Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Live Blog #1

Monday, 8 March 2010

Body Scanners, Profiling and the [Il]legality of it all

Human rights. Justice. Equality. These words represent hope to billions of people, but is that all? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was passed in 1948 and is meant to protect the rights of man. But how far is this really the case? Do you feel confident that your rights are fully respected?

After the Christmas bomb plot, the media brought panic to citizens in western countries. A man, equipped with explosives, had managed to get past strict security measures and board a plane to the USA, and once again people have started to fear air travel. However, what measures have been recommended to guarantee our safety?

In a very controversial interview on Fox News in the United States of America, a retired member of the U.S. Air Force, Lieutenant General Thomas G. McInerney advised the USA to start scanning “…all Muslim men entering the USA between the ages of 18-28”. ’’ He continues, saying that “if that age group doesn’t like it, then what are they doing to stop this jihad against the west?” And finally, when the presenter replies with shock of using such harsh measures, he responds, “It is not racial profiling…”

Now, we understand and recognize that security is a big issue, and the correct response to threats must be taken. But will the scanning of every Muslim man, aged 18-28, truly achieve world peace and safer air travel?

A former member of the US military (and an accomplished entrepreneur), on live national television, blamed all Muslims in the west for not doing anything to stop this “jihad against the west”. Well, as a Muslim living in the west, I would argue that by integrating into the society, I am doing just that. I am showing how two different cultures can live harmoniously in the same space. The General argues that he does not want ‘profiling’ of individuals. But when Muslim men are put aside for ‘special treatment’, what else would you call it but religious discrimination? Are my human rights not being violated if such measures were brought into practise?

In my opinion, being forced to walk through a full body scanner, which would show me butt naked to a stranger, only because of my religious affiliation is degrading, humiliating and feels like an attempt to dehumanize me. Article 5 of the Declaration of Human Rights declares, “No one shall be subjected to…degrading treatment or punishment”. This is earlier preceded by Article 2, which states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as…religion”.

Although Lt. Gen. McInerney said this on the news fairly recently, such beliefs have been part of the mainstream psyche for a long time. A pertinent example are the ‘stop and search’ measures – kindly known as Section 44 – that were introduced in the UK. Brought in to legalise ‘stops and searches’ of suspicious characters on our streets. It is unfortunately true that if you are of African or Asian origins, “you are around four times more likely to be stopped than if you are white”.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled a landmark case last month, that the use of Section 44 in certain circumstances violated Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights; what’s more, the Court even ruled that the law lacked “adequate legal safeguards”, and was apprehensive about the amount of power granted to the police.

Nevertheless, torture is against the UDHR and is still carried out. Thus, what do these Human Rights stand for? Do they really mean anything or are they merely words meant to spark optimism into those whose rights are constantly being threatened? Guantanamo Bay is but one example, an enclosed detention centre well known for its torture (especially after the release of the report detailing use of Enhanced Interrogations Techniques), has remained open after the January deadline Obama has promised it would close by.

Living in such a society, we must be wary of the laws we abide by, but also challenge the laws that are broken by those superior to us. By signing up to the United Nations, most of the countries we live in have agreed to ‘give’ us these rights. The climate is now, however, that we must earn our rights back, and to do this, we must raise our voices above the rest.

You can also read and comment on the article on the yourtwocents webpage.