Our British Airways flight arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport at approximately eight o’clock local time – but just as we arrived at passport control, it was as though we had entered into another world. It was nearly a three-hour wait before the immigration officers checked our passports again, took our pictures and fingerprints for the second time; after they carried out the procedure with all the other passengers.
Those who had been selected for security checks endured a level of disdain that is impossible to describe; men and women some of them in their eighties, not to mention the children. The Saudi students who had arrived at two o’clock in the afternoon were still there; the last of them left at approximately ten o’clock in what was a shameful and saddening scene.
An elderly Egyptian man asked me, “What is a man my age supposed to do?” He laughed and added, “And then they ask ‘why do they hate us!'”
This is not the first time that I have seen this happen; in fact, it happens every time I visit – irrespective of the reasons for my visit. This time, after the security man asked me what my profession was, he looked apologetic and said, “You don’t have a problem, however because of your nationality and age some procedures must be undertaken. Unfortunately, it is not only your nationality alone but other nationalities as well.”
Last year a security man asked me scornfully, “Why did you travel to Pakistan?” I told him the nature of my job and explained that this was the reason for my travel. He smiled mockingly and said, “Go back to your seat and I will find out everything from the computer.” That time, I waited three hours after a seven-hour flight after which I was told that it was a case of similarities in name!
Terrorism did not strike the United States alone, everyone has security concerns and security measures should not mean collective punishment, just as caution and following regulations does not mean insulting others and degrading them.
The official in charge of security staff at the airport, within our earshot, asked his colleagues to help finish the passengers’ procedures so that they may take a break to rest – and not so that they can end the suffering of the passengers who were waiting in a miserable state enduring inspection procedures no different from those they go through at embassies when they obtain the visas or upon arrival at airports.
I have travelled to many countries, developed and underdeveloped, safe and dangerous, but I have not seen human beings debased in such a way as I have seen at American airports. Furthermore, I have not encountered anything worse than some of the security men and women in American airports – American security procedures are carried out in an uncivilized manner.
Security measures should not only be in airports but should also be within the country itself and during the stay in the country. Those who arrive from airports have been checked at their departure points – and it is impossible to reveal one’s intentions through cameras or fingerprints, no matter how many times the process is repeated.
The continuation of such bad treatment at American airports is insulting and results in affirming and entrenching the negative American image abroad. It is sad to see what the young students and elderly are subjected to or what those who are compelled to travel for work or medical treatment have to endure.
This mistreatment at American airports does not reflect what the US is like from within!