As of January 4, 2010, citizens of 14 nations – Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – have all been dubbed countries of “interest.” And no, not interest in a good way, as in, “We see you as fellow human beings, let’s have a conversation and get to know one another.” Interest as in, “Hi, we see you as an immediate threat because of your religion and nationality, let’s have a conversation with my ominous rubber glove.”
And here I thought eight years after 9/11, we had learned so much.
I could get angry with Umar Farooq Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who attempted to detonate an explosive in his underpants, forever earning himself the nickname “pantybomber.” Thanks to his actions on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day, not just Nigerians, but people from 13 other countries dubbed “state sponsors of terrorism” have to suffer the consequences. The new rule will also apply to anyone traveling to U.S. destinations from those countries, who will all face extra scrutiny at airport screenings.
I could also point a finger at U.S. intelligence agencies, who reportedly had enough information to “head off” the attempted bombing but “failed to connect those dots,” noted President Obama in a statement yesterday. According to his administration, Obama further asserted in a meeting with Cabinet advisers and members, “This was a screw-up that could have been disastrous. It was averted by brave individuals not because the system worked, and that is not acceptable.”
But riddle me this, Mr. President – if the intelligence agencies screwed up, and the system failed to work, why are scores of people paying the price? Is this a sign of that mutual respect you so powerfully called for during your speech to the Muslim World in Cairo? Because, let me tell you, I don’t feel mutually respected when Don Juan of airport security calls me out of line, and not because he wants to perform a rubber sock puppet show for my enjoyment.
I am all for keeping us safe, and I am all for fending off terrorist threats. I am from a country whose citizens have been victimized by terrorism, that has been waging its own war, however successfully, against a similar threat. Last year alone, over 3000 people died in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. So believe me, I understand that you don’t want that threat on your soil. But neither do we. Treating each individual as one massive threat will only add to the problem, because it fails to recognize the nuances of this conflict, or the tremendous importance of perceptions. It is sad that in the eight years after 9/11, that lesson still has to be learned.