The world press on American news

International papers react to U.S. flight delays and the coverage of Saddam Hussein's capture.


United Kingdom, Peter Preston in the Guardian

Attention all passengers thinking of taking another BA223 to Washington. Mr. Michael Howard is your main man. “I believe that red tape, bureaucracy, regulations, inspectorates, commissions … came to help and protect us — but now we need protection from them,” he says, as one core belief among many. Just so. Now protect us from the department of homeland security.

Got a tip? Apparently. Got a specific steer or an arrest warrant? Apparently not. There are intercepts that spread alarm, but orange is still the colour of very general intelligence — following the lead set by CIA director George Tenet, who explicitly believes that if you think something may be up, but don’t know what it is, then you press every alert button in sight so that al-Qaida thinks you know more than you do and backs away. The result — happy Christmas, happy New Year! — is a constant warning bell ringing, a continuous cringe of public apprehension turned to weariness by repetition. But is it any longer good politics?…

Time for a grown-up debate. Britain has had a bit of one already and will have a bit more shortly, post-Hutton, as the WMD testimony of our joint intelligence chiefs comes under renewed scrutiny. Did they all vamp it up to suit their bureaucratic, back-covering selves? But the basic argument has barely begun in America. So Saddam was a fount of terrorist threats, so he’s locked away: hurray!

Hang on a moment, though. Why — quite apart from Baghdad mayhem — is Dulles closed on a whim and an executive order? Why do orange lights keep flashing? Why is that sky marshal toting his gun? Why was there such a scant sense of homeland security in the holiday headlines? Where has all the money gone?…

If you’re running a department of homeland security and you always need more funds (because, brother, it’s a big, big department), then you have a problem. Success is preventing any more attacks — success also means nothing happening, which means you’ve got a lower profile that makes more budget-busting increases difficult to come by.

Thus there’s every reason to go about your business with manifest display … The more flights cancelled, the more you’re obviously doing your job. And your commander-in-chief, descending on Buckingham Palace with a security army the size of the Household Cavalry, is unlikely to disagree in election year: he, after all, created your department in the first place.

United Kingdom, Talking Point in BBC News

International travellers arriving in the U.S. will have their photographs taken and fingerprints checked under new security regulations. The following are BBC reader reactions.

The Bush administration has most of the population of the U.S. so terrified that it seems like they can do almost anything in the name of security. As soon as U.S. citizens start to question their government’s erosion of their civil liberties, the government turns on the terror alert. I am a frequent visitor to the States as my family has a holiday home there, and also pass through in-transit as I frequently use U.S. carriers. Even though it may be more expensive, I will make alternative travel arrangements as it’s just too inconvenient now — even with a British passport.
– Jamie McLachlan, London

The procedures being implemented by the U.S. are hardly excessive … Where the U.S. can make improvements is in how these procedures are carried out. An aggressive attitude on the part of U.S. customs officers is neither necessary or constructive … It’s not what U.S. officials do, as much as how they do it, that annoys visitors.
– DF, Ottawa

I am an Indian student in U.S. and FIRMLY support this program. I don’t want the American public to blame all foreign students for the actions of a few Muslim terrorists.
– Malolan Cadambi, USA/India

This doesn’t really have much to do with terrorism and has more to do with controlling illegal immigration. However, it’s being sold as anti-terrorist (like most everything in Washington these days).
– Joe Belmondo, Amsterdam

As a dual national (Canadian/U.S.), I have no problem whatsoever with the U.S. enforcing stronger controls to protect their citizens. If longer lines and harsher lines of questioning are going to protect myself and my family, I will gladly endure this.
– Catherine, Toronto

I have just returned from 2 weeks’ vacation in the U.S. and despite all the horror stories, had absolutely no problems, passing through immigration at JFK in less than 10 minutes. My American girlfriend (U.S. citizen) with whom I travelled, actually had to stand in a longer line than I did. Entering Britain through Stansted in October took far longer.
– Steve, Brussels

No one has yet brought up the issues that bother me the most about these new ‘security’ procedures. What is my government planning to do with the information they collect on visitors to this country? Where will it be stored? How long will it be kept? Who will have access to it?
– Lori, Atlanta, Ga.

Nigeria, Editorial in the Vanguard

From January 5, 2004, travelers from all countries which need a visa to enter the United States will be finger-printed before being allowed in. The U.S. typically administers this kind of treatment to its own citizens only if they are accused of serious crimes.

Only 27 countries, mostly Western nations populated by the white races and Japanese, are excluded. The rest of the world … will be subjected to what a Brazilian judge has described as “absolutely brutal, threatening human rights, violating human dignity, xenophobic and worthy of the worst horrors committed by the Nazis.” That was before announcing that U.S. citizens entering Brazil will also have to be finger-printed in what will go down in history as the most courageous defense of the rights of the people of the world to equal treatment under any nation’s laws.

It is ironic, but perhaps understandable, that the U.S., under President Bush, is gradually being transformed into a totalitarian society where the rights of citizens are steadily eroded on the grounds of the war on terrorism. Americans have accepted this assault on their freedoms despite the warnings of two of their founding fathers, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton … A Southern American president still harboring the taints of racial prejudice has not only erased some of the rights of his own people, but now wants to extend the creeping tyranny abroad.

United Arab Emirates, Editorial in the Gulf News

It would seem it will become an accepted fact in future, that air travel will take far longer than it used to. Or, to be more precise, the time spent in the air will be the same, but the time taken between arriving at the airport and take-off will be extended to several hours. It is ironic that in time it may prove to be quicker to travel by road or rail for short journeys, than it will be to travel by air. For, if security is to increase on all flights — as it surely must — then even the short-haul flights should undergo rigid security clearance for passengers and cargo alike.

There should be no exemption, no matter what type of aircraft, no matter what or who it is carrying, regardless of size; all aircraft, cargo and personnel must undergo rigorous examination before the airplane takes off. To do otherwise makes a mockery of the extensive examinations and security checks passengers are subject to at present, at many international airports.

It may seem a sad reflection on our times that precautions should be necessary, but then there is nothing quite like flying with an airline where you know that every security precaution has been taken prior to the aircraft taking off.

India, Karan Thapar in the Hindustan Times

If Churchill had captured Hitler or, earlier, when Kerensky took the Tsar captive, the one thing they would have consciously struggled to avoid is making a martyr or hero of their prisoner … But don’t you get the feeling the Americans were blissfully unaware of any such possibility when fate or fortune placed Saddam in their possession?

Almost from the moment it happened - or, at any rate, from the first visual proof of it — the vile and nasty dictator seems to have metamorphosed into a helpless and pitiable old man. Instead of reviling him and reinforcing our dislike, how we saw him evoked sympathy, a sense of pain and even resentment of the Americans.

“I feel sorry for Saddam and cannot forgive America for what they’re doing to him” said my colleague Ashok. Normally he’s a hardheaded current affairs producer. But eight months earlier, when Saddam’s statue was toppled, Ashok was barely able to contain his excitement. That night he must have phoned a hundred friends to “switch on the BBC”. By the 14th of December his emotions had come full circle…

I accept that America had to prove the capture and display its prisoner.

But why did they not simply show Saddam sitting in a chair? Why was his physical examination broadcast? Did his captors realise what impact it would have? Oddly enough, I think not.

But that’s not all. When the full story began to emerge we were given details that only enhanced Saddam and showed up his captors. We were told he crawled out of his lair and introduced himself with the words: “I’m Saddam Hussain, President of Iraq.” And then he added: “I’m willing to negotiate.”

Perhaps the Americans thought this would provoke laughter and ridicule. But it had the opposite effect. It reminded me of the defeated Porus. When asked by Alexander, after his surprise surrender on the banks of the Akesines, how he wanted to be treated he replied: “The same way as a king treats another king.” It had the touch of the heroic to it. Defeat, it seemed to say, is of the flesh. The sprit is unvanquished…

The truth is that so confident, in fact so cocksure, were the Americans they overlooked the fact that human emotions are changeable. They forgot that the underdog evokes consideration. They did not remember that generosity and magnanimity sit well with power.

Egypt, Osama El-Ghazali Harb in al-Ahram

Some Arabs saw Saddam’s capture as an intentional insult to all Arabs and Muslims … The real insult, beneath which we should all smart, unfolded well before Saddam’s capture…

What is humiliating is not Saddam’s capture in 2003, but his remaining in power from 1979 to 2003. What is humiliating is that Arabs — including intellectuals and writers, the supposed conscience of the nation — accepted and applauded him. What is humiliating is that the Americans and British ended Saddam’s regime and captured him while promoting their own interests and objectives. This was something that we, Arabs and Iraqis, should have done had we wanted to defend our dignity and interests.

Some Arabs view what happened as a conspiracy against Saddam and Iraq, with Muslims and Arabs being the ultimate target…

Such views are at best insulting to Arab and Muslim communities and leaders. The latter come across as half-witted and gullible, easily led astray by anyone with bad intentions. What conspiracy theories do is shift blame to outside forces…

Conspiracy theories flourish alongside despotism, as reality blends with rumour and fact with myth. Citizens become accustomed to vagueness and the distortion of facts. Confidence is eroded and logical explanations discarded. But we cannot forever blame others for our problems, backwardness, faltering economies and lack of scientific or cultural achievement…

Saddam’s capture was a farce, but not the mother of all farces. That will happen if we — Arabs and Muslims — forget the lessons, dwell on insults, embrace conspiracy theories, obsess over Iraqi resistance and U.S. interference, fail to learn the consequences of despotism, and continue to ignore the damage done by the absence of freedoms and democracy.

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