Thursday, January 7, 2010



FTN: Security more important than personal liberties?


Published on Thu, Jan 07, 2010 at 07:02, Updated on Thu, Jan 07, 2010 at 11:09 in India section

The United States and the United Kingdom have introduced full-body scanners and racial and religious profiling of passengers following a botched Christmas Day bombing attempt by a Nigerian man on a Northwest Airlines flight into Detroit.

However, civil society voices say such security measures are nothing but racism.

The new security measures call for inspecting baggage and patting down US-bound passengers from four countries – Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria – that the US government considers state sponsors of terrorism and 10 other "countries of interest." They include Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

Passengers from other countries heading for the US could also face random checks, pat-downs or baggage checks.

CNN-IBN show Face The Nation debated: Is racial profiling the need of the hour?

US racial profiling measures irk Muslims

On the panel of experts to debate the issue were former additional director of RAW B Raman, former diplomat KC Singh and South Asia Bureau Chief of Al Arabiya Dr Wael Awwad.

When the US makes a list of countries that are almost declared as terrorist countries and it says that all nationals from these countries will be checked, doesn’t this confirm official racism?

Raman began the debate by clarifying that it is not just nationals of these countries but also those who have visited these countries before going to the US who will be subjected to special security checks.

"Yes, there is a possibility of doing it in a better way by focusing on the individual like in the case of the Nigerian whose father had complained about him. But unfortunately the checks that he should have been subjected to were not done," Raman said.

However, Wael Awwad asked why are Islamist terrorists attacking the US and the UK? "It is because of their wrongdoing in the Middle East," he reasoned.

But other panelists argued that it is not just about Muslims because countries with big Muslim population like Indonesia and India are not in the list.

"The whole idea of putting countries like this in a list is that they (US) should admit that there is a failure in the system. Why is it that Japan and China are not in this list? It proves that this trouble is their own creation," Awwad said.

Isn’t this is a systematic infringement of the personal liberties of those who live in these 14 countries? After all political beliefs are not a crime. One should not be dubbed a terrorist just because one follows a hardliner religious law.

To which KC Singh said, "What the initial thought was that Barack Obama will bring in a fresh approach. Two things that have affected the reputation of the US in the last seven years – one is Guantanamo Bay and the second was the interrogations that took place. Now Obama apparently has overreacted because he comes under attack from the Republicans. The point is that you cannot target citizens of certain countries because you are turning all of them into suspects and therefore helping the terrorists as it will help in creating further disaffection."

Through this entire episode, Obama came across as someone who was not prepared to handle such situations. Perhaps his speech at Cairo University has not reached out and not healed hearts and minds.

Agreeing Singh said, "You can’t have a sledgehammer approach and we saw that in India also. Headley case happened and look at the corrections they had to make in the visa policy. Initial reaction for every security agency when it is caught in the wrong foot is to say ban everything. But you have to create a balance and a smart policy which serves your purpose and yet not create disaffection."

"The policy is likely to cause anger and unhappiness but nobody can question the reason behind the policy as security needs to be tightened up. So one cannot totally blame the Obama administration but yes, it could have been done it in a wise manner," Raman said.

Does this new list indicate that the world is accepting that this is where terrorism is emanating from?

"I do not mind the checking if it is done on an equal basis to all the members of a flight. More anger among people should not be created by taking such steps. After this why should any one of the Arab countries open a red carpet for any American official?" Awwad asked.

He also believed that Syria should not have been in the list. "It is the last secular country in the Arab world. The US is after Syria to change its policy towards Israel. It has nothing to do with terrorism. So it is a politically-motivated list," he added.

Disagreeing Raman said, "It is not a politically motivated list. It was prepared on the basis of the assessments made by intelligence agencies of the US. They made the list based on where terrorist training camps are located. So it is about being careful just as we are careful about Pakistanis. Those Pakistanis who come to India have to present themselves in a police station. No other citizen has to undergo this procedure. So just like we have a right to protect our people, the Americans have that right too."

If a list is being made of countries from where terrorism is emanating then why is UK not in this list? Or is UK an American ally and so it cannot be in the list?

"With UK I suppose they have sufficient confidence that there will be adequate screening at the UK end. You will find later that some of these countries will be taken out (of the list) if they can certify adequate screening. There has to be greater harmonisation of standards of international airports because al-Qaeda has shown a special preference for singling out civil aviation as a means of a terrorist attack. So everyone has to be careful," Singh explained.

The need of the hour is to sharpen up counter-terrorism. The objective is only to kill so then isn’t it necessary to take as many measures as you can?

"Absolutely. It is the responsibility of every country to protect but not by singling out certain citizens. Everybody should be on the same boat and then we should fight it out," Awwad said.

Raman concluded the debate by saying, "Protecting lives of its people is very important and no government can shed that responsibility. If a government comes to a conclusion that certain restrictions are necessary then it must take steps."

Final results of the SMS/web poll:

Yes – 56 per cent

No – 44 per cent