Dar Al-Hayat, Saudi Arabia
Dec 3 2004

Ayoon wa Azan (Intimate Search)
Jihad Al Khazen Al-Hayat 2004/12/3

The annual hunting trip to Hungary included a friend who carries a
Lebanese passport, which is problematic enough. Nevertheless, when he
applied for a Hungarian visa at their embassy in London, the wrong
visa was stamped on his passport (the visa was for a girl named
Isabelle, with her photograph on it - same as many of the current
visas). He was lucky enough to notice the error and returned to the
embassy where the visa was canceled and was given one with his name
and picture.

At Budapest Airport, we all headed off together with our British,
Canadian, Saudi, and Jordanian passports. We waited for an hour
before our friend could join us. Because he was Lebanese, the
passport control employee got suspicious, which later increased at
the sight of the annulled visa. Our friend was not released until the
Foreign Ministry was contacted and thankfully we arrived on a working
day; otherwise, he would have missed the entire hunting trip.

On our way out, my friend described the event as trivial compared to
his experience at New York's airport; he also has a U.S. visa, which
he regularly renews since most of his business is there. Upon getting
his latest renewal, he realized that the place of birth was
registered: Iraq - although he was born in Bourj Hammoud (Lebanon);
he returned to the embassy where the visa was annulled and replaced
with a new one.

The result was hours of investigation in New York, coupled with an
intimate strip search; although his passport showed that he has been
to the U.S. many times a year over the past few years. Moreover, the
annulled visa clearly stated: annulled without fault of passport
bearer. However, my Armenian-Lebanese friend looks guilty, much like
most of my friends. If I doubt him, then the Hungarian and American
security are excused.

Day after day, I hear of horror stories around the world's airports,
specifically the United States, following the enforcement of strict
measures in fear of terrorism. Personally, I was not harassed, in
spite of my name. Furthermore, it seems that the British passport
makes me an accomplice in the war on terror, which allows me peaceful
passage.

In any case, this is all an introduction. What inspired me to write
about the topic is last week's article by The New York Times
columnist Maureen Dowd entitled "Hiding Breast Bombs." In it she
discussed the embarrassment or occasional humiliation experienced by
the female American travelers while undergoing intimate strip
searches, sometimes at the hands of a Transportation Security
Administration (TSA) male screener. It seems that the laws in America
were even stricter since last September in response to the attacks on
the Russian plane by the two Chechen female suicide bombers a few
weeks earlier.

Body search around the breasts is easier than other parts -
inappropriate for publications. Furthermore, The Times Joe Sharky
chronicled the experiences of women's experiences of the "breast
exam:" a 71 year-old woman was subjected to the breast pat-down in
the search for explosives. Singer and actress Patti LuPone got barred
from her flight for resisting taking off her shirt because she was
wearing nothing underneath. Perhaps the TSA screeners have an excuse
since; some explosive materials are fluid in nature and cannot be
detected through X-Ray machines, which gives rise to the need to look
for them anywhere that they could be concealed. I once saw the
picture of an Israeli soldier inspecting the breast of a veiled
Palestinian woman carrying two infants; I thought it was enough
provocation for them to carry out operations against Israel when they
grow up.

When Maureen Dowd (an American) is strip searched in America, it
makes the inspection of an Armenian-Lebanese friend with his thick
moustache and Middle Eastern features like all terrorists, the best
thing that can happen to him in New York. At least, the men at
customs did not refer to him as Isabelle; like we did in Hungary.

The friend was a victim of error; our neighbor in London was the
victim of a "correction" attempt; upon her arrival in New York, while
on vacation with her husband and children, the well-informed customs
officer asked the woman while inspecting her British passport: Born
in Damascus? You are Iraqi. Welcome. The friend replied: Damascus,
Syria. The officer insisted on Damascus being in Iraq. Rather than
keeping quite to find a pro-unity of Arabs customs employee in
America, our friend insisted on the correction and ended up in a
three hour investigation in a glass room.

Back in the day, we used to travel without being frisked. In the
1960s however, plane hijacking began, and we started being searched.
At first, the planes were highjacked to Cuba. Our 'brothers' took to
the idea, and it became the fad in all countries.

Highjacking is easier than detonation. Before the two Chechen females
incident, a man had attempted to blow up a plane with an explosive
hidden in his shoe; as a result, we started to remove our shoes,
which calls for our socks to have no holes.

While the most I had personally experienced is removing my jacket,
shoes and belt, I know people who did all this but were still refused
entry to the United States; either for name similarities, or for
doubting that the visitor intends to immigrate - not to visit as he
claims.

Today, there are new laws against illegal immigration or an
intensification of the ones that already exists in Europe, the United
States, and many other countries. If these laws were to be enforced
retroactively, the whites would return to Europe and America will be
handed back to the Red Indians.

I do not expect this to happen any time soon. Nevertheless, I do
expect the continuity of harassing all the travelers, men and women,
with the fuel surcharge, resulting in the United States expecting 586
million air passengers this year - a record figure - with an $80
billion loss for the airlines.

The financial losses and harassment due to the airport searches is
nothing compared to life endangerment by terrorists. In spite of all
this, I find that there are some who support terrorism or invent
excuses for it.

Since I am no Hercules, I prefer harassment with safety. All the
same, some security measures make no sense; such as patting down an
elderly woman, or focusing on an annulled visa of a friend who is in
a party of seven carrying 15 hunting rifles, some of which are
automatic.

Some of us travel on business, i.e. not by choice. Others, travel on
holiday, to whom I say if he/she really looks like the passport
picture, then he/she is really sick and is better off not getting on
the plane.

Travel documents are no longer restricted to humans. We have a cat
and a dog and have obtained two British passports for them, because
the family spends the summer in the south of France. Pet passports
are a microchip under the neck's skin, and when the specialized
device decodes it all of the cat or dog's details appear - including
the name, age, weight, residence, and medical records.

The dog is loyal is to its owner, not the house; hence it travels
with us to France. However, the cat's loyalty goes to the house
rather than its owner; therefore it usually stays in London - so as
not to run away in France. Since our dog is friendly, it would
welcome any search to prove its innocence. The cat, on the other
hand, is vicious; I could imagine it bury its claws in the inspector,
as he deserves.

I read of an Englishman proud of his cat's possession of a British
passport, while Mohamad Al Fayed cannot get one. When a man owns
Harrods, why would he want to travel?