News

Critics Label Obama’s New Security Moves '‘Unfair’'

Multimedia

Audio
  • VOA's International Press Club - Airline Security Regulations 07jan10

Experts from some so-called “terror-prone” nations targeted by new, more stringent airline safety regulations are speaking out against them.  They say the U.S. response to the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt has unfairly targeted innocent people.

“The news has not been well-received by people in the 14 designated countries – including my own,” said former Pakistani journalist and diplomat Akbar Ahmed.

Ahmed, who currently serves as chair of the Islamic Studies department at the American University in Washington, said the frustration is understandable.  “The majority of people in those countries are law-abiding people, and they do not see themselves as either terrorists or aligned with terrorists. In fact, many of them see themselves as victims of terrorists,” he added.

The new regulations issued by the U.S. agency in charge of transportation security require air travelers coming to the United States from 14 nations to undergo extra security screening.  Four countries on the list – Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria – are considered “state sponsors of terrorism” that have repeatedly given support to acts of terrorism.  Ten others – Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen – are seen as “countries of interest,” where air travel is deemed to be at greater risk from terrorists who target U.S. citizens and interests.

Ahmed said he understands the need for administrators to be very sensitive to security.  “But I also have experience in the field and know that many of these measures are simply irritants to people and they do not make us safer.  What they do is make people angry, and they are ultimately self-defeating,” he noted.

Personal Experiences

Ahmed’s arguments are also personal.  He recalls when he and a friend, UCLA Professor Judea Pearl, were traveling together to a conference to promote Jewish-Muslim understanding.  Ahmed assumes it is his name that regularly sets off alarm bells for airport security.  “Ahmed, Mohammed – all these names are related and in Islam maybe 20 to 30 percent of the males have some kind of variation of those names because it means that they are related to the Prophet of Islam.  And when security officers see the name, they begin to be suspicious,” he explains.

Prejudice and Profiling

That sort of broad “profiling” can produce charges of prejudice.   Like his colleague, Ahmed is proud of both his heritage and his legacy to the next generation. Ahmed’s daughter, Amineh Ahmed Hoti, is director of the Centre for Jewish-Muslim Relations at the University of Cambridge.  In 2002, Pearl’s son, journalist Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by his al-Qaida captors in Karachi.

Likewise, Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad has been the victim of profiling by airport security.  “I myself have had a problem of not being able to get my boarding pass on-line or even at the airport kiosk but have to go through an agent,” he said. A Palestinian-American, Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad is president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute and teaches at the University of Maryland.

“The American government is trying to take a blanket approach to the perception of an increased risk from people who come – or are in transit – from those 14 countries and does not distinguish among them,” said Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad .  “When you look at the actual cases where people have tried to hijack flights,” he said, “We cannot say that it is an effective, efficient, or even moral means of deciding whom to closely examine – to base it simply on their country of origin.”

Instead, Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad says intelligence experts should instead pay closer attention to the sources of information that allows them to put people on watch lists.  “Searches should be selective and based on at least reasonable suspicion, if not probable cause.”  “Too many people appear on the watch-list and are considered terrorist suspects because their names have appeared on “Islamophobic websites,” he added.

Balancing Security and Respect

For someone who campaigned on a promise of restoring respect for human rights and shifting away from the Bush-era “war on terror,” President Obama is finding the struggle between security and freedom as difficult as did is predecessor.

“People in the Arab world see the new regulations on airline security as contrary to the message President Obama delivered in Cairo to the Muslim world – urging more openness, building new bridges, and promoting greater respect for Islam. And that is sad,” said Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent with the Middle East Broadcasting Center.

“Security is paramount for everybody – Americans, non-Americans, Muslims, and non-Muslims,” Bilbassy said.  “You need to have a delicate balance of trying to track down extremist elements without jeopardizing or alienating more people,” she urged.

Foreign Policy Considerations

“I’m not sure how all this will end,” said Akbar Ahmed of the American University. “I do know that in Pakistan already there are suggestions that Americans should be subject to this same procedure when they come to Pakistan.”  There are newspaper reports that Americans are being denied visas,” he added.

“All of this is moving in a direction that makes me very unhappy because Pakistan and America are supposed to be close allies,” Ahmed lamented.  “The primary question is the efficiency of human intelligence,” he stressed, “and I think that’s what needs to be strengthened.”

Correcting a Systemic Failure

Speaking to the nation [7 January], President Obama said U.S. agencies had failed to “connect and understand” intelligence that could have kept the alleged bomber off the plane from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.

Mr. Obama announced a series of changes in intelligence and security procedures to guard against future terrorist plots.  Among them are quicker and wider distribution of intelligence reports, new procedures for devising terror watch lists, and revising the “No Fly” list.

The President also instructed the State Department to review its visa policy to make it more difficult for people with connections to terrorism to receive U.S. visas as well as making it simpler to revoke visas when questions arise.

 

 

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs