"The Nightmare"

By Chris Dreher

Published December 13, 2001 9:00AM (EST)

Read the story.

I have a similar story to that of Salam El Zaatari, which happened shortly after Thanksgiving. After passing through one airport security checkpoint, my departure gate was changed so I had to run to the other side of the airport and through another security checkpoint to make my flight. Being the last person on the flight, my bags were checked thoroughly prior to boarding. The attendant examining my bags found the pocket knife attached to my keychain and confiscated it. No further questions were asked. No additional identification was requested. I was allowed to board the plane without delay.

I am a 24-year-old male. I have semilong hair and a goatee. I tried to board an airplane with a knife that I forgot was in my possession. I have that much in common with Mr. El Zaatari. The only difference? I am white. And I have not spent every day since Thanksgiving in prison.

-- Peter Gilchrist

Let me get this straight: a 21-year-old Middle Eastern man comes to the United States on a student visa, drops out of school (at which point he is no longer a student and is in violation of the terms of his visa, which means he is in this country illegally) and tries to get on a plane with a knife (the kind of knife being immaterial -- remember those box cutters?). As I see it, El Zaatari's crime is not, as Chris Dreher asserts, being Arab. His crime is utter stupidity.

One wonders what El Zaatari could have been thinking. This is a time when flight attendants (like my sister) are having corkscrews that they use in-flight -- as part of their jobs -- confiscated; a time when passengers (like my white, middle-aged, female boss) are having their bags searched to find a pair of tweezers that left a menacing image on the X-ray. And El Zaatari (and Dreher and Francis) think he's put upon?

OK, maybe he is just a dumb kid who made a couple of even dumber mistakes. I'm willing to give him that, but in light of what happened in this country on Sept. 11, I think we can be forgiven for being a little uptight. Maybe El Zaatari should simply be deported. And maybe Dreher and Francis would care to sit next to him on the plane until he's safely back in Beirut.

-- Rebecca Raether

Without knowing anything at all about this case or about El Zaatari, I'll bet many people reading this article know exactly why he was flying through Detroit -- it's a major Northwest Airlines hub, and to get the lowest fares from the East Coast to Europe you will most likely be routed through Detroit and Amsterdam -- just like my daughter was a couple of years ago when she was traveling from Norfolk, Va., to Venice. And she was booking through a travel agency in Chapel Hill, N.C., that primarily deals in student travel.

No mystery there, anyway.

-- Libby Hicks

As a former art student I can attest that I have flown countless times up and down the eastern seaboard with a number of X-acto blades in my carry-on. I use them to sharpen pencils and charcoals, to cut out mock-ups, to pick my fingernails.

I was never stopped, not once, in either Savannah or Boston. When I heard about the "box cutters" the terrorist were carrying I knew that it was not only possible to get them by security, but to get them by without concealment or effort.

In the airport in Savannah there used to be a display of all the crap they had confiscated, much of it from the art students. Spray paint, handmade pipes for marijuana smoking, chisels for sculpture class. Not one X-acto blade or knife and we all carried them.

I only wish we were all freckle-faced Irish girls like me so no one else would face the fate of El Zataari.

-- Stacey George

By Salon Staff

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