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Sabria Jawhar Headshot

Al-Qaeda, Not the US, Is Responsible for My Loss of Privacy and Dignity at the Airport

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It doesn't surprise me that the United States has put Saudi Arabia on the "countries of interest" list for passengers flying out of the Kingdom.

In the wake of the failed terrorist attack at the Detroit Metro Airport on Dec. 25, the US placed Saudi Arabia and 13 other countries on a list that requires intensified scrutiny of passengers originating from those countries, and apparently people passing through or visiting.

Occupying the top four spots on the list are what the US considers state sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan.

In addition to Saudi Arabia of so-called "countries of interest" are Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.

What that means in the coming months or years is anybody's guess. Yet I know it means that I will be treated differently from other passengers. It means my carry-ons and checked baggage get a double inspection. It means that as a Muslim woman I am now required to undergo a full-body pat down. It means that I will be required to go through the whole-body scanner that checks for hidden bombs or makeshift weapons at airports in the United Kingdom and in Amsterdam.

I see the potential for public humiliation for Arabs passing through airports. All eyes will be on us as we are pulled aside and given a good once-over. Those passengers will remember us on the plane. So all in all, the plainclothes air marshals traveling with us will have an easier job since there will a couple hundred extra pairs of eyes watching our every step to the restroom and as we reach for our carry-ons in the overhead bin.

I don't mind, though. I fly a lot between Saudi Arabia and Europe and I expect full protection from the airlines, airport security and the countries I fly to and from like any other passenger. I want to be safe, even if it means having a stranger put her hands on me. It's the world terrorists have created for us.

The optimist in me has a tendency to believe the US is overreacting a bit. Previous security measures in place have been remarkably effective since 9/11, and airline passengers have been in safe hands.

Governments must sort through the never-ending messy business of moving millions of fliers annually through airports. To believe that any security system is full-proof is naïve. It's the law of averages: the longer the US stays in Afghanistan and Iraq the more likely the new attacks will be attempted. It's not an excuse for the failed attempt in Detroit, it's just an evolution of the war.

I have Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula to thank for these new security measures and how people will view me. These are the idiots who wreaked so much havoc in Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2006 that left a lot of innocent people dead in Yanbu, Riyadh, Al-Khobar and Al-Ras. Al-Qaeda then reconstituted itself after the Ministry of Interior's security forces beat the stuffing out of them and set them on the run.

Al-Qaeda would like nothing better than for me and my fellow Saudi students to stay at home. But I won't allow Al-Qaeda to make me a victim in my own country and the country where I am pursuing my studies. I won't allow Al-Qaeda to put an end to my plans for future tourist visits to the US or the annual academic workshops that I attend in Sweden and Germany.

Al-Qaeda may hope that Saudi students think twice about being subjected to profiling at airports and stay at home like "good Muslims," in their view.

Good Muslims, however, get an education and bring that knowledge home to help Saudi Arabia become a better country. Good Muslims don't hide out in Yemen planning attacks on planes with children aboard.

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