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Saturday, September 1, 2007

Flying The Safe And Friendly Skies

I am due to depart from Brisbane shortly. As I walked through immigration and luggage screening a short while ago, two security officers pounced on me. I must say that they, an older woman (W) and a younger man (M), looked positively delighted at the opportunity to finally put into practice the theory it must have been painstaking for them to learn. They were not the intimidating, sweat inspiring types we see in the movies. These two looked like they could be guest relation officers at a theme park for children. As they shepherded me to the designated area, I swear I could see them trying to remember their lines. And to appear nonchalant and suave as they told me, almost with a nudge and a wink, that I was being randomly selected for a more thorough check. Random? I don’t think so. The delight they were expressing made me think that they had probably been waiting for a very long time for someone who looked like me.

I was taken into a makeshift room and told by W to assume the position – hands outstretched - for a further screening with a hand held device. As I was trying to do that, I was asked by M whether I had a laptop, even as he looked at my laptop (I was trying to put it back into my messenger bag when I was pounced upon). I told him I did indicating the laptop he was looking at. He asked me to put it into my bag. As I was trying to, he told me they had to screen my bag first. W meanwhile was trying to screen me. M asked whether I had internet access, glaring at me in what I suppose was intended to be an intimidating manner rather that the cute and cuddly it was. I told him that my laptop was wifi enabled. He looked bewildered. W interceded, saying ‘wireless’ sagely, nodding as she motioned me forward for the screening.

It was surreal. I wondered whether David Lynch had spent some time in Brisbane Airport.

Somehow, it all happened. I was screened. And the results of the screening tested through a machine designed to pick up traces of explosives were negative. I was fitting my laptop back into my bag when W exclaimed, in a happy, 'you’ve won the lottery' voice, ‘Congratulations! You’re clear.’ M tells me with a big smile, ‘You’re really lucky!”, stopping short of clapping me on the back, I think.

Alright, I had the luck to run into not one, but two, rednecks in Brisbane Airport Security. They deserved starring roles as deputies in re-runs of The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. But, honestly, ‘congratulations?!’. For what, NOT being a terrorist? ‘Lucky?’ For what, NOT having carried explosives this time?!

But then, even as I was plotting how to exact some pain for this ridiculousness, I realized that in as much as I was offended by the obvious profiling that had taken place, we had our own share of prejudiced idiots on the Muslim or Indian or Pakistani or Malaysian side (depending on how I am categorized). People who were as inept and unprofessional as these two were. And our society is guilty of praising its own purported professionalism and sophistication as much as the next, even though there is little or no basis for such claims. Who was I to expect from these security officers what I would not even dream to expect from our security personnel.

I walked away into the departure area trying my very best to look like a thwarted terrorist. I figured it was the least I could do for them. After all, everyone deserves a little sunshine in their lives from time to time.

I tried not to think about what would happen if they chanced upon someone who was really intent on mayhem.



SK said...

I was interrogated for about 10 minutes and was made to wait for their "thorough investigation" for about 20 minutes when an officer stopped me at Sydney airport, just because I've multiple Indonesia visas.

Not been to any other part of Australia besides Sydney, but the immigration gave me a sense of not being welcomed there.

Thanks God you're fine by now, take care man.

Anonymous said...

The officers really picked a cool customer, and ended up feeling somewhat 'defeated'. These checks are not uncommon and differ for each ethnic group. In Brisbane airport, i was stopped by customs for a very thorough check of my luggage, and then questioned some more. I must have appeared to them as one of those Chinese-looking people who end up as illegal immigrant.

Whatever we are being subjected to in this life and in this world, the main thing is to know your rights and if you are innocent, then you have nothing to fear. Let them have their fun or their thrill of the day. Maybe we will get a slightly bruised ego, but that is nothing as bad as physical harm.

Anonymous said...

Two years ago, I was pulled aside at the Las Vegas McClaren Airport on my exit back to LA. I was given a search over. I would have thought that terrorists would be more than my 5' 5" frame, be heavily built with a mean and focused look. And here I was the harmless oriental-looking Malay far from Bollywood features with a smile on my face on what a great time I had in Vegas. Nevertheless, the random search was over in a matter of minutes with an apologetic statement that my electric toothbrush in my handheld luggage looked like a dagger. I am not sure sure if it was the smile - either way you can be suspect, I suppose.

Joseph said...

Apart from profiling based on name, nationality and perhaps even on the basis of ethnicity, people manning Immigration points are usually very polite, pleasant and helpful. And I am saying this despite being profiled at Brisbane airport from KL delaying me by some 45 minutes until they verified my relatives.

bayi said...

The Aussies must have very dry humour. They caught a top Malaysian politician with a million dollars and let him go. I wonder if they congratulated him as they did you.

Perhaps they meant that you were lucky to have contributed to their anti-terrorist practical training programme?

I wonder if they would have given you a "Get out of jail" card if you had asked. :)

MarinaM said...

Oh dear Imtiaz! Last month I was leaving Melbourne with my 8-year old daughter and I got pulled aside also for a supposedly random search. They did give me a piece of paper to read before they searched me. And I have to say that the officers searching me were a South Asian man and a woman who might be Australian Aboriginal. It was irritating because I didn't see anyone else being picked out and they at least didn't make any condescending comments. But when they can arrest someone on the basis of a lent SIM card, they can do anything these days.

Anonymous said...

since 9/11, georgies and his boys have gone paranoid and are constantly watching their own shadow.
racial profiling? yes, it happens and we are no better in many respect. remember the case of the black american and the recent indonesian case. sad isnt it?

Anonymous said...

I had the same experience 4 years ago. Was leaving Brisbane for NZ for a short holiday with my sis and her family (all Australian citizens). I'm Chinese malaysian, and was on a student visa then.

"Randomly" picked up, asked to read a card... the same whole procedure. He looked absolutely delighted when he did that, and quite disaappointed to have to let me go. I then went to sit down on a sofa nearby while my family roamed the duty free shops. From where I was, I could see them 'randomly' picking other 'suspects'. Their next random suspect was a middle aged Indian lady in a sari. Next was a dark skinned youngster. In the half hour I sat there, not one whiteface was 'randomly picked'.

amreeth said...

hahaha! loved your post MIS, and my dad gets this ALL the time in Ozland btw! must be the heavy lidded eyes, and his very tanned skin.
mz. karamsingh.

Wanderer said...

Smile! You're on Twin Peaks!

LOL @ the redneck comment.

scared-of-flying said...

dear mis,

I think you were lucky because you did not have 2 million bucks in cash in your suitcase, mate. otherwise, you'd be lodging police reports against bloggers today instead of defending them!

I dont mind super tight security at airports as it is for our own safety but it should should be done more professionally.

Aniza said...

I would understand anyone's concern about racial-profiling. But have you ever thought that maybe you were seen as an Average Joe who happened to be chosen for random testing?

I think we Muslim/Asian/non-Anglo people have such a huge chip on our shoulders that we refuse to come down from our moral high ground and just submit to a security check. It's really for our own safety anyway. If there was any chance that these checks would keep a terrorist off my plane -- go ahead and check!

Last year while exiting Sydney, I was stopped by a nice lady at security, who also gave me a card to read, asked if I consented to being searched in public or private (I opted for public), then proceeded to put all my bags through an explosives-residue test.

I found it very interesting, and asked her how the machine worked, and she chirpily showed me how it worked, how to do the reading, etc. I asked how they did their 'random test' and whether there was any type of profiling involved. She said they just picked anyone - there was no profiling. Although, she did admit that some young male officers did tend to pick on young pretty girls, just for the opportunity to chat with them.

See, at the end of the day, the motives are all the same, innit?

Nicole Karman said...

I also got checked coming out of Brisbane airport, which is my first time ever. The chappie was polite and friendly, and seemed a bit embarrassed to be asking. Cynically, my first thought was that he must have had a quota to fill if he was pulling over a middle-aged white woman for bomb screening. My second, more considered thought was that in reality I'd be more afraid of a white person than a dark-skinned one. Racial stereotyping is a terrible thing, isn't it? And so deeply ingrained in our natures...

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said...

Dear all,

I would like to say that I found the event more amusing than anything else. The officers were polite and I was at no point in time treated badly. I recognised that they had a job to do, and that it was aimed at ensuring safety. What intrigued me was how they went about doing it. I mean, seriously, 'congratulations'?


Sri said...


Its part and parcel of traveling now. When I travel within the US, I do hope they do search me so that to give the other passengers a peace of mind :)

I sometimes pity these guys. They are not allowed to do racial profiling but in all honesty, I doubt the terrorists have started sending over white old grannies yet :) So occasionally u see an old grandma being pulled out of the line and searched. This is hilarious for sure.

The congratulations part was a bit unnecessary. Perhaps you should have said "Tough luck you didnt find what ur looking for" But best to just nod and smile. These guys are no fun.

Frank said...


The Immigration chaps at Brisbane are what aussies called a bunch a.. holes.But that's what they are... and they are very nervy since Bali and 9/11.

In your case, I am surprised that took for the full security check.

They must have been tipped off by some MalaYSIAN embassies to rough you up for your high profile cases in Malaysia.

There is a close network among the diplomatic spooks.

dfhzn said...

Personally, I don’t believe its random checking at all. On almost all my flights, be it from Heathrow or LAX, I will always be the lucky one who get the special treatment. The worst so far is from Melbourne Airport recently where I was “randomly” checked three times in a night before departure.

Maybe I am so ugly and really look like a terrorist? LOL.

What A Lulu said...

you've met lulu. lulu looks, and is, totally harmless.
but as i was exitingLondon, borading the flight back to kl, mind you, exiting, not entering, i was the "chosen one" who had to empty out her entire hand luggage, and opening up everything in it.

on a personal side, i dont quite mind all these extra checks if it means making my flight safer.

and malik, CONGRATULATIONS! you've cleared aussie customs. enjoy your holiday.

amoker said...

I had mine in Melbourne airport. The man was very rude when i was interrogated. In fact, he was just plain condesending & judgemental. And I just got down from first class to a different class of treatment. Perhaps i look like a China man, or vietnamese or whatever .. but am now not keen to go back there. I guess the profiling fits to everybody except those that looked like them.

A true Malaysian said...

How nice if come one day, parents of the whole wide world don't have to remind their children "don't speak to strangers" or some sort of reminders of similar nature.

We human beings are all the same the moment we were born, but as the time goes by, our materialistic world somehow poisoned our mind the way we look at things.

Well, all things start from ourselves, i.e. DON'T EVER BETRAY PEOPLE'S TRUST BEING PLACED ON US.