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Published:March 28th, 2009 12:37 EST
Paranoia in the Name of Anti-terrorism

Paranoia in the Name of Anti-terrorism

By Krzys Wasilewski

If people began to cry, shout or even pass out upon seeing you, it means that you are either a celebrity... or George W. Bush. So when Sohail Ashraf and Khurram Zeb " a couple of friends from England " realized that all eyes of fellow passengers were fixed on them, they immediately felt something was wrong. Ten minutes later the plane took off. The friends remained at the airport.

Sohail Ashraf and Khurram Zeb did not do anything that could spark such a reaction from other passengers. On the contrary " they patiently lined up at the terminal, got on the plane, kindly asked for their seats and waited to take off. But for a woman who sat next to them, the couple appeared strange. When later questioned by the police, she said that the two had spoken in a strange language (it turned out to be Urdu " the language widely spoken in India and Pakistan). She also didn`t like the answers that Sohail and Khurram gave her when the older lady decided to play Agatha Christie. The guys told her they had gone to Malaga, Spain for one day to make a reconnaissance before going for longer holidays later this year. All this trip for few hours in Spain? That was not the answer that could calm the old lady detective. Without too much thinking, she rushed to the pilot, murmured somethingindicating the two men. Other passengers quickly assumed what was going on. Some grabbed their bags and ran to the exit. Those who hadn`t got on the plane yet refused to board. A 12-year-old girl began to cry and shudder, soon joined by some more sensitive adults. Could you go with us gentlemen? ", two policemen asked politely. Sohail and Khurram first thought it was a joke. But grins on their faces quickly gave way to fright when the couple found themselves in an investigation room surrounded by policemen and airport officials. What they were told was that the passengers had refused to travel with them because they looked suspicious. Suspicious? Neither Sohail nor Khurram had their faces concealed in scarfs like most terrorists "to "be would have had. What is more, they were paragons of good manners-- which, later, the plane crew would admit. So what was so suspicious about them? Their only foul was being Asian.

It could have been a funny story, one of many that one can read on the last page of tabloids. After all, Sohail and Khurram were given a free lunch, spent several hours in a three star hotel and arrived in London on the same day. It could have been a funny story, had it not been for one detail " that the two were denied their basic rights just because they were Asians. It is hard to accuse the passengers-- who demanded the two men to leave the plane-- of ill will. Every day the media bombards its viewers with black and white pictures of good Americans and Europeans who generously allow immigrants to live on their soil and bad Asians and Africans deceiving their hosts. That happened two weeks ago when Europe`s biggest airport, England`s Heathrow, was gridlocked due to a terrorist alert. All travelers were frisked very carefully, they were forbidden from carrying anything, except passports and first-aid medicine. Two days later, British police arrested several suspects, most of them of Pakistani origins. Unsurprisingly, the media focused on the Asians, while not a word was uttered that some of the suspects were native English, including the son of a prominent politician of the Conservative Party. The 21-year-old converted to Islam, as he said, to put behind him a troubled youth of drinking and drugs. " The news that one of the would-be suicide bombers was white, could have blurred the clear picture where the good are good and the bad are bad. Unlike some politicians would like to think, either you are with us or against us, " does not work in reality.

Terrorism is the biggest threat of the 21st century; there is no doubt about that. Not only the US but all states around the world must try as theey might to ensure their citizens` well-being. And this includes more stringent air safety regulations, however agonizing and tiring they may seem for travelers. But the war on terror must not turn into a war against everyone who looks different from the majority. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. "

Sohail Ashraf and Khurram Zeb were denied those rights because they had darker skin and spoke a strange language. Who can guarantee that, as the war on terror rages on, some panic-stricken passengers won`t demand white only, black only or Asian only flights and governments in order to please their citizens? Sohail and Khurram are among the victims of anti-terrorism racism. Hopefully, they are the last to suffer such injustice.