Racial profile yourself
Terror in the skies?
July 22, 2004
Ann Jacobsen, [Terror in the Skies, Again?]
Your recent recount of the events on June 29th sound extremely worrying and troublesome
to me and I am terribly sorry that you and your family had to go through such
a horrific experience. I would, however, like to take a moment to make some clarifications
about the state of Homeland Security. I have pondered long and hard about whether
I should write this letter, but I have mulled over it for three days and still
do not feel comfortable until I have shared my opinion on the topic:
I worked in the World Trade Center 2, on the 38th floor, at the time of September
11th. Many of the victims of that horrific day were not American. In fact,
the US was attacked at its most international, and most innocent point --
a building where hardworking individuals from all over the world, including
came to work and earn a living through honest means. To me, an attack of such
magnitude on more than 3000 civilians who have had nothing to do with politics
is much more shocking than one on the Pentagon, which is the hub of US politics
and military planning (yes, Bush ignored the 300 page report in August of that
year entitled "Osama Bin Laden will attack on US soil"). More importantly,
I want to address your questions about "racial profiling" and how
the US is handling the issues of "Homeland Security".
Since we are swapping stories, I thought mine would also shed some light. This
is the story of a domestic flight I took with a colleague of mine on February
4th, 2002 from Miami to New York. Dev, an Indian, with black hair, brown eyes
and olive skin was traveling with me on the 6 am United flight. Upon showing
our tickets at security, we proceeded straight to the gate as we had arrived
late for our flight. When we reached security, Dev put his bags on the conveyer,
took his shoes and belt off, and slowly walked through the metal detector. Without
beeping, he was pulled to the side where one agent started to run his machines
up and down Dev's spread-out arms and legs.
Without asking him any questions,
two of the security agents, who looked like they had been just fired from the
DMV, said they needed to take him to the bomb detection area for further inspection.
He gathered his bags and was escorted, he told me later, downstairs to a room
with a giant size x-ray machine. There he was treated very nicely, told to
take his shoes off and walk through the machine. After that scan,
they brought him
outside, ran paps on his laptop, and dissected everything in his bag.
confiscating his plastic Brooks Brothers collar stays and three
Q-tips, the non-verbal searching
ended, and they told him he could go, in Spanish. He ran upstairs to the
gate, got his boarding pass, and was stopped a third time at the
gate. Here they
ran over this body with hand-held metal detectors, and plastic
gloves. Not a single
hello or how are you was spared on him. Upon finally boarding the flight,
he joined me, panting and sweating.
After the plane took off, I glanced at my boarding
stub to check my frequent flier miles. I noticed the name on the stub was one
"Mr. Henry Sarefian". I looked at my seat. I was in12A. I looked
at the boarding
pass again. Mr. Sarefian was assigned to seat 12A. I showed the stub to Dev
who stared in bewilderment. He asked how I had gotten this stub -- I told him
the agent at the gate had given it to me. I had told her my name and presented
my passport (I insist on flying with my passport even domestically because I
find it ridiculous that you can board a plane with a Drivers License.) She had
looked at my photo and my name Sara Sefeed and printed a boarding pass for Mr.
Henry Sarefian. In my hurry, I had not noticed, and proceeded to board. After
checking my passport and boarding pass, the boarding agent asked me to step to
the side for a routine security check.
The security agent asked for my boarding
pass and ID and performed her scientific two-second test and also verified
my documents. She patted me down and then proceeded to take items
out of my suitcase
with robotic motion, glancing into the distance with a bored expression on
her face. After completely crumpling all my suits and misplacing
all my belongings,
she shoved the open suitcase towards me, without a word, as if to say, " Here -- clean
it up". I zipped up my bag, thanked her and proceeded back to a new boarding
agent. He also had done a check of my name and passport.
The final checkpoint
came on the plane, when the stewardess who had greeted me warmly, took my boarding
pass. She read it and guided me to my seat. This meant there were five counts
of different gate agents, boarding agents, security agents and airline personnel
who had failed to recognize that I was not a "Mr." and that my name "Sara
Sefeed", printed in bold letters in my passport, had not in any way matched
"Henry Sarefian". It was outrageous. Could nobody read? Could anybody
they even know any English? Worst yet, did they not know the difference between
a man and a woman?
I am sure the gate agent had looked at my first name,
assumed it was my last name, and upon finding the first record
starting with "Sar",
she had identified my boarding pass. The reality was that I had passed five
different sets of eyes with a fake name and for all they knew,
cross-dressed as a woman.
It was unspeakable. I was furious and wanted to report the incident to CNN,
BBC, NPR, and anybody else who would listen. This was security?
When we landed, despite
my reluctance, Dev made me call United Airlines to report the event. He insisted
that poor Henry had probably just missed his flight and now United thought
he was already in New York.
I tell this story because I believe the real security problem in America is
a deep and rooted problem of education, and common law that I lacking all around
us. It has to do with the poor laws of travel and the unqualified people who
run the day-to-day with no regard for passenger security. Because everything
in the US is privatized and there is no unison among the different states,
and airlines, no one person seems to have jurisdiction or responsibility over
The country is vast and fragmented. It boggles the
mind that no one in the US has ever been required to travel with
a proper ID, such as a passport
or Citizenship ID. If citizenships do not mean anything, then why do we bother
with them and why is it so difficult to become a citizen of certain countries?
US border patrol and security personnel have no incentive or desire to make
intelligent conclusions about passengers. If you have ever traveled
anywhere outside of the
US, you will notice that to board a plane in most places, you will need a passport.
Gate and security agents actually look you in the eyes and ask a few questions
to find out if you are who you say you are.
Non-Americans get their passports
issued at a very early age, because traveling without one is very difficult.
In Iran, for example, you may travel domestically on your birth certificate,
which is a booklet similar to a passport with a photo ID, fingerprint, and
important personal information. Even in the EU, where borders have
become a bit more relaxed
due to the "union" the primary identifier of a person is their passport,
or Citizenship ID, not the color of their eyes, their hair, or their skin.
More importantly, in all of these countries, I dare say, I have
come across intelligent
agents who ask questions like " where are you going, why and for how long".
My family and I lived in France for a long time with
Iranian passports and we had to report to the police once a year
to renew our visas and provide an update
on our activities. This is required in almost any country anywhere in the world,
when you are a guest.
In America, once you have entered the country, you
can get lost among the cattle or in flight school, and nobody bothers
to ask why.
I still meet Americans, adult Americans, who have never owned a passport in
their lives. I have never experienced this anywhere else in the
world. Sadly, with
fifty bucks and a face, you can get a "Driver's License" and
hop a 747 Jet plane into a skyscraper. Since when is a Driver's License
anything other than a license to drive a car? Shouldn't travel by plane,
require a document all its own. In other countries, they call that a passport.
An intelligent system would be one that allows for
all citizens to confidentially exchange data with an agent or officer.
With today's technology and capabilities
of building global, real time databases, would it be so hard for the government
of the United States to have a file on every person that tracks their information
and perhaps intelligently looks for odd behavior? How about if they employ
more qualified agents who can actually think for themselves? How
about teaching them
what behaviors to look for and what questions to ask, instead of making mothers
drink their own breast milk? Did you ever think that with all the problems
that we can highlight for the FAA, how many more there remains
behind the scenes?
The answer also does not lie in the proposed "racial profiling" that
has been a hot topic post 9/11. The entire concept of "racial profiling" is
completely ineffective and unscientific. Racial profiling implies that you
are discriminating against an entire group based on their "race". But
what is race? Most proud Iranians will tell you that they belong to the white
"Aryan" race -- that
is actually where the name "Ee-ran" (not "eye -- ran")
comes from. According to "race theory", Arabs and Jews are from
the same Semitic race. Arabic and Hebrew share the same language
root, the "Semitic
Farsi, the language spoken by Iranians, is an Indo-European
language, coming from the same group as English, German, French
and Hindi. So what is
race? It is nothing other than a dated anthropological premise,
which classifies people
based on hair type, skull shape, and skin color. This supposed "theory",
which has defined three categories (white, Negro and yellow) is complete
fiction and totally irrelevant in a world where people from all
over the world are
traveling and moving around more than ever.
The reality is that no human group exists today
that can boast having two original ancestors and having descended from them
without any adulteration of the primitive stock through mixture.
We, the human race,
are not pure, i.e., strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a race. And
the reality is that in a country as "Aryan" as Iran, there are people
from all over the "Empire" with different skin types, hair types,
eye colors, nose shapes and personalities. This can also be said of a country
so free and diverse as the United States.
But never mind the obvious reasons why your "Middle Eastern" terrorists
are so similar and evil. I, an Iranian, born in Tehran have green eyes, light
skin and light brown hair. You would never "profile" me under anything
except maybe a wasp from the Upper West Side. I know plenty of Italians, Spaniards,
Irish, Serbs, Croatians, Greeks, Portuguese, French, and Russians who have
black hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. And even within the Arab community,
not be a difference between a Saudi, an Egyptian, a Jordanian, a Kuwaiti, or
an Iraqi? How do we "profile" them?
Instead of trying to make the
world a Mickey Mouse Park where things fit neatly into boxes and security agents
can pick and choose "terrorists" with color-coded instructions from
the government, shouldn't we put some real brains behind the plethora of
terrorist networks that continue to terrorize our daily activities all over
the world? The question then is not would I mind "racial profiling"
a "Middle-Easterner" but rather do you mind if they ask you a few
relevant questions at the airport next time you board a plane.
Sara Sefeed is enior Editor, PersianMirror.com.
goodbye to spam!