TSA Pre-Check is Back

A few weeks before Christmas I air-dropped into Turkey for a few meetings. I arrived in Istanbul from Brussels at about midday and I left again late that night. In-out…

The following week I took several US domestic flights and on every single flight I took, there was the dreaded SSSS at the bottom of my boarding pass, that “secret” TSA code for “please give this person extra attention”. Of course, all flyers are randomly selected for additional security checks, it’s part of the the grand schema intended to make our skies safe. In general, I don’t grumble about it and duly submit myself to the prodding, patting, dusting, unzipping (usually of luggage, but not always…) and occasionally a pointed question or two.

Joy.

Joy.

TSE security checks are usually fairly benign but I do remember one time where I had returned to the US from the Middle East and was flagged for additional security clearance. The fact that I was carrying a textbook on the basics of Shari’ah finance and a Qibla on my iPhone home page didn’t really do me a lot of service in the “discussion” about who I was and where I had been. Incidentally, these days, my general viewpoint is that airlines that have an “arrow to Mecca” and a prayer room are a hell of a lot safer than carriers from secular countries and I have a theory that is is somewhat reflected in the price difference for any ticket that involves flying over the Caucasus, MENA or Asia Minor. The proverbial flying Islamic body shield? Hmmmm…. perhaps not given that moderate Muslims seem to be fair game these days too.

… But I digress.

Six or seven times in one week is more than just a coincidence and so I asked a United Airlines service desk whether they could see anything against my frequent flyer number. The agent confirmed that my record was “flagged” and that my TSA Pre-Check status had been removed. A brief discussion with TSA confirmed that there was a process I could go through, including an interview with the FBI, to re-instate my status. Crazy.

I am not exactly sure what happened but today my TSA status is back. Perhaps it was Uncle Sam’s forgiveness from the Christmas season? Perhaps my little venture off the path of travel enlightenment only entitled me to a limited number of rubber gloves? Perhaps it was just a case of a time lock – enough time to have me searched a few times (and irritate a few hundred passengers when the security queue has to be temporarily closed to facilitate my search)? I realize that the US-Turkish relationship has markedly declined in the last decade on the back of war in Iraq and the Armenian Genocide controversy but Turkey is still, in my view, a critical ally of the US and NATO and I am surprised that there is this level of security sensitivity.

Frankly, I am relieved.

If I am honest with you, I wouldn’t have really wanted to explain that I was visiting a Turkish nuclear technologies company. I probably wouldn’t have wanted to explain that my (US) company was hoping to sell nuclear medicine products in places like Turkey and the Middle East. As a Canadian passport holder whenever I arrive back in the US, there is always an intrinsic skepticism about the integrity of people from across the “leaky” northern border and a week in the Australian summer sun had turned my skin a nice dusky “Arab” hue, thanks to my Mediterranean genes. On the other hand, it would have been interesting to understand how half a day in a country touted as the “Land Bridge to Syria” put me on a watch list.

I guess I will never know.

At least the TSA agent in this photograph was kind enough to offer to put on a fresh set of gloves before getting into my trousers. Photo courtesy of JQ (thanks for capturing my irritation on camera)

At least the TSA agent in this photograph was kind enough to offer to put on a fresh set of gloves before getting into my trousers.
Photo courtesy of JQ (thanks for capturing my irritation on camera)

 

I see you, Charlie Hebdo

I have been watching with great sadness, the outpouring of grief and anger in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. It has been my blogosphere policy not to write about “Islamic Militant Attacks” because I personally don’t believe that is what they are. I have far too much basic respect for the “other” Children of Abraham to accept that this kind of loveless and an inhumane behavior deifies the Qur’an. I accept that there are extremists that are intolerant of the modern social spectrum, freedom of expression and diversity – but this should not be our default perception of Islam. Nor should we recognize the religious guidons that they bear.

Besides, Islam doesn’t have an extremist monopoly on xenophobia and bigotry. Christianity, Judaism and even “peaceful” Buddhism does a pretty smashing job sometimes too.

I was in Sydney during the “Terror” when a lone gunman walked into the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place and took hostages in the name of the Prophet. In fact, our hotel was only a few blocks away from the police cordon and precisely at the time that fateful morning that Man Haron Monis was taking hostages, my son and I walked past the area on our way to Darling Harbour, wondering what was going on with all the police and emergency services (“Look Daddy!”). Frankly, the only thing that sickened me more than the tragic outcome of that hostage situation, was the non-stop media coverage that was given to a lone nutcase with a shotgun. It was relentless and unwavering and only glorified the situation for every other sicko out there thinking of taking a few people down on the way to the Afterlife.

A greater social crime than Man Monis?

A greater social crime than Man Monis?

Inevitably, there will more Charlie Hebdo Massacres and Sydney Terrors. The big question for our society, is are we willing to take an inter-faith view of religious tolerance and understand that in these dangerous times, our Muslim brothers and sisters need protection and care too? These extremist activities are not so discriminatory and neither are the potential hazards of our reaction. During the Sydney siege I watched a Pakistani or Indian hostage run out of the Lindt Cafe and then immediately get down on the ground with his arms around his head – no doubt concerned that the trigger-happy NSW police* would mistake dusky skin for a terrorist. If I was him, I would have been freaking out. Similarly, I was incredibly touched and heartened buy the #Illridewithyou initiative that spontaneously arose, recognizing that there was a real risk of reprisal.

Our society’s tolerance will always be tested in situations like this and while I feel no less for the families of those killed in Paris and Sydney (and many other places before), our response – including media response – should be measured. There will be always be a temptation for reprisal, especially from the shadowy corners of the world that may choose not to even put a face to retribution. Hooded lynch mobs have always existed and we will no doubt see many flaming torches and pitchforks in physical and digital domains. In my view, this is even more dangerous than a few psychopaths with guns.

My final comment is a tribute to the freedom of expression that was epitomized, not without controversy, by Charlie Hebdo. I don’t always agree that freely insulting someone else’s culture or religion should be unconditionally tolerated, but killing people falls very short of measured debate on the merits. Personally, I believe that there is great power in satire. It is simply one avenue that we have to explore the emotive and philosophical issues that polarize our world, often in a very catalytic way. I like to doodle but (unlike others) I don’t really have the talent to visually render the sadness that I feel. Instead I will offer my own satirical tribute in written form with the following recommendation:

Dear Yahya** if you are thinking of buying some artillery and going on a rampage in the name of the Islamic Caliphate, may I offer you a more effective alternative? Do what my fellow Christians and also many of our Brothers from the “Tribe” do (cliché only, no antisemitism please) – go into politics and financial services. You really don’t have to be any smarter (or dumber) than you already are. You’ll get better and more prolonged media coverage for your terrorist activities and you wont just kill a few random individuals, you can destroy the lives of millions for decades. If you are prepared to cash in your gold Rolex Oyster and engage a decent lawyer, you might not even spend time in jail. Best of all you don’t have to wait for the Afterlife for your reward of 72 “dark-eyed maidens”, they are called “interns.” *** 

لا إله إلا الله !

A photo taken from the back of a public toilet door in Sydney the morning of the Terror. This is not an Islamic banner, this is just graffiti. So too must we learn to distinguish mere social vandalism and paint over it as quickly as our grief may allow.

A photo taken from the back of a public toilet door in Sydney the morning of the Terror. This is not an Islamic banner, this is just graffiti. So too must we learn to distinguish mere social vandalism and paint over it as quickly as our grief may allow.

 

*I duly note that, in general, the perception was that the various emergency services and law-enforcement agencies did a very decent job on this occasion…

** Arabic Muslim version of John

*** Sorry ladies, religious satire has no wiggle room for gender issues. Forgive me.