Monday, November 14, 2011

Frisking Abdul Kalam

The frisking of former President Abdul Kalam by New York Airport security has incensed Indians. Especially because the insult was both deliberate and egregious: Security officers followed him on board an Air India flight and asked him to remove shoes and jacket for inspection.

The Indian Ambassador in Washington has been instructed to protest officially, and the Press has taken note that she herself has been patted down in the past by overzealous American airport cops; also, our Ambassador at the United Nations was asked once to remove not only his shoes but his turban.

Some parliamentarians have called for reciprocal treatment of American VIPs; one recalled on television that on a visit to Brazil a couple of decades ago he found that arriving United States nationals were required, purely as a tit for tat arrangement, to form a separate line at Immigration, to have mug shots and finger prints taken. Foreign Minister S.M Krishna has noted the possibility of retaliatory action in the most diplomatic terms.

 While such action might be necessary, Indians should keep in mind some American ground realities. The United States has been “a national security State” since the beginning of the Cold War in 1946, its constitutional structure subverted and corrupted by an incubus put in place by the “military-industrial complex” (to quote President Dwight Eisenhower).

The terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 further empowered that command centre and brought into the open many of its fundamentally un-American activities; one might almost describe them as anti-American activities, for they are deeply harmful to the country’s democratic ethos. Ordinary Americans have seen their rights trampled in the process, and the country has seen two stolen presidential elections.

In this situation, the constitutional officers of the country are essentially powerless. The State Department has already issued a formal expression of regret about the treatment of Kalam, but neither Foreign Secretary Hilary Clinton nor indeed, President Barack Obama, can promise that it will not happen again.    

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