“International Herald Tribune”





By Mohammad Ali Salih

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

WASHINGTON: U. S. security authorities seem to believe that any terrorist tactic used in London will be repeated here. First, it was shoes; last year it was liquids and baby formulas; and this year it is propane tanks, Muslim physicians and “Allahu Akbar.”  I'm not a physician. But every weekday I put on a suit, carry a briefcase and go to work. What would happen if the London police arrested someone wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase with a bomb inside it?

A day before the Fourth of July celebrations, my family went to the Baltimore International Airport to pick up my college-age daughter arriving from Germany with a German friend.  Electronic signs on highways to the airport flashed: "Report Suspicious Activities." The airport was guarded. Our car was randomly stopped, and a security man quickly checked inside and signaled us to go.

The German girl took far longer than my daughter to pass through customs. She said her two hands were fingerprinted, her picture was taken and she was questioned at length about why she was visiting. "I can't believe this; the Americans are scared of everything," she said. "There is fear in Germany, but nothing like this."

On the Fourth of July, as I made plans for a customary cookout, I couldn't help but wonder about going to Home Depot to buy a propane tank.  I had read that the security authorities have been contacting local businesses, asking them to report unusual sales of propane tanks, fertilizer or other materials that could be used to make crude bombs.

As our three children and their friends prepared to go to the mall for the parade and fireworks, I asked them, tongue-in-cheek, about "protruding wires, bitter odors" and other "suspicious characteristics" in their cars that the police were reported to be looking for.

When I left home, there was a debate on the car radio about an immigrant from Morocco who was arrested in Florida for saying "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) and threatening to blow up a building while his car was playing loud Arabic music. Later, it was reported that no bomb was found and his roommate said he had had problems with a girlfriend.

I not only say "Allahu Akbar" day and night (as a quite prayer); I not only play Arabic music in my car, but I also keep Koran CD's in my car.  So I checked my CD collection to make sure that the Bible CD's were also still there. There was also some Christian literature I picked up the Sunday before when, for the first time, I visited the Arabic Baptist Church near where I live in Burke, Virginia, after I received an invitation in the mail.

If someone becomes suspicious when hearing me muttering "Allahu Akbar" a little too loud, or on hearing Koranic CD’s in my car, I will eagerly bring out my Bible CDs.

On the day after the Fourth of July, I asked our children and their friends about what happened at the fireworks.  One said he changed his mind and didn't go - not for fear of terrorism, but because police checkpoints would have make it unbearable for him. A second said there were loud booms coming from across the mall and some people got scared and left.  A third said there was a girl carrying an electronic device that flashed numbers, and some people thought it was a bomb.

These examples suggested that security measures sometimes cause more fear than they intend to thwart.  Of course, the authorities should take precautions to protect people.  But it just seems that these are the wrong precautions:

First, there will always be terrorists and crazy individuals who would want to kill people.  Second, the security authorities can not be expected to ever declare, "There are no more security threats; let us dismantle our agencies."  Third, President Bush inflames the situation every time he declares that if the terrorists in Iraq are not defeated, "they will follow us home," as he said in his Fourth of July address.

In the address, the president also warned people about the "new and unprecedented war" on terrorism.  If he could only imagine the fear, stress and depression that this "war" has already inflicted on me and many other Muslims I know here America!

I have become very suspicious – with some contempt -- of American politicians, and that added to my stress.  And that's why I go around silently-praying “Allahu Akbar.”  And that is why I packed my car with Islamic and Christian CDs and literature after I had found refuge in mosques and churches.

Mohammad Ali Salih is Washington correspondent for the London-based “Asharq Alawsat” newspaper.  You can reach him at mohammadalisalih@yahoo.com