, Canada is running around with it's head cut off? Is Henny Penny involved? What is unattainable, airport security? Heres a clue for you, look at history, cross reference El- Al airlines.

"people who work for homeland security, the military, or your various intel agencies are just regular 21st century janes and joes, bumbling along doing the best they can"

It was the keen observation of a U.S. boarder patrol agent who found explosive materials on a terrorist coming into the U.S. from Canada that prevented the so-called millennium bombings.

throw in some good old fashioned american racism and you have a world renowned author routinely humiliated and harassed during a book tour. pathetic, yes. surprising, no.

What has happened to this author is sad. But it should make him stronger. And before you ram this crap down the our throats, check out Soviet oppression against real writers like Havel or Soltzhenitsyn for starters.
posted by clavdivs at 8:00 AM on November 3, 2002


clavdivs you miss my sympathy for the entire situation. the agencies i mentioned are indeed staffed by ordinary folks, yet everyone expects super hero results - which don't exist and will never occur. this leads to a lot of american agencies running around like chickens with their heads cut off. as for henny penny, the sky already fell. surely you noticed.

oppression of authors...? what has any of this got to do with oppression of the arts...? this is about the racial profiling of Canadians. it matters not whether Mistry is an accountant or an author.
posted by t r a c y at 8:33 AM on November 3, 2002


Although it's undoubtedly terrible that anyone should be inconvenienced by the fact that a fairly large, well-financed, and occasionally effective group wants to wipe western civilization off the face of the earth by any means necessary, isn't it handy that this clever fellow has managed to find out of this sadness the means to get far more publicity in a matter of days than he would have in years of touring high-school auditoriums. Perhaps he should remember that if you cancel book tours because can't bear the scrutiny of customs inspectors, the terrorists have wo
posted by BGM at 8:49 AM on November 3, 2002


n.
posted by BGM at 8:51 AM on November 3, 2002


And before you ram this crap down the our throats, check out Soviet oppression against real writers like Havel or Soltzhenitsyn for starters.

Is that what we've come to? At least we're better than the Soviets were? Hey, we're better than the Chinese and North Koreans, too! Why don't we make that our new national motto? America...we may be assholes, but we're not as bad as those other assholes.

Unfortunately, things haven't really changed very much over the last 40 years. Remember when John Lennon couldn't get a visa because of his pot bust? Remember when having long hair and a beard guaranteed that any cop in viewing range gave you the evil eye?

I'm a middle-aged white guy, and on my last business trip, I got stopped 3 out of 4 flights for a random search. If my skin was darker, I would probably have thought that I'd been profiled as well. How much of Mistry's complaint was real and how much was paranoia is impossible to know for sure. But if we accept profiling on the basis of skin color or appearance as a necessity, then we're a short step away from persecution and witch hunts.
posted by norm29 at 8:53 AM on November 3, 2002


Stopping Indians, Pakistanis and other 'suspicious' looking types at airport security is no different from the police stopping all black people driving BMWs or Mercedes on the grounds that they're more likely to be drug dealers, or to have stolen the car.

Racism is racism, having a reason for being a racist doesn't make it any better.

The 'security' actions taken by airports and airlines in the last year or so are generally pathetic. The only goal that is being sought is making sure that the traveling public feel safer, so that they will fly.
posted by daveg at 9:02 AM on November 3, 2002


I empathize completely with the desperation the US Intel community must be feeling. I don't agree with the morality of racial profiling, but also can't disagree with the logic behind it.

Unfortunately, these measures may stop the odd wacko but I don't think that this will stop the next major terrorist attack on americans. Those who will be responsible for that attack are probably already in the US and not doing a lot of travelling these days.

We are dealing with some intelligent,well funded, 'willing to die for the cause' bad people.

Remember that Usama et al were planning the last attack for years :

'The United States intelligence community was told in 1998 that Arab terrorists were planning to fly a bomb-laden aircraft into the World Trade Centre, but the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration did not take the threat seriously, a congressional investigation into the September 11 attacks has found.'

I can't help but think that they will have taken into account the imposing 'Hey you look arab, let me look in that bag' defense.
posted by canucklehead at 9:02 AM on November 3, 2002


Why don't we make that our new national motto? America...we may be assholes, but we're not as bad as those other assholes.

Actually, I kind of like that motto. Can I get it on a t-shirt anywhere?
posted by stifford at 9:31 AM on November 3, 2002


I am a blonde caucasian female....I get checked every time I enter the country. No matter who I am with or If I am alone for that matter. They ALWAYS proclaim that it is random. Somehow after 7 searches in a row without them finding a thing...I highly doubt it.
posted by SweetIceT at 9:49 AM on November 3, 2002


"While 50,000 federal screeners are being hired at the nation's airports to check passengers, only the tiniest percentage of containers, ships, trucks, and trains that enter the United States each day are subject to examination-and a weapon of mass destruction could well be hidden among this cargo. Should the maritime or surface elements of America's global transportation system be used as a weapon delivery device, the response right now would almost certainly be to shut the system down at an enormous cost to the economies of the United States and its trade partners."
posted by homunculus at 9:58 AM on November 3, 2002


SweetIceT: You may be profiled for a different reason.
posted by ?! at 10:01 AM on November 3, 2002


Why don't we make that our new national motto? America...we may be assholes, but we're not as bad as those other assholes.

When it comes down to it, that's basically all anyone can say in their own defense.
posted by kindall at 10:16 AM on November 3, 2002


and thats the way he should have stayed feeling.

So unless he shaves his beard and paints his skin white, he deserves whatever he gets?

i suppose the politically correct non-thinkers feel we should be waving all indians, pakistanis and other middle eastern peoples through without a glance to display our trust and brotherhood....

"Non-thinkers," eh? Cute. When have Indians ever committed a terrorist attack against the U.S.?

if you want to intercept a volkswagon beetle, you don't keep your eyes peeled for humvees.

This is exactly the reasoning the police use for pulling over blacks and hispanics in expensive cars as part of our "War on Drugs." Now the "War on Terror" gives authorities probable cause to harass Middle Easterners. What's left? There must be some excuse for our government to systematically discriminate against asians too....

I agree with wheat. When white people commit heinous crimes, you don't see the government calling for a search of every white person who passes through the airport. Isn't there some way to search everyone thoroughly?
posted by hyperizer at 10:19 AM on November 3, 2002


Of course, it's worth noting that the entire "security measures" thang down at the airports is a complete load of bullshit.

They could ban everything that's long and pointed, and it'd still be utterly worthless. Any modern carryon luggage has an extensible handle. Snap that puppy off, and you've got a weapon. Or take one's shoelaces out and use them as a garrot. Or learn a martial art, and become a weapon oneself.

And then there are suicidal pilots. Over the past decade, more airplanes were crashed in America because of pilot suicide than because of terrorism.

It's all a cheap and silly act -- performance art, really -- to make the gullible and stupid believe that they're safe.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:21 AM on November 3, 2002


Agreed fff.....
posted by SweetIceT at 10:31 AM on November 3, 2002


the agencies i mentioned are indeed staffed by ordinary folks,
(scratches aquaman from list to head the Coast Guard)

which don't exist and will never occur
really, i mean...what the heck do you mean.-

which don't exist and will never occur. this leads to a lot of american agencies running around like chickens with their heads cut off
I can borrow this analogy?

the sky already fell. surely you noticed
surely i have a better historical context then you. review Saipan, Pearl Harbor, Cold Harbor.

oppression of authors...? what has any of this got to do with oppression of the arts...?

them dam writers, always trying to equate themselves with the arts.

this is about the racial profiling of Canadians
you must have read another examples by members posted after your initial post. I say we cut out the profiling and search everyone thoroughly.
posted by clavdivs at 11:00 AM on November 3, 2002


Cheap and silly act, indeed. And increasingly pathetic. And utterly and incomprehensibly non-standardized.

For instance, at many small town airports --the one I came through in Iowa this morning, for example-- they stop cars on the way into the airport and make you pop your trunk to look inside. I had roughly 6 large bags of equipment in there. They didn't open them, test them, inspect them, or question me as to their contents. They just created an enormously long line of cars having to pop their trunks. I suppose if there had been a giant round, black sphere with a lit fuse coming out of the top that might have caught their attention, but who knows. As far as I can tell, they were just checking to make sure there was an inside to my trunk.

In Cincinatti, I believe, they throw in an extra random search near the ticket counter. Never mind that you could easily just leave your bag in the line next to someone and go get searched. They also informed me I couldn't check my bag at the curb since I was marked for random search. Gee, isn't the point of the random search to catch someone unawares? This is the same airport that recently shot a (possibly terrorist) schnauzer for rushing the runway.

I travel a lot in a group, and we have named the tendency to overofficiousnes and brain-dead security concerns 'Fifeism', in honor of one of law enforcment's heroes. It appalls me that the general populace buy into this crap.

Short of letting people carry nothing on board, not even their own clothing, and then drugging or restraining them for the duration of the flight, you cannot stop someone determined to cause other people physical harm on a plane. The greatest security enhancement in place is the new willingness of passengers to take matters into their own hands when trouble arises. And this --naturally-- is the one thing that has nothing to do with official security. The rest is a smokescreen and a hassle: a wave of the magician's left hand so you can't see the right hand is completely empty.
posted by umberto at 11:00 AM on November 3, 2002


Three things that may have already been pointed out, but need to be reiterated:

1) I don't really see much racism when I travel in the "random" searches. As a young, white man, what I see is a lot of young men getting random searches. Which makes sense, as far as I can tell. It's a hassle, sure. But racism?

2) ?!'s link about sexism in flight must have been written by someone who doesn't ever fly. One women complains that they checked the "inside band of [her] slacks." I hate to break the news, but they do that to the guys, too. It sounds to me, from the article, that most of the "sexist cases" were just the same, routine search that everyone gets.

3) These searches are more to make people feel better than anything. And it's highly inefficient. I'm sure someone is working on a way to standardize the system, but it doesn't make me feel any safer. In any case, given that 4 planes in the last 20 years have been hijacked in America, I don't think it's that big of a safety concern anyway.
posted by Kevs at 11:33 AM on November 3, 2002


it's worth noting that the entire "security measures" thang down at the airports is a complete load of bullshit.

Which makes this notion of "stimulating reactions" that much more disturbing.
posted by homunculus at 11:45 AM on November 3, 2002


Boo hoo hoo, so many hurt feelings. Has anyone realized that this episode is a gift for everyone involved?

Rohinton Mistry - gets lots of sympathy and publicity.

Chattering Leftists of Canada - get some more evidence to support their long-held belief that the United States is a horrible place populated by gun-toting, racist hicks.

Americans - avoid exposure to the windy, rambling (and boring) writings of Mr. Mistry.

MeFites - an opportunity to debate the issues of racial profiling and the war on terror for the thousandth time.

Always look on the bright side of life . . .
posted by pooligan at 12:24 PM on November 3, 2002


I'm willing to bet that all of his problems stem from flying with one-way tickets on his book tour, and not his appearance.
posted by reverendX at 12:25 PM on November 3, 2002


I'm willing to bet the first time he finds himself on an airplane heading towards a skyscraper at somewhere around Mach One, he regrets that secruity wasn't even more draconian than it was.

The attitude that we can't have perfect security so let us have less and, by all means, let it be fair, fair, fair puzzles me. It all seems pulled out of some abstract notions popular only in the rarified realms of "how the world should be, damnit" rather than facing how the world is.

In the world as it is, the number of people seeking to hijack and destroy airplanes in midflight that are of Norwegian descent and of the female persuasion in wheelchairs is somewhere south of absolute zero. Yet I have seen these sorts pulled out of line and subjected to wanding and interrogation.

That security officers might, just might, pull someone, somewhere out of line for a closer interview based solely on "looks" is actually comforting to me. I suspect that it is secretly comforting to many here who would assert otherwise.

Is the US a vast collection of loopholes and slide-bys as far as perfect security is concerned. Yes it is. But that doesn't mean we should just shrug our shoulders and lie down and wait to get hit again.

This "noted" Canadian author is just having a case of "I'm really, really special and why these security officers haven't read my books and memorized my famous face is an assault on my integrity" snit.

No pity here. Stay home and write more. That's the job.
posted by boswell at 12:46 PM on November 3, 2002


One thing that no one has pointed out yet is that-at least for the folks screening at the metal detector/x-ray thing-they are getting paid minimum wage.

Does that explain anything?
posted by konolia at 1:16 PM on November 3, 2002


Boswell...not sure what you mean to imply by putting "noted" in quotation marks. Rohinton Mistry is a distinguished, popular and award-winning author. And staying home and writing is only part of the job. Going on book tours to promote your work is an important part of the job of any published author (according to the publishing companies that is).
posted by Badmichelle at 1:26 PM on November 3, 2002


America...we may be assholes, but we're not as bad as those other assholes.

new tagline

MetaFilter -- we may be assholes, but we're not as bad as those other assholes
posted by matteo at 1:27 PM on November 3, 2002


I'm willing to bet the first time he finds himself on an airplane heading towards a skyscraper at somewhere around Mach One, he regrets that secruity wasn't even more draconian than it was.

Yes, and the first time I'm attacked in a dark alley I'm sure I'll regret that a giant, violent policeman doesn't actually follow me everywhere I go making sure I do no harm. He sure would come in useful then.

How draconian you wanna get? Passengers restrained, Lector-style in their seats? That's what it would take. But even if you consider the horror of actual, effective security, why expend time and effort and money on huge public displays that have absolutely no effect whatsoever on real security? It is a sham, a waste, and a bother. And I'm made to feel like a dunderheaded sheep each time I'm forced to pretend that it's effective. Which I'd better damn well do or Barney will get his bullet out and put it in his gun.
posted by umberto at 1:44 PM on November 3, 2002


What is this "airport security = performance art" thing? What in the world would possibly give you this idea? As though somehow it would be better if we gave up the act and had no security at all? Businesspeople always talk about how many things they've 'smuggled' onto planes, but smuggling a pocketknife and some foie gras doesn't frighten me. Very few are bringing guns or real weapons onto planes; and security checkpoints are a venue where officials can check you out if you're suspicious-looking. Where else would that happen?

Airport security is a deterrent and an obstacle, and any obstacles we can put in the way of terrorism or violence sound good to me. I deeply respect Rohinton Mistry (his books, if anyone's read them, are truly classics in their own time), and I agree that racial profiling is bad. But airport security in the main is a good thing. It can certainly be improved (did anyone read "Homeland Insecurity"?) but it serves a purpose the same way cop cars on street corners or pickable locks on your front door make things more difficult for bad people.
posted by josh at 1:47 PM on November 3, 2002


This "noted" Canadian author is just having a case of "I'm really, really special and why these security officers haven't read my books and memorized my famous face is an assault on my integrity" snit. No pity here. Stay home and write more. That's the job.

wow. ignorance rears its ugly head. you really haven't a clue what you're talking about, do you?
posted by dobbs at 2:52 PM on November 3, 2002


josh...I'm sure it's been said before, but no one was bringing guns onto planes *before* the new security measures. If the goal is no guns on a planes, the old security apparatus seemed to be doing a pretty good job, right?
posted by Kevs at 2:54 PM on November 3, 2002


I've learned the rules: stay polite, always leave an extra hour for complications at international borders, always tell your travelling companions with EU passports to wait for you to come through immigration, know how to give the right answers. Crying racism, talking about "visions of Guantanamo and of concrete slabs", and cancelling his tour all seem a bit petulant and melodramatic to me.

I agree. Like you, I travel extensively. I'm white, but get stopped virtually all of the time - largely (I believe) because I have a variety of middle-eastern nations stamped on my passport from business trips over the years. I understand that I fit one of a number of profiles that makes me quite a bit more likely than an 80 year old feeble grandmother to be a risk. Some of the profiles are based of ticketing & current itinerary, some on past travel, some on behavior, and yes, some on apparent racial origin.

There is a difference, however, between "racism" (a word it's very easy to throw around), and race being a legitimate part of intelligent security profiling. The fundamental security problem is one of data filtering with scarce resources: security screeners numbering in the thousands must screen travelers numbering in the millions on a daily basis.

The purpose of security is not to pat ourselves on the back about how colorblind we are - it is to stop flippin' terrorists from blowing shit up. Men are much more likely to pose a risk than women. In this country, people that appear middle-eastern (and people that have traveled extensively in the middle-east) are much more likely to pose a risk than a housewife from Dubuque Iowa is. (I say "in this country", because every country has it's own set of profiles, and almost all of them take race and origin into account ... the guy would always get stopped and questioned in China too ... not for looking middle-eastern, but for being North American).

This guy is being hyper-sensitive ... he is not being denied access to anything, he is being, at best, slightly inconvenienced. But it makes him (apparently) feel bad you see, and in Oprahland, that is a cardinal sin ... worth ceasing travel (and "speaking out") over.

He needs to grow up.
posted by MidasMulligan at 2:56 PM on November 3, 2002


This helps to restore my confidence in airport security, a field that is otherwise a public relations facade.

If middle-aged guys from the Middle East have an increased tendency to hijack airplanes, then airport security should by all means keep a particular eye on middle-aged guys from the middle east.

I think the issue of "racial profiling" is one of the surest examples of the idiocy of extreme political correctness. I can just imagine the police of the liberal utopia: "Uh, yeah, we're looking for a suspect believed to be human, either male or female, with skin, eyes, and hair. Suspect may or may not be a citizen of the United States, and may or may not have an accent. Go get 'im! ... or her!"
posted by oissubke at 3:37 PM on November 3, 2002


As though somehow it would be better if we gave up the act and had no security at all? Businesspeople always talk about how many things they've 'smuggled' onto planes, but smuggling a pocketknife and some foie gras doesn't frighten me. Very few are bringing guns or real weapons onto planes; and security checkpoints are a venue where officials can check you out if you're suspicious-looking. Where else would that happen?

You don't need "guns and real weapons" to hijack a plane. That little unscary pocket-knife will do just fine.

If you want more secure air travel, the best solution is to check everyone. Of course, that's a terribly costly solution and I know some American businessmen who are already complaining about how long it takes to get on a plane so I can't actually see that being implemented.

I've used Belfast airport. Everyone is frisked and wanded before you even reach check-in. My folded wallet of papers were checked to ensure they didn't contain any explosives. They don't stop just me because of my Irish colouring whilst letting my more obviously English colleagues through. They stop everyone.

It's a terribly easy assumption to make that any terrorist will be "suspicious looking". Terrorists can be any creed, colour or nationality. And do you really think they are stupid enough to look suspicious? Maybe they'll be dumb enough to wear "I'm a terrorist: ask me how" badges, thus making it even easier to find them? Surely examples of 'home grown' terrorism, such as Oklahoma and Atlanta bombs, the unabomber or the anthrax mailings, all based within the US, have demonstrated that it isn't a simple case of stopping the "suspicious looking" people from flying? Assuming that anyone who is non-Caucasian is 'suspicious-looking' is racism: it's being prejudiced against a person based solely on their ethnic origin.

If you want to truly improve air security, check everyone. Otherwise it is a charade.
posted by anyanka at 3:44 PM on November 3, 2002


I keep seeing random and no one quoting this: "Then it began to happen at every single stop, at every single airport. The random process took on a 100 per cent certitude."

It's very easy for those who get stopped once or twice to live with profiling. But would your attitude change if you were stopped every single time you travelled at every opportunity?

umberto's analogy offers a explanation. What is really happening at our airports to the liberties and freedoms on which we base our society?

Kevs: Read the article again. The woman you quoted (who had her waistband checked) was the one who blamed zeal not sexism. Read what the other women complained about.

When it becomes necessary to fondle breasts to check for weapons, then the security industry has fallen far behind the weapons industry.
posted by ?! at 3:48 PM on November 3, 2002


?!,

I haven't flown since 9/11 and not been searched. I think it's only been 6 or 7 times, but that's more than a coincidence. In St. Louis, I got stopped *twice*, removed my shoes *twice*, unpacked my bag *twice*.

I'm a white, young male.

No one is saying these checks are random. I think people are mainly suggesting that more than Middle Eastern-looking (and not just looking - he's of Iranian descent, right?) people are being stopped "randomly" in the same manner as the author. Is this good or bad? I dunno. Is it stopping terrorism? That's more questionable. Is it racist? I don't think so.

That's why we're suggesting the author just deal with the delays like the rest of us until the politicized frisking is reduced to more logical policies like bolted pilot's doors.
posted by Kevs at 4:17 PM on November 3, 2002


For the record, I, a white guy (these days, with a gotee) got 'randomly' stopped the last time I flew. I think it might have had to do with any of the following: 1) I was flying standby w/o any checked luggage, 2) I was flying on priceline tickets, 3) I'd bought the tickets less than one week before the flight.

I took it pretty well, but was annoying to have to be the last one on the plane, to have the inspector guy go through all my things, and to have all of this happen in the full view of everyone else boarding the plane.

I think increased security at airports and schools in the US is essential. But I don't think racial profiling or the current method of "random" searches by questionably qualified security staff is going make much difference. On top of that, they have to find a way to make it as hassel free and embarassment free as possible for the customers.

If you work in a beurocracy long, you'll find that people do things like this so, when it goes wrong later, they can say, "but look, we did X, Y, and Z!" Nevermind if X, Y, and Z aren't very well thought out solutions.
posted by wheat at 4:19 PM on November 3, 2002


I have been flying quite a bit more than usual recently for work, and although I happen to be quite liberal in general, I was so annoyed by being stopped and searched and ordered around every time I go to board an aircraft that I actually started thinking racial profiling might be preferable.

Of course, I haven't let this change my voting patterns. Still, I am possibly one of the WASPiest people you're likely to meet. When I go swimming, I've had children laugh at how white I am. My interests are fairly prosaic, and I listen to classical music. I spend almost all of my time working, studying, or visiting my family. I dress almost entirely in GAP clothes, so there's nothing terribly interesting there either.

They stop me every time. Every time, it's annoying, and time consuming. Every time, they let me through. This has actually happened twice before boarding a plane, and not just on one occasion.

The point of all my whining is this: if we are going to spend billions upon billions of dollars reorganizing the government, and growing the military in response to terrorism, and all this is being overseen by a bunch of supposedly shrewd and successful former businessmen, why the poor customer service? Can't we just throw in a few more billion to cover the cost of a way to reduce the annoyance of those who fly frequently? Why can't there be some way for a person to fill out a form, submit it to the FAA/FBI/CIA/NSA/UBERSTATE to have themselves voluntarily researched, profiled, and inspected, and if they pass they get a special "Get out of Hell Free" card for use in airports and at US borders. Who cares if the process takes 9 months to complete. When the card finally arrives, it would be a very nice thing indeed.

The best part is that this could be an option for everyone. So everyone who goes through the process of having themselves checked out and passes, gets to walk straight through security. Everyone who hasn't takes their chances with getting screened at the whim of every security official along the way. Those who apply for the card and fail, well they get checked out with something approaching a good reason.

It doesn't stop anybody from flying, and it's not a "permit to fly," so those who don't want the government poking around in their lives, don't have to. It relies on a factual background check, so it's not racist, or even nationalist. It's just a signal to security officials that "these aren't the droids you're looking for..."
posted by ruggles at 4:23 PM on November 3, 2002


they get a special "Get out of Hell Free" card for use in airports and at US borders.

they could be forged.
posted by clavdivs at 4:43 PM on November 3, 2002


No one is saying these checks are random. I think people are mainly suggesting that more than Middle Eastern-looking (and not just looking - he's of Iranian descent, right?) people are being stopped "randomly" in the same manner as the author.

did you even read the linked article?

The first flight we took my wife and I, we were greeted by a ticket agent who cheerfully told us that we had been selected randomly for a special security check.

...

Mr. Mistry, an native of India who came to Canada in 1975...
posted by dobbs at 5:22 PM on November 3, 2002


Anyanka -- I too have used airports around the world where everyone is fully searched and it is a great thing. What I'm saying is that the 'racial profiling sucks -- down with airport security' line of thinking is dumb. It is practically speaking impossible to search everyone at major airports; therefore, airport security chooses to search only a few. This is a partial solution, and not a 'facade,' as you are suggesting -- there is a difference between the two.
posted by josh at 5:53 PM on November 3, 2002


an airplane heading towards a skyscraper at somewhere around Mach One

Do you honestly think this technique will ever be successful again? It worked last year because it surprised everyone. Less than two hours later, the passengers on United flight 93 had already adapted. Now everyone knows that if someone hijacks your plane, you attack them, because they're probably going to kill you anyway. The problem is already solved.
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:13 PM on November 3, 2002


The passengers adapt, as do the terrorists. While every middle eastern-looking air traveller gets hassled over and over, the next terrorist attack is going to come completely out of nowhere, again, and is going to be something completely different.

But as long as people _feel_ safe, and contine going about their business and spending money, then all is well.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:44 PM on November 3, 2002


Beard profiling!!!?

Love it. What fuzz said.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:50 PM on November 3, 2002


the "cheerful" ticket agent
"visions of Guantanamo"
"you've been a naughty boy"

Does this guy make anybody else here feel like hicks are really great?
posted by shoos at 7:23 PM on November 3, 2002


I'm going on a trip soon, and thinking about what to pack. While mulling it over, I've decided that things must be looking up for folks who make this kind of stuff. Constant travelers must be buying and ditching items like this over and over again.
posted by websavvy at 7:49 PM on November 3, 2002


Personally, my experience so far with the "random" searches is that they are anything but random. And they're painfully easy to predict who's getting pulled out. Every time I've flown recently, the next person to be randomly selected was the person that next had their ticket taken when the security people had finished with the person before them (at least for those checks at the gate). With a little bit of timing it'd be easy to avoid them.

Ironically for me is that before all this stuff happened I was always getting pulled out when I checked my luggage for special checks on my luggage before. They always claimed it was random, but I'm firmly convinced that it was my long hair. Since september 11, I've never actually had that happen to me. Biggest problem I've had since then is having my shoes wanded and the idiocy of having people remove laptops from cases when going through security. (Where they seem to have a nasty habit of trying to separate you from said laptop).

I'm also real sick of the people who check cars before going into airport parking lots (and for the person that said that was happening at small airports, it actually seems fairly common, I've had it happen at Detroit's airport, and I've seen people sitting at the entrances to parking lots on 3 islands in Hawaii). The check they do is cursory at best, and a large percentage of them seem to smoke, which means as soon as you open the car up the car ends up reeking of smoke.
posted by piper28 at 9:22 PM on November 3, 2002


"Uh, yeah, we're looking for a suspect believed to be human, either male or female, with skin, eyes, and hair. Suspect may or may not be a citizen of the United States, and may or may not have an accent. Go get 'im! ... or her!"

Perfect example.

But be careful with that word 'suspect', that's insensitive to, um... well, 'people-who-have-done-things-that-have-caused-us-to-search-for-them'...

Or something.
posted by hama7 at 10:00 PM on November 3, 2002


Airport security is a deterrent and an obstacle...

Only to the less-than-bright who have no intention of doing anything bad in the first place. To someone willing to kill themselves and clever enough to deploy something like broken glass, sharpened plastic, bone, a bludgeon or lots of other things that I'm sure they think about a lot more than I do, it is merely a hassle and an inconvenience, just like it is to the rest of us. If all of this effort is being expended to annoy the terrorists so much they quit flying, I doubt it will be effective.
posted by umberto at 10:51 PM on November 3, 2002


If middle-aged guys from the Middle East have an increased tendency to hijack airplanes, then airport security should by all means keep a particular eye on middle-aged guys from the middle east.

Let's look at some actual non-thinking. If we grant the assertion that this is our target demographic for terrorists, (I think most terrorists are probably younger than middle age) then wouldn't it stand to reason that someone who's not (1) Arab (2) Muslim (3) of middle-eastern descent would be waved through?

That's what many of you don't seem to understand: Mistry is not Arab, Muslim, or of Middle Eastern descent. He's Canadian, for pete's sake, they're harmless! But you reveal your xenophobia, your lack of logic and your probable comfort with racism that doesn't affect you when you say that "well, arab muslim middle easterners are the threat, so if some guy is inconvenienced, even though he's none of those things, that's just being reasonable."
posted by anildash at 4:23 AM on November 4, 2002


I've a great idea - All the white Metafilterians should post stories of how we're always being stopped in airports, then all the non-white Metafilterians will know conclusively that airport security is not about racism and that they should stop whingeing. I got stopped and searched entering Egypt once, and I'm white! You non-whites should all feel better and safer now.
posted by niceness at 4:37 AM on November 4, 2002


Mistry is not Arab, Muslim, or of Middle Eastern descent. He's Canadian, for pete's sake, they're harmless!

Um, did you read the article?
"By background, he is Parsi — a Zoroastrian sect that migrated from Persia to India centuries ago."
His nationality is Canadian, his ancestors have lived in India for some centuries, and his ethnicity is Middle Eastern (probably mixed with some of the Indian ethnicities). How are the screeners supposed to know he's 'harmless'?
"[CIA director George] Tenet said...government agencies should have paid much more heed to the threat of domestic attacks after Al-Qaida operative Ahmed Ressam was arrested in December 1999 while crossing the Canadian border into Washington state with a car full of explosives. Ressam was later convicted of plotting to blow up the Los Angeles airport during the millennium celebration."
Still think people of Middle Eastern descent crossing from Canada to the US are 'harmless'?

I'm sorry Mistry was inconvenienced. But I see no difference with this than police stopping lots of people with white vans when it was thought the DC sniper was driving a white van. It's inconvenient for them, but it's a reasonable procedure if you want to catch criminals. It's just unfortunate that some people are similar, in their vans or their ethnicity, to suspected criminals.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 5:26 AM on November 4, 2002


Slithy_Tove: I can buy a new van. I can't buy a new ethnicity.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 5:33 AM on November 4, 2002


niceness, we *have* seen something akin to that in this thread - a passel of anecdotal but suggestive accounts by self-identified "white" folks, noting that they had been "randomly" stopped and search e.g. four out of five flights, if they were flying on one-way tickets or met profiles in certain other ways.

The theory advanced above makes perfect sense to me. I'm willing to extend an assumption of good faith here and assume until proven otherwise that Mr. Mistry's non-random experiences have more to do with his matching other profile parameters than skin color.
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:36 AM on November 4, 2002


Slithy_Tove : "By background, he is Parsi — a Zoroastrian sect that migrated from Persia to India centuries ago."
His nationality is Canadian, his ancestors have lived in India for some centuries, and his ethnicity is Middle Eastern

Note that it says centuries ago, the guy is "stereotypically" indian looking. And you probably haven't met a lot of Iranians, half of them are -by US standards- *very* "white".
posted by talos at 6:25 AM on November 4, 2002


adamgreenfield: I was being sarcastic. I'm not making an immediate assumption that this man was stopped due to his colour, but equally I wouldn't suggest it couldn't be racial profiling simply because so many of 'us' (white metafilterians) are regularly stopped.

This anecdotal evidence seems to outweigh logic for a number of people - maybe if a few non-white, middle eastern looking people posted stories of their easy passage through immigration then it might be more convincing. I imagine a few of the paranoid on here would then be worried, shocked and writing to the authorities.

I live in the UK and guess what? I don't believe it's necessary for the police to question every red haired Irish-speaking male lurking near a pub, if they did use such crude profiling I suspect innocent people would be imprisoned while the real terrorists get away.
posted by niceness at 7:20 AM on November 4, 2002


What is this "airport security = performance art" thing? What in the world would possibly give you this idea? As though somehow it would be better if we gave up the act and had no security at all? Businesspeople always talk about how many things they've 'smuggled' onto planes, but smuggling a pocketknife and some foie gras doesn't frighten me. Very few are bringing guns or real weapons onto planes; and security checkpoints are a venue where officials can check you out if you're suspicious-looking. Where else would that happen?

What would make me think the security measures are performance art? Oh, let's see -- could it be that they were confiscating tweezers, but allowing knitting needles?

Reality check, Josh: how many American airplanes departing American airports have been hijacked and at least one passenger killed over the past thirty years?

Answer: excepting 9/11, NONE.

Whatever security measures were in place prior to 2001 sure seem to have been perfectly adequate.

Want to blow up an airplane tomorrow? Pack your rectum full of plastic explosives and set the timer. You'll get on the airplane with no problems at all, even if you're a dark-skinned, heavily-accented, turban-wearing, bearded Islamic.

Until such time as passengers are stripped naked and MRI-scanned, there is no security. You are deluding yourself if you think the security measures are preventing any halfway-intelligent individual from crashing the plane.

The airline security measures are focused on entirely the wrong thing. Hassling passengers is not the best means to improve safety. Locked bulkheads, air marshalls, and -- oh, please! -- psychological profiling of the pilots and air marshalls (over 200 people died when a suicidal co-pilot crashed an EgyptAir flight out of JFK airport.)

What we have for airport security is a badly-acted performance that is ineffective at actually ensuring our safety. We deserve better.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:12 AM on November 4, 2002


allaboutgeorge: Strawman. Nobody can buy a new van in time to avoid a police search. If the cops get a report of a stolen vehicle, and yours matches it, you're likely to get stopped. They're not bigoted against your vehicle, but they want to find their car thief, and you had the bad luck to have a similar vehicle.

If the killer was described as blonde and blue-eyed, and so are you, you may be stopped and questioned. That's bad luck. That's all it is. Right now, the major terrorist groups threatening the US are Middle Eastern. People who might be Middle Eastern on the basis of their appearance are going to be inconvenienced. That's bad luck. That's all it is.

Let the Aryan Nations fly a couple of planes into Toronto's International Festival of Authors, and I'll bet Mr. Mistry wouldn't mind a bit if white guys from Idaho came in for extra scrutiny at airports. And I'll bet he wouldn't think it was a major human rights violation if occasionally they searched a Californian by accident.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:21 AM on November 4, 2002


Sithy_Tove: Nice to be lucky, isn't it?
posted by allaboutgeorge at 10:27 AM on November 4, 2002


I don't believe it's necessary for the police to question every red haired Irish-speaking male lurking near a pub

Flying on a 747 stuffed with humans presents a much better opportunity for wreaking easy and massive destruction than lurking near a pub, no?
posted by shoos at 10:51 AM on November 4, 2002


shoos: no.

Provisional IRA's history of violence
----
October 1974: Guildford pub bombing on British mainland. Five die, 44 injured.

November 1974: Birmingham pub bombings. 19 dead, 182 injured.
----

The 747 is a larger bomb, yes. However. a step-van near a pub is much more difficult to identify and stop. Americans were surprised in a single horrible act which I doubt will be repeated. How will Americans react when they're forced to live under the same conditions as the British?

Didn't the American airport security recently stop asking the silly "Has anyone you don't know handled your bags?" question.

By the way, who can tell me how one hijacks a plane with nail clippers. I keep hearing how they're confiscated, but I can't seem to imagine how they'd be used.
posted by ?! at 11:55 AM on November 4, 2002


Flying on a 747 stuffed with humans presents a much better opportunity for wreaking easy and massive destruction than lurking near a pub, no?

No - a bomb is a bomb. Read the link, those whose only crime was being Irish in the wrong place at the wrong time cost them half their lives in prison.

On preview, as ?! said...
posted by niceness at 12:00 PM on November 4, 2002


The 747 is a larger bomb, yes. However. a step-van near a pub is much more difficult to identify and stop.

So you'd advocate thoroughly screening people sitting in step-vans full of explosives parked near pubs, then, right?

A creative terrorist (no, not the one with nail clippers) might just be in that kind of position. Richard Reid came quite close, didn't he. All those people were saved merely by him having an only semi-functional brain.
posted by shoos at 12:53 PM on November 4, 2002


No - a bomb is a bomb

500-kton warhead, M-80, same difference.
posted by shoos at 12:58 PM on November 4, 2002


His nationality is Canadian, his ancestors have lived in India for some centuries, and his ethnicity is Middle Eastern

Hmm. His family's been Indian for centuries, and that constitutes middle eastern to you? It's interesting how hungry some people are for justifications for idiocy.

For those of you not familiar with what Parsi men look like, Freddy Mercury was probably the most famous Parsi man in the U.S. and U.K. in recent history.
posted by anildash at 1:04 PM on November 4, 2002


shoos: no, lets station guards at every corner who randomly stop step vans for a complete search. Think of the the drop in unemployment.
posted by ?! at 3:24 PM on November 4, 2002


anildash: And look what it got poor Mr. Bulsara.
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:21 PM on November 4, 2002


I too was searched at every stop in a 3-leg flight to california in the spring of this year. And I'm a pretty plain looking white guy.

Of course, I don't want to take away from Mistry's experience... it sounds more sinister. But I chalked it up to some kind of weird policy or computer bug. Seemed to me it'd make more sense for somebody else to get searched, since I'd been searched already -- thereby increasing chances of catching someone doing something bad.
posted by andrewhinton at 3:57 PM on November 5, 2002


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