Friday, October 02, 2009

Ali: Visiting the U.S. can be a harrowing experience

A news agency, reporting on the Olympic bid, included the following:

An uncomfortable moment for Chicago came when an IOC member from Pakistan, Syed Shahid Ali, noted that going through U.S. customs can be harrowing for foreigners.

The remark has been taken down before I could track its origin, but it is, I think, the explanation for Chicago's embarrassment.

I just blogged a few hours ago about this moment (here), I thought Obama clinched the nomination with his words of reassurance. But the fact remained that visiting the U.S., with the hurdles of going through and ever more byzantine and medieval process to get a visa, obnoxious and intrusive security checks at customs, measures such as not carrying liquids that are obviously mere security theater, and in general dealing with the ugliest arrogance which which this (otherwise) great country sometimes treats the rest of the world, turned into such a repulsive experience that the IOC Committee members would rather have the tourists be robbed at Rio de Janeiro.


Anonymous said...

From your blog I think you would prefer to compromise on the security and have easy visa restrictions just to fetch Chicago an Olympics they are much better without.

I agree. This is a good case for deregulations too. There is no point in inconveniencing bankers, letting them go through the rigmarole of regulations. I would rather that the finance industry boom so that New York leaps leagues ahead as the financial capital of the world, where we do all sorts of financial olympics. I mean, we do have high adrenalin bankers who take steroids.

No Doubt. The status of having a city in the limelight far outweighs any benefits of a boring, tedious security process that can have longer term benefits

Eddie said...

From your blog I think you would prefer to compromise on the security

False tradeoff. In my opinion, most of the measures that supposedly improve security do not improve security. They are worse than mere inconveniences too, then it is a case of the failure of government to fulfill its duty to provide for the common security by doing it the wrong way, no case for the government to abdicate its responsibility. You are misconstruing my whole argument as if saying that the war in Iraq is a great mistake somehow means that I am an enemy of liberty.

What kind of "long term security benefits" are you talking about? I am talking about a very concrete harm to the United States done in the name of security that in reality does not improve it. I know firsthand of people from other countries that has had "harrowing" experiences dealing with issues of visa, customs and TSA. A United States that treats visitors from overseas like shit, is not a great United States, it is a country that people would learn to dislike; on the other hand, a country whose authorities that deal with foreign visitors make the visitors feel welcome teaches to love this country. I should wait for your answer to my question to explain why I think no real improvement in security has happened.

The other case, of bankers gambling with the money as if they were Hedge Funds is a case of government failing to fulfill its responsibility of guaranteeing that the managers of Banks are managing the money in accordance to their responsibilities to share holders and depositors. When it turned clear that the managers of the financial institutions had indeed gambled and lost the money, then the government (both the previous and current administrations) made the immorality of bailing them out, this time in the name of the common good. Both the ineffective security measures that hurt the prestige of the United States and the abdication of government responsibilities, the "deregulation" of banks are examples of the same thing: Government failing to fulfill its responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

The security measures that you mentioned in your blog - 1. liquids - it is not mere theater, because it is done in most countries - UK, Europe, India, even domestic flights. I have travelled a few international flights, and apart from the occasional example (once a year0 there is nothing obnoxious about any search. That is a knee-jerk observation on your part.

I challenge you to take a flight - go with an Asian/middle eastern looking friend if you so prefer. They go through the scanner in a brief second, take their shoes off and have them examined in a another brief moment, and have a manual scanner moved over their body. Some whites are not submitted to the manual scanner, that is all. It takes about 10 seconds. There are some people who are profiled and checked more thoroughly.

As for the visa, the US policy is way more scientific - they try to let in people who will benefit them economically. Way better than someone like UK, who lets in anyone who is a sentenced criminal in his country. Sure, there are areas for improvement in the Visa process. Have you seen what Israel and the Mideast do to each other with the visa?

This security thing etc is an overreaction.

Maybe Syed Shahid Ali is a fan of Bollywood Super star Shah Rukh Khan, who was detained in a publicity stunt by the INS at the US airport for two hours. And hence his ignominy.

Eddie said...

1.- Liquids: I believe you, that those countries also have bans on liquids, nevertheless, it is still security theater. Is lifting the ban on liquids a "compromise" in security policy? what may be the "longer term benefits" of this ban?

2.- For most people, the search process is unobtrusive and quick, otherwise, people would have revolted. But that doesn't mean that there is not too many people for whom it is neither. Have you heard of the "no fly list", the people virtually prohibited from traveling on planes just because the government, without any need to prove its case, thinks that people may be a "security threat"? I can mention many examples of people that were in such situation: Nelson Mandela, U.S. Senator "Ted" Kennedy, R.I.P., and Yslam Yusuf (formerly known as Cat Stevens, the singer). In the case of Yusuf Islam, despite being such a famous singer and all, the plane that was bringing him to Washington D.C. was diverted to Maine and he was detained and forced out of the country, for no other reason whatsoever than showing up in the no-fly list; and why does he show up there, is anybody's guess. What do you think such "security policies" make people think? I mean these are extreme examples, but not because they are rare, I mentioned three world-wide relevant figures that everyone know about, and yet, the country made a very public ridicule of itself. Heck, what kind of protection is that that a Canadian businessman so fed up with the harassment changed his name (see the details here:

I know of friends (notice the plural) humiliated with the anal and vaginal checks at customs. You are making a false induction that since the inspections haven't been intrusive for you or people around you, then they are ok for everybody.

About the visa paperwork, I laugh at you when you dare say that "the policy is more scientific". I don't feel the need to assume the burden of the proof, anybody who is not a complete ignorant about the visa processes has an idea of how "medieval and byzantine" it is, just like I mention in the blog. I will leave you to your ignorance all alone on this one.

Of course that you had to minimize the personal qualities of the person who made the question (which by the way, I don't know anything about, I had to hunt in many news services to at least get his name). Given how ignorant you are on the subject of how dreadful it can be to visit the U.S., you wouldn't come with any other explanation for such an "attack".

Try to imagine that you are wrong, that indeed the experience is dreadful for far too many peaceful, honest people who want to come visit the U.S. for legitimate reasons and yet are faced with some of those ugly things, and they come back to their countries, thinking that perhaps their awful experiences were isolated cases; but then, they read blogs like this, and then see how people like you assume that the authorities must have had a good reason to mistreat them the way they were mistreated, that the many vexations are "scientific"... adding insult to humiliation.

If you do that, you would begin to understand how this kind of arrogance is one of the reasons that must have played a role in Chicago being eliminated in the first round.

In my articles I mentioned that Olympic Games in Chicago would be a great way for people to re-discover this great city that nowadays doesn't have as much of all the ugly stuff people still think it has; and the same thing could have applied to the U.S.A. as a whole, an opportunity for the country to correct its mistakes and to show itself at its best, again being welcoming of foreign visitors; a very good reason by itself to warrant the involvement of the top officials of the federal government. Your opinion about it? to compromise security to "have a city in the limelight"...

Anonymous said...

1. you misinterpret me - when I said more scientific, you interpreted it to mean scientific. I said way more scientific than nations in western europe like the UK. Or what Israel and Mideast do to each other, keep denying anyone who has travelled to the other region a visa.

Canada is the only developed country I can think of which has a smoother process. US is very good at letting in people who will benefit the US, and keeping out people that countries like the UK let in. That is a plus. Yes, it inconveniences many, but the job of US is not to be a five-star luxury resort.

As for liquids, you should read this

As for the point on making reference to a person you know nothing about, apologies for that. Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) has been the leading Bollywood actor for many years, and he continues to terrorize Indians by making more movies.

Recently, he was held in the US by INS, who detained him for two hours (I wish they had never let him go, now he will only make more movies).

Anyway, he came out and said, they detained me only because "My Name is Khan". Now, there was already a movie to be released about a Muslim who goes to the US, who gets detained at the airport just coz of his name. Name of the movie? "My Name is Khan". You think this is a coincidence? This is the best way to foment righteous indignation among Indians who will now flock to his movie. Btw, showing apparent righteous indignation at Americans is a favorite Indian way to pass time.

And he must have enjoyed the anal search, because he is a known bi who gets screwed by his director and gym trainer before every shoot. I am not making this up.