On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Too much hassle at foreign checkpoints

He was escorted by two airport policemen to a room where
he was held for three hours and interrogated because his name was on the
checklist. To their untrained eyes and ears, bin Jasin was close enough to bin
Laden. Their suspicion was further pricked when it was established that bin
Jasin was an "Islaam."

The former New Straits Times group chief editor said he
knew he was in trouble when he replied that he was a Muslim and not an

Checking his passport, the FBI officer found it hard to
believe that Kadir, a "Malayan" – as the officer described his nationality –
could afford to travel to so many countries.

It didn't help that it was 6.20am
on a Sunday morning and that the FBI officer had to be rudely awoken from his
sleep at home to come over to the airport to meet Kadir bin Jasin from South-East
Asia – "known" for its links with the al-Qaeda terrorists.

Further suspicion was raised when the officer was told
that Kadir's son, who was studying in Iowa,
was taking up aeronautical engineering, which involves the mechanics of flying.

Only after a computer check with FBI records, revealing
that Kadir was not a terrorist, was he allowed to continue his journey.

Kadir also made the mistake of using Chicago
as his US entry
point; it is one of the world's busiest airports with 72 million passengers in
2001 and has earned a reputation for delays and cancellations.

It took Kadir 45 minutes to clear immigration. In the
next six hours, he had to sit through two flight cancellations and had to
shuttle from one terminal to another before catching the connecting flight to Iowa.

Kadir is still sore and has sworn that he will never
travel to the US
"until they learn to differentiate between terrorists and Muslims."

Last week, Malaysians read about the shoddy treatment
accorded to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his deputy Datuk
Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi during their recent official visits to New
York and Los Angeles.

Dr Mahathir had said that US immigration officers were
"rude and rough" towards him when he was in New York,
adding that an officer who boarded the plane said in a rough manner that nobody
should move until everyone on board was checked.

Abdullah had disclosed that he was asked to remove his
shoes and belt at the Los Angeles Airport
for security check before he was allowed to fly to New
York to address the United Nations General Assembly.

On Wednesday, the US Embassy expressed regret for the
"inappropriate" treatment toward the two leaders: "The embassy sincerely
regrets any inconveniences or inappropriate treatment that senior Malaysian
government officials may have experienced during their visits to the US."

Now, if dignitaries like the PM and DPM, accompanied by
Foreign Ministry officials, have to put up with such brash treatment, imagine
ordinary Malaysians like you and me.

Malaysians understand that the world has changed in the
aftermath of Sept 11. Travelling rules have changed and it cannot be denied
that rules to ensure the safety of travellers need to be enforced.

Most travellers will not mind the little inconveniences,
for the greater good of all, but in enforcing these regulations there must be
some sensitivity and knowledge.

Officers of the law must undergo a minimum course on
religion, customs and geography, for example. In many parts of the US,
airport and security officials have little contact with foreigners.

When they have to deal with foreigners, there are often
uncertainties, especially if it involves a person in custody. There is often
some muscle flexing and a sense of superiority, especially if the person being
questioned is coloured. The situation becomes more complicated if the detainee
cannot speak English.

In all fairness, however, a Caucasian officer can
sometimes be more understanding than a fellow Asian. Those of us who travel to London
via Heathrow Airport
dread having to face an Asian immigration officer. While the white man is often
polite and cheerful, welcoming you to London,
the Asian officer would sometimes pose ridiculous questions.

Maybe these Asian officers merely want to prove to their
white superiors that they can perform well at their job.

At Heathrow a few days after Sept 11, a woman officer
confiscated my "ear-wax remover." She could not believe the thin metal piece
was made for that purpose, saying Caucasians used cotton buds to clean their

A demonstration convinced her that such a gadget works
but I still had to part with it, because "it can be used to pierce somebody's
eyes, young man."

Malaysians should seriously consider cuti cuti Malaysia
or neighbouring Asian countries for their holidays, at least for the time being
– it's better than being detained in a non-heated room for questioning.