Surveillance Society?

On January 5th, the Obama administration announced new security measures where passengers entering the United States from 14 nations – including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon – will be subjected to pat downs, extra luggage checks, and full body scans.

Earlier this week in a segment focused on the new security checks, Riz Khan of Al Jazeera asks:  “Do the new U.S. airport policies discriminate against Muslims, or are they simply ‘security measures’, as the Obama administration suggests?”

Joining Khan in the interview are Christopher Calabrese, a lawyer working for the American Civil Liberties Union, and Zohra Atmar, an Afghan-American consultant working for the U.S. Department of Defense on issues concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Will these procedures make America any safer? Can these measures be described as profiling? What kinds of rights do these policies sacrifice in terms of civil liberties and privacy? The interview with Riz Khan, which aired on Al Jazeera on Jan 7th, ‘attempts’ (albeit dissatisfactorily) to get at some of these issues:   

Part I:                      

Part II:                    

6 thoughts on “Surveillance Society?”

  1. I had watched this interview earlier and I couldn’t sit through it. What a motley pair of commentators for an issue as important as this! The woman pulls a Cosby chiding American Muslims for whining too much. And the ACLU guy feels obliged to play the Good American denying that there could be a link between the terrorist threat and US foreign policy. I don’t know how AJ manages to find such clowns.

  2. i completely agree, idrees. both speakers lack in the rigor department, but the comments of Atmar in particular, are distressing. her logic – namely, that these policies are not only legitimate, but a burden that Muslims should deem their responsibility to bear – made me want to gag. Khan attempts to trouble some of these assertions, but the only real challenge comes in the form of questions from viewers. Disappointing, and yet it’s not entirely useless. What the interview does (for me at least), is produce a lot of dissatisfaction, revealing more through its absences than the rhetoric present(ed).

    The ACLU spokespeople are generally far more incisive, but they seem to have sent a sheep to represent them in this interview.

  3. Such lameness at display by these two commentators. She fails to understand what profiling is, even when 13 out of 14 are Muslim majority countries, and rather insipidly comments that “it is a little bit over-stretched to say profiling”.

    The following programme is slightly more interesting that this one, with focus on inclusion of Lebanon and Cuba (described as an easy political choice by angry arab) in the list.

    http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/insidestory/2010/01/20101672332659707.html

  4. thanks for posting the additional link, ali! it’s a somewhat better attempt to get at a similar set of issues, but the overall meekishness around this issue at AJ and in the media in general is representative – unfortunately – of the successful construction of profiling (against Muslims in particular) as ‘reasonable action’.

    The crucial question we must ask is: ” why is it that these ‘secutiry measures’ are not being widely articulated as profiling and, in turn, being recognized as a form of islamophbia?

    In discourse about the israeli state, for example, no sooner has one expressed disagreement with state policies than one is branded as “anti-semitic”. such a conflation may strike us as absurd, but it functions to the advantage of those who seek to silence dissent. In the case of Muslims on the other hand, even the most obvious and legitimate conflation between profiling and anti-Islamism holds little weight. Why? Because, in the case of muslims, any and all forms of discrimination are deemed reasonable, indeed even necessary.

    In order for islamophobia to be taken seriously, we have to dismantle first, the notion of ;reasonable racism/discrimination’ that folks like Atmar seem to have given into wholesale.

  5. Greetings – I am the infamous Atmar discussed in this above thread and wanted to offer the following that I actually wrote to a few other friends/acquaintences after the show…

    You know…I realize alot of people weren’t happy with my comments on the show below – and that’s okay. The reality is many of the people unhappy (incl. Al-Jazeera originally) wanted an Angry Muslimah to rage about profiling and 1) I am not a fan of fulfilling other people’s stereotypical expectations and 2) people need to be honest with themselves. Do I think profiling of Muslims is good? No. BUT does putting restrictions on passengers traveling from certain countries come completely out of left field. If you are honest with yourself, the answer to that is also no. If anything, more Western European nations can be added to the list. Radical, Militant Islam is real, and it hurts Islam and Muslims as much as it does their declared enemy.

    Turning around and pointing fingers at what the US did here and there, even if that thing is wrong, there is no where in the Qur’an or Hadith that justifies Muslims killing innocents indiscriminately – or killing non-innocents injustly. And remember – when you point one finger at others, three point right back at you. Militant Islam should be an OXYMORON, not the catch phrase of the day.

    And on the whole, while someone called me a “Cosby” (cute) for my comments on the show, what I was trying to say is that American Muslims need to use rational. Muslims like myself might not see anything inherantly wrong with Islam and Muslims, and instantly recognize militants as a threat. But the run of the mill non-Muslim who has limited exposure to Muslims beyond the TV, cannot honestly be faulted for thinking that.

    If we want to fix the image of Islam in this country and the rest of world, we need to start fixing ourselves, and acting like Muslims. Check out this review of a talk from Sheikh Hamza where – again – he asks us to study history before victimizing ourselves. http://www.courier-journal.com/blogs/faith/2009/11/muslims-critics-challenged.html

    In fact, I did want to say more intelligent, pragmatic, balanced things – but frankly, the format of these sorts of programs like Riz Khan is extremely structured (and nerve-wrecking) so I sort of stumbled all over the place, and maybe I did come off as a sort of apologist. All my preparation went out the window as soon as I sat down and froze up. For example, in the beginning I meant that the list of 14 is not ALL the Muslim or Arab countries, and if one actually studies the origins of the restrictions (largely created in consultation with the Dept of State versus Dept of Defense), several of the countries are from the state sponsors of terrorism (Syria, Iran, Cuba, some other) and the rest are countries of interest (i.e. with the exception of Nigeria, a disproportionate number of active or caught militant/radical Muslims hail from these countries). Again, pretending for a moment you don’t think the whole exercise is futile and using logic versus passion, is that sooo far-fetched to think they would create this? The point was not to say this is not a bad idea, but rather, why are we running around like chickens with our heads cut off acting so surprised and indignant that they would come up with something like this??

    Personally, I think the list is missing the point and rather than resting your criticism of the list on the grounds of profiling and something impassioned like “it makes the enemy think they won” which really gives ordinary Muslims far too little credit, is not helpful. I also think that a policy as unsustainable as this (trying to focus on such a wide range of people) will also go on for a little while, and after the worst offenders they have found are old Arab grandmas trying to smuggle unpreserved grape leaves from the motherland, they will find it inefficient and adjust accordingly.

    What I wanted to get across, and maybe failed to do so was: I just think it wouldn’t hurt Muslims, esp. American Muslims, to take a moment and use logic (from a larger average-American point of view) and consider where these policies come from, versus angry, broad-ranging, reactionary condemnations. Besides, we have the ACLU to do that. God love ’em.

  6. The reality is many of the people unhappy (incl. Al-Jazeera originally) wanted an Angry Muslimah to rage about profiling and 1) I am not a fan of fulfilling other people’s stereotypical expectations

    So you won’t speak the truth lest you live up to someone’s stereotype? By this token no African american should have ever spoken out against racism because, after all, s/he would be merely living up to the White Man’s stereotype of the ‘angry negro’.

    If anything, more Western European nations can be added to the list. Radical, Militant Islam is real, and it hurts Islam and Muslims as much as it does their declared enemy.

    So instead of addressing root causes, we must multiply resentments, reinforce the discrimination, and deepen the social exclusion that is the cause of the alienation and anger in the first place? Radical Islam is real, so is white supremacist extremism. According to a 2006 Europol figure out of 498 terrorist acts, all but one were attributed to white non-muslims. Yet more than half of those arrested under terrorism charges were Muslims. Why not abolish air travel altogether?

    Turning around and pointing fingers at what the US did here and there, even if that thing is wrong, there is no where in the Qur’an or Hadith that justifies Muslims killing innocents indiscriminately – or killing non-innocents injustly.

    That’s a non-sequitur. Either people are angry because of how US intervention disrupts their life, or they are angry because religion conditions them so. If the answer is the former, then how does it help to devise your solutions based on the latter? Essentially, you are blaming culture/religion as the source of extremism? How come there were no suicide bombings in Iraq before 2003?

    If we want to fix the image of Islam in this country and the rest of world, we need to start fixing ourselves, and acting like Muslims. Check out this review of a talk from Sheikh Hamza where – again – he asks us to study history before victimizing ourselves.

    Yes, if only the Palestinians would fix themselves they’d feel less outrage next time someone shoots their mother, or kills their child. If only an Afghan would reform himself he would be so much more understanding of a US soldier tying up his children’s hand and shooting them in cold blood.

    As regards Sheikh Hamza, I have no idea who he is. Looks like he is need of a history book himself. Or maybe the world ‘colonialism’ is not a party of his vocabulary.

    For example, in the beginning I meant that the list of 14 is not ALL the Muslim or Arab countries, and if one actually studies the origins of the restrictions (largely created in consultation with the Dept of State versus Dept of Defense), several of the countries are from the state sponsors of terrorism (Syria, Iran, Cuba, some other) and the rest are countries of interest (i.e. with the exception of Nigeria, a disproportionate number of active or caught militant/radical Muslims hail from these countries).

    Wow! That was going to be your prepared remark? That it is alright to discriminate Muslims because they have thrown in Latinos too? Genius!

    I just think it wouldn’t hurt Muslims, esp. American Muslims, to take a moment and use logic (from a larger average-American point of view) and consider where these policies come from, versus angry, broad-ranging, reactionary condemnations.

    It would be so much easier to think from a ‘larger average-American point of view’ if the state’s view of Muslims was ‘larger average-American’. For good reason, Muslims can’t. They appear clear on where these policies come from. You don’t.

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