Thursday, September 15, 2011

Shock and awe

This hasn't been reported too widely in the Indian press, but just a few days ago on September 11, three passengers on a commercial flight in the US (two of whom were apparently of Indian origin) were handcuffed and arrested from their seats upon landing and questioned in jail cells before being released without charges. Apparently this happened because the Indian passengers got up to use the toilets on the plane and a fellow-passenger reported that they were taking a suspiciously long time.

A beautiful blog account by the third arrested passenger, an American of mixed Saudi and Jewish decent called Shoshana Hebshi, describes her ordeal. It's titled "Shock and awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit". You should definitely read it here. The posting has already received over 2000 comments, many of which raise the issue of whether heightened threat-perception justifies what appears to be a constitutional violation (as per Wikipedia, the 4th amendment "guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause").

I simply couldn't read all 2000+ comments but just a few of them were sufficient to highlight the conflict here. Do Americans demand a liberal society and individual freedom and accept the risks this entails, or accept a monitored society with curtailed freedom in order to (possibly) reduce these risks? Opinions are sharply divided. I find it particularly fascinating that right-wingers, allegedly champions of individual liberty and government non-interference, are the ones who most strongly support random arrests and strip-searches as "the price one has to pay" to be secure.

The very same people oppose medical care being provided by the government to the poor and sick. Apparently in this case the "price one has to pay" is not worth paying? A particularly telling comment on this matter can be found in this article and video on the speech of presidential candidate Rick Perry, whose Tea-Party supporters recently cheered the idea that society should just let sick people die if they hadn't - for whatever reason - bought medical insurance.

I lived in the US during an era when right-wing activists were gunning down doctors who performed abortions - supposedly these were "pro-life" activists!! I realise I don't appreciate right-wing philosophy, but isn't it required to at least be internally consistent?


WebMiner said...

Shoshana Hebshi blogged about it. Did the PIOs?

Sunil Mukhi said...

The Indians seem to have disappeared without a trace... Guess they were not the complaining type?

BTW, as an example of how ridiculous misinformation can propagate on the web, some bloggers assumed from the reports that the two Indian guys went together to the same bathroom! This led others to conclude they must have gone for sex!! Given all this, it may be no wonder they've decided to lie low.

The official reports make it clear they went to two separate bathrooms but at the same time... which is not uncommon, since when one passenger gets up then another often uses the opportunity to go as well.

WebMiner said...

"Guess they were not the complaining type?" --- Very likely the memory of squeezing into a slow, smelly local from Dombivli to CST then queuing up for three hours in torrential rain for a US visa convinces them that an occasional unlawful detention is no big deal.