Tag Archives: terrorism

What will become of Pakistan? Sri Lankan cricket team attacked in Lahore

Call me callous, but these terror attacks against the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan today did nothing to either shock or sadden me. Nor did it cause me to reconsider travelling to Pakistan in the future.

Perhaps I’m jaded, like much of the world these days. Or maybe I just realize that there’s more going on in the universe than rich sports figures being attacked in the streets in an isolated incident. While CNN was having a field day, inviting panelists in to discuss the future of cricket and the future of Pakistan as a nation, other world news was taking place: in Romania, Britian, France, Zimbabwe, Japan and China. Forgive me, but must the Americans focus solely on terror?

CWC 2007 Semi Final - Sri Lanka v New Zealand

The U.S. media’s fixation on fear doesn’t surprise me. I’m American, so I’ve grown up with the fear-mongering. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and childhood nightmares will help prepare you for the scary world that awaits you as an adult. Right?

Of course today’s terror attack is tragic and sad and should tell us something about the unstable country Pakistan is becoming. I fear that citizens of the world will soon place it among the ranks of Iraq and Afghanistan: no-go zones. But personally I don’t think it’s come to that yet. No matter what the American media spouts, a part of me can’t fathom that violence erupts on the streets of Pakistan at a moment’s notice, or without any notice at all, and that everyone in arm’s width is in danger of losing their lives.

But at what point will it come to this? Is it only when a government officially announces a war that people really begin to fear and mistrust a country? Or is Pakistan already lost to the people of the world?

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The human cost of flying: another plane crashes to the ground

As someone who travels quite frequently and hopes to do more in the future, this recent increase in airplane crashes is, frankly, stunning me. Today’s accident in Amsterdam is yet another reason to consider driving to my next vacation destination.

Within the past month or so, there have been two fatal crashes, one near miss into the Hudson River, and one helicopter crash. Is it safe to go into the air anymore?

Plane Crashes On Landing At Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport

Part of me wonders if there is some sort of conspiracy going on within the oil industry. Why not? Stranger things have happened. What if some of the gas going into airplanes these days is missing certain components, or contains manufactured, unsafe elements? I wouldn’t put it past certain world (terrorist) groups to attempt wiping out populations indiscriminately.

Of course this theory is far-fetched, but how can all these accidents simply be coincidences? Can we blame it on environmental factors like global warming,  with its extreme and sudden weather changes? Or perhaps it’s got something to do with the rotations of the sun in relation to its position with the moon… something astrological in nature. Or some higher power’s modern version of population control. I haven’t got a clue.

This past week, I took four flights in six days. And by the last one, I started to take my safety for granted. I barely gave the flight attendant a nod as she demonstrated how to fasten a seat belt or blow up the oxygen mask in mock fashion. Now, looking back, I could probably do with another lesson on how my seat cushion can become a life raft.

Woman's Hands Clasped in PrayerUntil we find out what caused these mysterious plane crashes, we can do nothing to stop them. As passengers, we must just sit back, relax, and, regardless of religion, say a little silent prayer.

Fear of flying: lucky – but not proud – to be an American

It ain’t easy being a world traveler these days. First came the “no liquids” rule, where expensive perfume and body lotion got dumped into the garbage by the gallons. Then, passports with magnetic strips became obligatory for all non-American travelers. And before we knew what had hit us, children were getting stopped at security for sharing their names with a terrorist, praying Imams were causing planes to ground, and if you just happened to be Asian, African or, god forbid, Middle Eastern, you could consider yourself effectively strip-searched.

Just days ago, the Department of Homeland Security announced that, starting in January 2009, they intend to make things even more difficult for travelers. Now, instead of diligently filling out the green I94 visa waver form on the plane, non-American passengers will be required to acquire and submit it at least 72-hours prior to boarding using the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). In an effort to halt terrorism, names will be checked against a law enforcement database, and in most cases, passengers will be notified immediately whether or not they are free to board. Accommodations will be made for last minute or emergency travelers and your status is valid for two years.

Right away, I am put off when I click on the ESTA website, where a huge, newspaper brief-sized message drops down to inform me that the Department of Homeland Security is watching me. Would I, it asks, like to accept the fact that any information I provide on the site is subject to being accessed, retained, intercepted or captured? Do I mind that any misuse of the following website could be used against me in a court of law? Nah.

With Big Brother watching me ever so closely, I click “ok” and take a trip through the site to see what life is soon to be like for international travelers. First, there’s the issue of whether or not passengers come from a visa waver-friendly country or not. If not, make sure to visit your local DMV or consulate to apply for one because even with the new ESTA system, you are not guaranteed entry into the U.S. The ESTA establishes whether or not you are eligible to board a plane, not physically cross the border.

After entering your personal info – including admitting whether or not you have gonorrhoea, syphilis or AIDS – you are notified of your ability to travel. But what happens if the system makes a mistake?

Considering the faultiness of air travel today, I have serious doubts about this new plan. For starters, there’s the convenient loophole for last minute travelers. If passengers in a rush can obtain preferential treatment in the virtual ESTA waiting line, why can’t a terrorist? And in that same vein, how can the system trap potential terrorists if they have no previous history of criminal action?

My leeriness continues. Take the simple example of a bottle of water. In an effort to can liquid bombs, authorities have put their foot down on anything resembling an aqueous material. Except, how do you explain the time in Houston when my brother walked through the security gate with his backpack wide open with a half-filled, one-liter bottle of water sticking out?

Most disconcerting is this notion of name checks. After doing an investigation into immigration several months ago for the Twin Cities Daily Planet, I learned that a) the Department of Homeland Security has a few secrets that they’re not willing to divulge quite yet, and b) background checks are hugely inefficient, time-consuming and above all, inaccurate. Although background checks on immigrants serve a slightly different purpose than a Norwegian or Nigerian woman trying to vacation in America, the DHS system is the same.

Just look at James Robinson, an eight year-old featured in a CNN report a few months back, who shares his name with a suspected criminal and has subsequently landed on the no-fly list. Since age five, he has been rejected every time he tries to fly, no matter how much parental guidance his mom and dad try to afford him. What’s most disturbing, however, was his mother talking about how she was able to get him through the lengthy checks by changing his name ever so slightly. For example, James Robinson suddenly becomes “J. Pierce” or “Jim”. In the report, two other men who share the name have encountered the same problems, and admitted to having successfully altered their names to board the plane.

The accounts of innocent travelers being duped by dysfunctional security checks run high. The number of people on the terrorist watch list topped one million in July 2008, making the concept increasingly ineffective. If a five year-old white boy named James Robinson has landed himself in the no-fly group, just think how someone with a common Arabic name like “Osama”, or even “Usama” or “Osema”, (both names of my 10 year-old French students) is going to be treated. Racial profiling, here we come.

And the insanity doesn’t stop there. Not only are two of the most common names in America on the list – Gary Smith and John Williams – so have been Cat Stevens (coincidentally, his real name is Yusuf Islam), Nelson Mandela and author James Moore, at one time or another. Even Senator Ted Kennedy was accidentally placed on the terror watch list in 2004. I figure, if the guy hasn’t blown up the country yet, he probably won’t. Especially not if he wants to try to get Osama, er, I mean, Obama, elected as president.

In four months, the ESTA system will be tested by the masses. Disgruntled passengers are sure to clog up the DHS phone lines and databases, and set employees frantically processing more unnecessary paperwork. And what will happen if passengers get rejected? Will travel agencies refund their money or will our financial crisis plunge even further, as hard-working citizens lose thousands of dollars in unused plane tickets? The spiral effect of this decision are potentially disastrous.

Luckily, I don’t have to worry about any of this. As an American, I am considered “safe” based solely on my place of birth. I am free to buy my plane ticket to Algeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan or Somalia and no one will blink an eye. Unless some other Colette Davidson decides to get some funny ideas and set a bomb off somewhere…

And then, I’m officially grounded.