Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Travelling while brown

In the aftermath of 7/7, people were suspicious of each other. But folks were particularly concerned by young Asian men (Asian in the British sense of from the Indian subcontinent). Doubtless, many young men suffered under the weight of anxious glances from their fellow passengers. I remember seeing a few in the first week looking nervous and abashed. But some young men seemed to revel in it. They swaggered, hair gelled and spiked, Palestinian scarfs draped across their shoulders -and carried bulging, mysterious backpacks.

I wasn't afraid of these types, merely angered by their rudeness. They wanted to be noticed and to cause alarm among commuters. I was always more nervous of the quiet ones who clutched their bags and seemed to be drawing on some inner strength. In retrospect, these were probably guys nervous of being searched (as I am), late for an appointment, on their way to a job interview, appointment or some unpleasant personal business.

Two British men of Asian (or Arab) appearance were chucked off a plane from Spain this weekend after passengers raised concerns. The pilot agreed, but they were cleared by police and have returned home now. People are jumpy. This sort of thing is going to happen more and more.

And now the British establishment is wringing its collective hands over whether or not we should profile passengers. It's not a new thing - ask my husband - he was once a young man from Northern Ireland. It took him the better part of a year to get security clearance to join the Territorial Army (like the National Guard) because of his Irish connection.

Yes, profile - I say. We'd be fools to target only the brown, but young men and to a lesser extent young women, are a greater threat than little old ladies or old men. And, in recent times - sad to say, the brown are more likely to be perpetrators.

Muslim organisations in the UK are protesting and raised the shout of Islamophobia over the passenger protest. They are sharply warning against profiling. But some senior police are warning against playing the race card and taking advantage of trying times to achieve their objectives. (In the days afterward Muslims groups asked for Muslim holidays and some MPs -including mine - insisted on a rethink of foreign policy). When these Muslim organisations pressed their point, we didn't know much about the terror plot arrests. The most recent memory of arrests in the night at Forest Gate in East London turned out to be a bungled op -hundreds of cops disrupted an entire neighbourhood and netted (by chance) a potential pedophile rather than an evident terrorist. So I guess they thought that if these arrests too turned out to be bad, they'd have even more weight to their argument.

Now it appears that they've got some real evidence against these latest bunch. That doesn't mean that we should target all Muslims in our search for security. But let's not be pressured against taking a sensible approach.
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

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