Monday 29 October 2007

UK Minister "deeply disappointed" at US security search

It seems to have become an easy thing to do to criticise US immigration controls for supposed overenthusiasm in stopping and searching certain groups before granting the right to enter.

The latest individual to enter the debate is Shahid Malik, MP for Dewsbury and the UK’s first Muslim Minister of State. Whilst travelling to a conference on terrorism via Dulles airport in Washington DC, Mr Malik was detained and his hnad luggage searched by homeland security officials. Mr Malik spoke afterward of his “deep disappointment” at being searched, and that UK politicians should be treated with greater respect when travelling in the US.

"The abusive attitude I endured last November I forgot about and I forgave, but I really do believe that British ministers and parliamentarians should be afforded the same respect and dignity at USA airports that we would bestow upon our colleagues in the senate and congress. Obviously, there was no malice involved but it has to be said that the USA system does not inspire confidence".

It has to be said, respect for visiting dignitaries and officials should be a two-way street, and that our own politicians should of course be treated with the same respect as American guests during their visits (although maybe Mr Malik should cast his mind back to the less-than-gracious hospitality showed to President Bush during his state visit to the UK last year).

Obviously, if the security officials were being “abusive” as Mr Malik originally suggested, then he is entitled to an apology, and an investigation should ensue. However, given his acknowledgement that “there was no malice involved” it appears that Mr Malik is objecting to being searched at all – in which case, I have to say that my sympathy is limited.

Yes, it is a drag having to remain in an airport any longer than necessary, particularly after a twelve-hour flight. And yes, it does seem unusual for staff to feel it necessary to search a serving Minister of State. But for Mr Malik to pull out the “do you know who I am?” card seems either to be an exercise in victimhood played up for his own personal electoral reasons, or a waste of a great opportunity to demonstrate some of the tolerance that he himself appears to allude to.

Certainly, complaining about security controls taken by any country – and particularly one which receives the level of terrorist threats as those received by the US – seems odd when you remember that the reason Mr Malik was in the country at all was to attend a conference on reducing the likelihood of terrorist acts. And to talk of “confidence” in security systems, do we really need to put the question to New Yorkers and Washingtonians as to how they would prefer a security system to operate? Such controls may not appeal to soft-boiled liberals in the UK, but if these are deemed necessary by the US and are carried out in a respectful manner, then quite frankly it really is none of Mr Malik’s business.

Mr Malik is in the privileged position of being able to set an example to Muslim youths both here in the UK and in the US – no mean feat in itself. Perhaps a smile and a “good work, guys” comment could have gone a long way in breaking down barriers at a time of increased tensions. As it is, this unnecessary complaint only serves to build up resentment on all sides, and increasing the likelihood of such controls remaining in place for some time to come.

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