The recent bomb threats discovered in England sent off a wave of (understandable albeit excessive) paranoia throughout the aviation and travel industry. Items from hair gel to foot-lotion (and everything in between) were being viewed with unprecedented trepidation.
It was just my qadr that, on the same day this was announced, I was scheduled to fly from Houston to California to deliver an Al Maghrib seminar, and return in two days. I was seriously debating whether to cancel or re-schedule the class. For the last five hours before departing to the airport, every single news channel had nothing else on except for this item, with such enjoyable titles as 'Terror in the Sky', and 'How Safe are We?' and 'Another 9/11?'. I am already on the TSA's 'Selectee' list, which means that the government likes me so much that it assigns a special welcoming committee to great me every time I land from foreign travel back in the US (this also happened on my return from the MLT conference). Therefore, I did not wish to expose myself to even more hassle, since my brown skin color, beard, appearance and name do little to ameliorate the damage that my 'fundamentalist' theology and educational background have already caused.
Yet, I decided in the end to risk it. After all, what could possibly happen other than the usual embarrassment of being singled out of the crowd, and perhaps detained for a longer time than usual?
It is with an honest feeling of pride (mixed with some perturbment and maybe even chagrin), that I confess that absolutely nothing out of the ordinary took place. I arrived at Houston's George W. Bush International Airport well in advance, and while there were longer than usual lines, since I am a Continental Elite OnePass member, I was allowed to go into the shorter security line, and was done in five minutes. As I walked through the metal detectors, a Hispanic lady behind me had been chosen for the random screening. I fully expected her to tap me on the shoulder and say, 'Sir, I think they meant you!'.
On my flight back to Houston today, once again I whisked through security in California and was not selected for random screening. In California, they had added another security desk after the main one, right before boarding the plane. Once again, passengers were supposed to be randomly selected as they went one by one into the plane. Assuming that there was no way I would get out of this one, I waited patiently for my turn, but the security guard merely waved me past. I was truly shocked to see that they had selected a Caucasian mother with two kids for extra screening, and were frisking her and emptying out the contents of the water in her baby's bottle, while I strolled leisurely by and walked into the plane.
Credit needs to be given where it is due. Although I am frustrated and angry that my name is on a secret government list, I am proud to state that at least there is no overt discrimination or systematic racial profiling here in the US. Things have changed for the better - it was only half a century ago that Americans of Japanese heritage were treated the way they were during WWII.
And so, from this regard, no matter how much we as Muslims disagree with current American foreign policy, we really and truly should be proud of many of the values that Americans stand for.