At one of our high level briefings, a senior official told us that the world had changed for the United States after September 11. “No president,” he said “would want a repeat of such an incident on his watch, and will do anything in his power to prevent it from happening. No matter how heavy the means.”
The event shook not only the US, but the world, and as its tenth anniversary draws near, one can still only wonder how badly the incident affected American thinking. And more importantly, how far the US will now go to justify incidents that it feels are necessary to prevent something similar from happening again.
The best comparison we are given is with the attack on Pearl Harbour in the lead up to World War II. On our visit to the memorial of the Japanese attack in Hawaii, we are told by Paul Heintz, who is the education director at the facility, that both incidents have led to some unfortunate reactions.
In the case of Pearl Harbour, it was the internment of hundreds of people of Japanese origin in camps in California. These were people who in some cases did not even speak Japanese and were threatened with deportation to Japan following the war with the land of the rising sun.
Today, things are different - but two issues still worry me. First is the treatment of Muslims in the US and the second is the curtailment of personal freedoms of most Americans and how they are reacting.
I was told by Mo Razvi of the Council for Peoples Organizations (COPO) in New York that hundreds of people were visited in their homes by the FBI and the immigration service and many of those, even some who had valid immigration status, were deported to Pakistan after being harassed. Mo said that 13,000 Pakistanis were wrongly detained and deported. He has a register at his office in which some of those incidents are chronicled. Hundreds did not go home for days in fear of being picked up.
The FBI is unrepentant. They say it was done because they were “following all leads.”
Yet, what I find surprising is that, despite the fact that Mo and his team of dedicated volunteers have been fighting for many of these victims, there was and is no pressure on them to quit or even keep quiet.
That is the beauty of the American system. At the same time, what is worrisome is that the harassment continues to this day. It is far from over. That is the ugliness of the new state of affairs.
The American public seems to be taking this in its stride. Even issues that affect personal safety have been set aside for the common good of national security. I am not sure where this may be leading.
If the Transport Security Agency (TSA) is an example of how things are going to be, then I worry. The TSA is the equivalent of our Airport Security Force (ASF). To give it credit, it has improved its screening of airline passengers so that not only Muslims or Pakistanis are targeted. Now everyone is screened.
But the TSA insists that all suitcases that are checked in are not locked. This is fine except that, in my case, despite my suitcase not being locked, the combination lock was forcibly broken because the suitcase needed to be checked. I got a note to that effect in the luggage when it finally made it to the belt. My suitcase is destroyed.
This in a country where personal freedom is taken so seriously. I am filing a claim for compensation but am told not to expect much.
This month, Americans remember the incidents of Waco, Texas and the death of David Koresh and his followers. They wanted less interference from the US government. Seems Koresh died in vain.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2011.