BY TONY DEYAL
WHILE CARIBBEAN PEOPLE might argue about which has the best cricket team, the tastiest beer, the prettiest women and the dumbest politicians, there is one thing on which we are unanimous – no Caribbean person will ever be a suicide bomber.
However you criticise our productivity levels, our laid-backwardness and spendthrift ways, one thing you can't accuse us of is being dumb enough to place a bomb on a plane and fly in that plane; or wrap a stick of dynamite around our waists and embrace some political or religious enemy and the opportunity to explore Paradise in the same split second.
It is why I always believed that the profilers behind the scenes of Homeland Security in the United States were not so dumb as to target people from the Caribbean. It is completely contrary to our nature and our culture to damage ourselves. Some of us might be suicidal, but we are not stupid.
However, one can never overestimate the intelligence of Homeland Security. Jay Leno, the irreverent late-night comedian, once quipped: "A lot of people are now criticising Attorney-General John Ashcroft for his policy on detaining what he considers suspicious people. I think he's going a little overboard. Today, he arrested the entire band Foreigner."
Leno had also got a lot of laughs with: "People want to say there isn't racial profiling at the airport, but let's be honest. If your first name is Mohammed, and your last name isn't Ali, leave a little extra time."
There is a story about a woman who went to her gyneacologist for a check-up. She was extremely uncomfortable. "Haven't you been examined like this before?" asked the doctor.
"Every time I fly these days," she admitted nervously, "but never by a doctor."
In addition to my Caribbean cool, I also have on my side, or so I thought, that I am an ageing person whose increasing corpulence, loss of hair (the remnants of which is grey), and tendency to dress conventionally, sometimes to the point of wearing a coat, make me appear a pillar of the community, the kind of ancient portly patriarch whose benignity is apparent and orthodoxy unquestioned.
This might hold true elsewhere but not in Fort Lauderdale's airport on Monday.
I had my boarding passes for Puerto Rico and Antigua in my hand when I arrived at a desk where a Homeland Security functionary scans the travellers' documents before allowing entry into the scanning arena. I have always treated this as routine. Hand the documents, let them see the majesty of my mien and the virtue in my visage, and let me through.
That was not to be. The guard on duty started slowly, her endemic illiteracy initially asserting itself until she spotted something in my boarding pass that ignited a passion for probing beyond my purported probity.
She called another guard excitedly. I was unaware at the time that some person from Jamaica was found with alleged "bomb-making" materials on a flight.
I was whisked to a line with people who had been seemingly selected for special screening. A short, excited woman, manner as rough as sharkskin and as friendly as the owner of said epidermis, went through my stuff and sent me back to the line.
Feeling confident that she had discerned in me a natural bonhomie and not bomb-homie, I smilingly extracted my computer, put it in the required basket, divested myself
of shoes and belt and then clutching my pants to prevent the indecent exposure of my Joe Boxers, headed for the scanner.
My optimism was unjustified. Another official, who now had my boarding passes, made me join a perplexed Japanese woman who went through a thorough search both electronic and manual. At the same time my bags had passed through the scanner and a muscular official was going through it methodically, taking swabs of a toy car that I had brought for my son with the same care and attention that World Health Organisation officials give to Bird Flu or the Plague.
Looking at the Japanese woman being searched, I remembered another story. This woman got really angry as the Homeland Security people picked painstakingly through all her belongings and her person. "This is absolutely astonishing," she raged. "You might as well be raping me!"
"I don't think so, ma'am," replied the security guard. "The most we're allowed to do is a nice slow cavity search."
They stopped slightly short of that with me but did everything else. I have no problems with security people doing their jobs. I sometimes get upset with the female security guards in Jamaica and Trinidad who like to pat down men but since have relented, recognising that they have serious problems and this is the closest they come to a physical encounter in which they have the upper hand, so to speak.
I fully support Americans wanting to ensure that 9/11 does not happen again. However, as one who believes in working smart as well as working hard, I cannot help but feel that when the Almighty was giving out brains, the folks destined to be Homeland Security went outside to try out their clubs on some unsuspecting pilgrim trying to get through the gates of Heaven.
Tony Deyal was last seen saying the security guard saw him reading a book and decided he was a terrorist.