Does nationality characterize terrorism?
The other day someone asked me if I was Nigerian. It wasn’t because my name implies the regional language called Yoruba, nor was it a lucky guess considering that Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. I asked why and was told something about the prominence of my cheekbones and the shape of my lips. In any instance, guessing my nationality by the way I look, particularly by a non-African, would have been pleasantly surprising. In light of events that occurred in Detroit this past December, however, I have realized that in the eyes of the Homeland Security Department, I am now much more likely to be a terrorist than I have ever been before.
I have no doubt that more security must be enacted to better prevent dangerous situations, such as the one that almost took place last Christmas, before the plane took off. But in response to that event a few weeks ago, Nigeria has joined the ranks of Cuba, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq as one of 14 “countries of interest.” The task Homeland Security faces is daunting yet so crucial to the safety of our country. Looking at the chaotic world we live in, the peace of mind Americans face—to not fear someone strapping bombs to their chest as they shop or to the bottom of the car in front of them as they wait in traffic—is greatly due to the extraordinary job agencies such as Homeland Security do to keep our country safe.
I cannot help but question the methods that are being initiated to ensure our vague sense of safety, however. Today thousands of citizens holding passports from these 14 “countries of interest” will automatically face additional screening before being allowed to board flights destined for the United States. What concerns me about these newly enacted security measures are the assumptions made by implying that a person’s nationality is an instrumental factor that leads to terrorism. Although it is naïve to say that geography is not a factor in how a person is exposed to the radicalism that often leads to acts of violence and acts of terror, it borders on discrimination to typecast everyone from a particular region based on this fact.
What is ironic, in light of the addition of countries to a list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” is that the young Nigerian who attempted to ignite explosives last month didn’t do so because he was Nigerian, but rather because of the radical beliefs he adopted while studying in Yemen. Considering the vast range of religious beliefs present not only in Nigeria, but also the span of ideological beliefs held in many of these “countries of interest,” the hours of extra screening that these citizens are subjected to seems cautious, but at the same time is vastly inefficient.
The reality that Homeland Security is left with is that the potential for an act of terrorism isn’t something that can be screened based on a country of origin, the beliefs one holds to be true, or how someone dresses or chooses to trim their facial hair. The reactionary measures that are being taken don’t do much to address the cause of terrorism, which, to be honest, requires a very complex answer and a critical look at global culture and history. While I know that I am no more likely to be a terrorist than I would be if I were born in another country, it is disheartening to think of the impact that loosely based associations, like one’s nationality and the potential to be terrorist, will have once they filter down through American culture, which will inevitably happen.