Not Sitting Next to Indian on Plane

Via the awesome Ta-Nehisi Coates, here’s a story of a half-Jewish half-Arab woman blogger whose flight to Detroit turned into being handcuffed and questioned all apparently because she was sitting next to two Indians who took too long in the loo in the plane on September 11, 2011.

Someone shouted for us to place our hands on the seats in front of us, heads down. The cops ran down the aisle, stopped at my row and yelled at the three of us to get up. “Can I bring my phone?” I asked, of course. What a cliffhanger for my Twitter followers! No, one of the cops said, grabbing my arm a little harder than I would have liked. He slapped metal cuffs on my wrists and pushed me off the plane. The three of us, two Indian men living in the Detroit metro area, and me, a half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio, were being detained.

The cops brought us to a parked squad car next to the plane, had us spread our legs and arms. Mine asked me if I was wearing any explosives. “No,” I said, holding my tongue to not let out a snarky response. I wasn’t sure what I could and could not say, and all that came out was “What’s going on?”

No one would answer me. They put me in the back of the car. It’s a plastic seat, for all you out there who have never been tossed into the back of a police car. It’s hard, it’s hot, and it’s humiliating. The Indian man who had sat next to me on the plane was already in the backseat. I turned to him, shocked, and asked him if he knew what was going on. I asked him if he knew the other man that had been in our row, and he said he had just met him. I said, it’s because of what we look like. They’re doing this because of what we look like. And I couldn’t believe that I was being arrested and taken away.

She says she’s half-Jewish and half Saudi Arabian but she also uses “Hebshi” for herself which would include some East African ancestry, a fairly common thing in the region. I mention this because American perceptions of Arab/Middle Eastern looks is darker than a lot of Middle Easterners actually look and is closer to South Asian complexion.

Here’s a news report about the incident.

Police temporarily detained and questioned three passengers at Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport on Sunday after the crew of the Frontier Airlines flight from Denver reported suspicious activity on board, and NORAD sent two F-16 jets to shadow the flight until it landed safely, airline and federal officials said.

The three passengers who were taken off the plane in handcuffs were released Sunday night, and no charges were filed against them, airport spokesman Scott Wintner said.

Frontier Flight 623, with 116 passengers on board, landed without incident in Detroit at 3:30 p.m. EDT after the crew reported that two people were spending “an extraordinarily long time” in a bathroom, Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuck said.

FBI Detroit spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said ultimately authorities determined there was no real threat.

“Due to the anniversary of Sept. 11, all precautions were taken, and any slight inconsistency was taken seriously,” Berchtold said. “The public would rather us err on the side of caution than not.”

No, no, I would that they err on the side of common sense. Or if they want to err on the side of caution, then take it all the way and not even get out of bed because that could be dangerous.

Ta-Nehisi is considering boycotting flying. I am much more of a cynic, so my lessons from reading about this are different.

One, I am going to be a lot more careful about going to the plane toilets and make sure I don’t take too long or go more than once.

The second lesson I draw is not to sit next to any South Asian (or Middle Eastern) looking person on the plane. Especially a South Asian that I don’t know. I definitely don’t want to be arrested just because I was sitting next to an Indian/Pakistani who had constipation and spent too much time in the toilet and the authorities thought I knew them because all of us South Asians know each other, right?

Suicide Bombings in Wah Cantt

Twin suicide bombings in the city of my birth have affected me a lot more than I thought possible. 63 dead according to latest reports.

The city of my birth, Wah Cantt, has seen twin suicide bombings today:

At least 63 people have been killed in twin suicide bombings outside a munitions factory in the Pakistani town of Wah, hospital sources say.

The attack is the deadliest on a military site in Pakistan’s history.

The bombs hit the city, 30km (18 miles) north of Islamabad, as workers left. Many people were injured.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taleban said they had carried out the attacks, which he said were a response to army violence in the country’s north-west.

Correspondents say Wah, in the province of Punjab, is a strategically important town normally under heavy security as it is home to a large industrial complex producing conventional arms and ammunition.

Local police chief Nasir Khan Durrani told the BBC: “Many others have been injured and we expect casualties to rise in the coming hours.

“At least 25 people have been critically injured.”

Mr Durrani said none of the dead was military personnel.

The first blast took place outside the gate of the factory as workers were leaving work during a shift change.

Minutes later, another blast took place at another gate of the same factory.

The two bombings were just outside Main Gate and Aslam Market gate. According to my information, the Main Gate was mostly for workers on bicycles and motorcycles and that’s where most of the casualties were. The other gate is for cars and officers. So the Taliban murdered poor workers.

Wah Cantt is home to Pakistan Ordnance Factories which has a huge campus and is the biggest employer there, employing 25,000 to 30,000 people. The suicide bombings happened at their gates.

Wah Cantt is a somewhat restricted area as any private vehicle going there has to stop at a security checkpost and identify themselves. However, public transport is not stopped.

I am still in shock at these bombings. I lived in Wah Cantt for a total of 15 years. My inlaws still live there. All I can say in response to these killings is: Fuck the Taliban! Fuck Jihad!

POSTSCRIPT: I forgot to mention the suicide bombing of a hospital two days ago.

Thirty-two people, seven policemen and two health officials among them, were killed and 55 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the emergency ward of the District Headquarters Hospital [in Dera Ismail Khan] on Tuesday.

[…] The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Inhuman scum!

The Battle of Algiers

It’s a classic and seems strangely poignant these days when we are all reading about insurgencies and counterinsurgency.

The Battle of Algiers is a classic movie about the Algerian War.

The topics — insurgency, bombings, terrorism, counterinsurgency, torture — seem strangely poignant and current.

I rate the movie 8/10.

Terror of School Districts

Law enforcements and government give the best of reasons for new laws on surveillance and powers for law enforcement. But they are always used for trivial or the worst of reasons too.

Laws giving more power of surveillance to the state are often justified in terms of their use against terrorists, pedophiles and other such criminals, but such laws can and will be used for such purposes as finding deadbeat dads or even checking if families reside in a specific school district.

A council has admitted spying on a family using laws to track criminals and terrorists to find out if they were really living in a school catchment.

A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council for more than two weeks.

The council admitted using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) on six occasions in total.

Three of those were for suspected fraudulent school place applications.

It said two offers of school places were withdrawn as a consequence.

[…] RIPA legislation allows councils to carry out surveillance if it suspects criminal activity.

On its website, the Home Office says: “The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) legislates for using methods of surveillance and information gathering to help the prevention of crime, including terrorism.”

It goes on to say the act allows the interception of communications, carrying out of surveillance and the use of covert human intelligence sources.

Poole council said it used the legislation to watch a family at home and in their daily movements because it wanted to know if they lived in the catchment area for a school, which they wanted their three-year-old daughter to attend.

Also, in the past, these kind of laws have been used against political opponents, as the Church Committee reports show. It is quite probable that they will be used similarly again.

A Mighty Heart

This is a movie about the kidnapping and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002. I rate it 7/10.

A Mighty Heart is a movie about the kidnapping and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl in early 2002. It is based on the book of the same name by Mariane Pearl, Daniel’s wife.

Daniel Pearl doesn’t have much time onscreen here as the movie is about his kidnapping and the ensuing search. The main focus thus are the Pakistani law enforcement, of whom Irfan Khan playing the role of “Captain” did a good job, and Mariane. I was actually surprised to see that Angelina Jolie did some decent acting as Mariane, though there were some accent issues. Will Patton as the US diplomatic security guy looked bad, either intentionally or unintentionally, due to the constant smirk on his face.

I half expected the murder video released by the terrorists to be shown in the movie. However, only a couple of seconds of Danny were shown and not the gory parts of that video, which was a relief.

Overall, it was a decent movie. I rate it 7/10.

Pakistan Opinion Poll

There is an opinion poll out about the perceptions of people in four Muslim countries (including Pakistan) about US policy, attacks on civilians and al Qaeda. It offers an interesting perspective into what Pakistani city dwellers are thinking.

Via Abu Aardvark, I found out about a public opinion poll about US policy, attacks on civilians and al Qaeda in four Muslim countries: Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco. Abu Aardvark focuses on Egypt while I am interested in Pakistan.

Let us look at the full report. But first some information:

The surveys were conducted between December 9, 2006 and February 15, 2007 using in-home interviews. In Morocco (1,000 interviews), Indonesia (1,141 interviews), and Pakistan (1,243 interviews) national probability samples were conducted covering both urban and rural areas. However, Pakistani findings reported here are based only upon urban respondents (611 interviews); rural respondents were unfamiliar with many of the issues in the survey. In Egypt, the sample (1,000 interviews) was an urban sample drawn probabilistically from seven governorates. Sample sizes of 1,000 – 1,141 have confidence intervals of +/- 3 percentage points; a sample size of 611 has a confidence interval of +/-4 percentage points.

So the Pakistani rural population did not have much to opine on these issues and the survey only reports findings from urban areas.

(Urban) Pakistanis have a 15%/67% favorable/unfavorable view of the current US government which is similar to the other countries (except Egypt which is much more unfavorable). 64% of Pakistanis think that nearly all or most of the world events are controlled by the US. 36% of Pakistanis disagreed (while 33% agreed) with the statement that “there have been times in American history where it has helped to promote the welfare of others.” 73% of Pakistanis think that weakening or dividing the Islamic world is a policy goal of the United States and 64% think that spreading Christianity in the Middle East might be a goal. In comparison, 68% of Pakistanis thought that maintaining control over oil resources is a goal of US policy.

On the primary goal of the War on Terror, 42% of Pakistanis think it is to weaken the Islamic world while 26% think it is to militarily and politically dominate the Middle East. Only 12% think the purpose of the war on terror is to protect the US from terror attacks.

While 71% of Pakistanis agree with the goal of getting the US troops to withdraw from Iraq, Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, they disagree about attacks on US troops with about a third approving and similar numbers disapproving.

81% of Pakistanis believe that politically motivated attacks on civilians are not justified, with 72% considering it against Islam. However, only 30% of Pakistanis think that groups that target civilians, such as al Qaeda, are violating the principles of Islam. At the same time, 62% consider suicide bombings by Muslims to be wrong. About two-thirds oppose attacks on civilians in the US and Europe while a slightly less majority opposes attacks on US civilians working in the Muslim world.

9% of (Urban) Pakistanis support al Qaeda attacks on the US and share al Qaeda’s attitude towards the US while 7% oppose the attacks but share the attitude. 17% oppose the attacks and do not share al Qaeda’s attitude towards the US. The rest declined to take a position (which is unusual compared to the other countries surveyed).

Pakistanis have a more positive (27%) view of Osama Bin Laden than negative (15%) with 24% having mixed feelings. Also, only 2% of Pakistanis consider al Qaeda to be behind the September 11, 2001 attacks while 27% think the US did it and 7% blame Israel (62% refused to answer). This is very different from the other countries.

21% of Pakistanis think a conflict between Western and Muslim cultures is inevitable while 43% think it possible to find common ground.

67% of Pakistanis want to keep Western values out of Islamic countries. On the other hand, 65% of Pakistanis consider globalization to be good while only 14% declare it to be bad and 61% consider democracy to be a good way to govern. 71% want to push the US to remove its military forces and bases from the region; 79% want a strict application of shariah law in every Muslim country; and 74% want to unify all Muslim countries into a single state or caliphate.

While 84% of Pakistanis believe people should be free to worship according to their religion, 60% had no problem with proselytizing. About half the Pakistanis have unfavorable views of the freedom of expression in the United States.