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Quarantine the Mind | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Now that the US has published a list of countries whose citizens will be subjected to extra scrutiny at its airports following the failed attempt to blow up an American airliner by a Nigerian student, France, through its Interior Minister, has now declared that it is preparing a list of 20 to 30 countries whose citizens will also be subjected to security “quarantine”. This practice was widespread during the days of quarantine at the ports of the ancient world.

There is Western panic with regards to Islamist terrorists. Westerners fear that Islamists will sneak up on them from every angle or will fall out of the sky. To a keen observer, this attitude seems more like security hysteria than mature conduct. Of course one cannot blame any government in the world for trying to protect its citizens. However, it seems that these backlashes are merely temporary, impulsive and impractical. Will every Muslim now automatically fall under suspicion? Morality and tolerance are not the issues here. Let us try and be practical: how many Muslims are there in the world? How many Muslims in Europe and America, in Australia and New Zealand? How many Muslims are there in those countries that are not labelled as “countries of interest” that feature on the new US list, the forthcoming French list or on the lists by countries that will follow suit?

We are talking about roughly one-third of the entire world’s population. A large number of them board planes just like other human beings and just like anybody else, they have interests, children at school, people recuperating from illnesses, businessmen travelling around the world, lovers etc.

This is an attempt by the West to kill the Al Qaeda fly with a tank!

But let us look at the situation from the other perspective: what should they do? Who can guarantee that a crazy person like the Nigerian student mentioned above will not board a Western plane?

Terrorists do not have stamps on their foreheads that distinguish them from other people. They do not have any specific social, ethnic, economic or class feature that makes it easy for us to point them out and track them down. They are just like the rest of us. A terrorist might be rich or poor, educated or uneducated, the son of a caretaker or the son of a minister or chairman of a bank, (Al Awlaki is the son of a former minister in Yemen and Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab is the son of a prominent banker in Nigeria).

What the West is doing now at the airports is nothing but a knee-jerk reaction. This is how anyone would react after being stung. Obama’s calm and cheerful nature has changed. He is beginning to sound more like George W. Bush as he vows to hunt down terrorists and tighten security measures at airports by using full-body scanners. If the Americans could invent a detector that would reveal our train of thought, they would definitely do that. There are no scanners for the brain or the soul that could expose the evil thoughts nesting in the heads of terrorists. If there were such a thing, most of us would not be able to even sit down with one another!

This religious madness will not end until the running tap of fanaticism is closed tight and this will not be done by trying to contain the splashes of water that spatter everywhere else. The source of fanaticism is well known to all of us. We can clearly see this in the views of parliament members, journalists, syndicate officials, satellite television clerics, university professors, education and security officials etc. They are present all over the Muslim world and yet we pretend not to see them.