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15 Sep, 2011

A Decade Since 9/11, Travel & Tourism Loses Sight of “Root Causes” of Terrorism

A decade after 9/11, the travel & tourism industry has lost sight of the “root causes” of terrorism. The costs and the price it is paying will rise even higher as geopolitical conflicts rage, the United States loses sight of its own core values and its global leadership ebbs.


In 2003, two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) issued a prescient report called “Travel & Tourism Security Action Plan.” The first chapter, entitled, “The Strategic Context – Helping To Address Grievances,” opened with a very sensible statement: “Addressing the underlying or perceived grievances that enable terrorism to flourish is a major part in removing its threat. This must underpin all policy decision-making, the framing of security plans and procedures and the recruiting and profiling of staff, particularly those involved with security.”

Said the report, “The constant and ubiquitous exposure and exchange that Travel & Tourism engenders between peoples of different beliefs, culture, race, politics and economic prosperity is unique. It can be argued that the manner in which the industry and its customers interrelate with those local people with whom they come into contact will have, for good or ill, the critical impact on the fight against global terrorism. The importance of this impact, and the need to ensure that it is beneficial, cannot be overstated.”

It added, “Positive results, however, can only be achieved through an acknowledgement by all industry employees and customers that grievances do exist, and that their root causes need to be understood. Only then can appropriate policy guidance be given and action be taken to find remedies, though these must always reflect broader public-private sector strategy.”

Now, 10 years after 9/11, however, the WTTC issued a release that made no mention of “root causes” or “underlying grievances” – most of which are widely known to be the long-festering geopolitical conflicts in many parts of the world. It only focused on the symptoms – the hassles caused by security restrictions – and called on governments to adopt smarter visa and border security policies to promote Travel & Tourism as a driver of jobs and economic growth.

The release said, “After the 9/11 incident the security of air transport for both passengers and freight has been transformed and visa regulations heightened. As a result, the aggravation factor for travellers has increased immensely. High costs and lengthy procedures for obtaining visas, bans on liquids in hand baggage and intrusive body scanners are just some of the obstacles travellers have to overcome.”

David Scowsill, President & CEO of WTTC was quoted as saying, “The enhanced security processes put in place post 9/11 were entirely appropriate as a short-term response to a very dramatic situation. Over the last ten years, however, the barriers to travel have become even greater, rather than diminishing through better use of technology and passenger profiling.”

A similar approach was reflected in a separate report issued by the International Air Transport Association, which said, “The legacy of 9/11 is felt most in airport security. Aviation is more secure today than in 2001. But this has come at a great price in terms of passenger convenience and industry costs.”

Entitled “Impact of September 11 on Aviation”, the report added, “The cost of aviation security today is estimated at $7.4 billion annually. These figures do not include the cost of airport passenger screening borne by airports or government bodies such as the US TSA, which employs airport screeners at US airports. Given that the security threats facing commercial aviation are national challenges, funding the cost of meeting them should not be the responsibility of airlines but of national governments.”

Both these reports make clear that the global travel & tourism industry has lost sight of both the underlying grievances and root causes of terrorism. It has no apparent interest in any form of public debate or discussion about these root causes, and only wants to use technologies to improve facilitation. In their superficial assessments, neither the WTTC nor the IATA reports paid any attention to serious issues such as racial profiling of airline passengers, a practice that has been deplored and roundly condemned by human rights and civil liberties groups worldwide (see below).

Between now the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the travel & tourism industry will need to seriously debate the consequences of security becoming both more  expensive and intrusive. If increased security is the result of the “war on terror”, the 2003 WTTC Security Action Plan and its up-front declaration that “underlying grievances” of terrorism cannot be ignored. Since then, the WTTC has ignored its own conclusion and remedial advice. Other international travel industry organisations have done the same. No wonders the downward spiral continues unchecked, even as costs spiral upwards.

Unless these organisations, led by their supposedly “visionary” and “strategic thinking” leaders begin to change their mindset and tackle this blind-spot, they will only be treating the symptoms and not the cause. The following two articles may help force some change.


American Civil Liberties Union Report Blasts Racial Profiling

It would be interesting to know what the many legal firms in Asia headed by American lawyers think of a report issued last week by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blasting the use of racial profiling as an anti-terrorism strategy, especially in the travel industry.

Entitled “A Call to Courage: Reclaiming Our Liberties Ten Years After 9/11”, the report makes clear that numerous U.S. laws and constitutional rights have been violated in the name of fighting terrorism and hurt the country’s erstwhile image as a much-admired beacon of global freedom.

Very specifically, the report calls on U.S. “political leaders to end profiling of Muslim, South Asian, and Arab American citizens and immigrants, and to speak out against efforts to demonize them.”

As this editor has often been told of such racial profiling experiences at U.S. airports by Sikh and Hindu individuals (who would fall into the “South Asian” category), the ACLU report provides opportunities for them to take legal action as one way to challenge the scourge and seek some accountability.

The report makes clear that U.S. anti- and counter-terrorism policy has failed to walk the talk.

It says, “Ten years ago, we could not have imagined our country would engage in systematic policies of torture and targeted killing, extraordinary rendition and warrantless wiretaps, military commissions and indefinite detention, political surveillance and religious discrimination.

“Not only were these policies completely at odds with our values, but by engaging in them, we strained relations with our allies, handed a propaganda tool to our enemies, undermined the trust of communities whose cooperation is essential in the fight against terrorism, and diverted scarce law enforcement resources.

“Some of these policies have been stopped. Torture and extraordinary rendition are no longer officially condoned. But most other policies — indefinite detention, targeted killing, trial by military commissions, warrantless surveillance, and racial profiling — remain core elements of our national security strategy today.”

Says the report, “To the familiar ‘driving while black’ profiling phenomenon, we added the analogous ‘flying while Muslim,’ as Muslims or those who appeared to be Muslim were targeted by border agents for questioning about their religious beliefs and political views when returning home from abroad.”

Although these strategies originated under the former Bush administration, the report says, “To an alarming extent, the Obama administration has continued to embrace profiling as official government policy.”

It notes, “Because the 9/11 attack was committed by Arab Muslims, profiling Muslims for special investigation may have seemed seductively rational. But the Bush administration’s extensive domestic detention and interrogation programs targeting Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men showed once again just how wrong — and ineffective — profiling is.”

It adds, “Profiling in the national security context carries the same risk that it does in other contexts: law enforcement will miss threats from those who do not fit within the profile. Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber” is a British citizen of Jamaican descent; Bryant Neal Vinas, an al-Qaeda recruit who admitted conspiring to kill American soldiers, is Hispanic American; Colleen LaRose, who is charged with conspiring to kill a cartoonist, is a green-eyed blonde from Philadelphia; Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab is an African from Nigeria. Terrorist groups can easily infer law enforcement profiling criteria and seek out recruits who do not fit racial, national- origin, or religious profiles.”

“Terrorism is not a “Muslim” phenomenon,” the report stresses. “Extremist violence can come from a variety of sources: in February 2010, Andrew Joseph Stack III of Texas flew a plane into an IRS building in Austin leaving behind an anti-government rant against taxes; anti-abortion activists have killed a number of abortion providers over the years; and in 2005, the FBI declared eco-terrorists the country’s biggest domestic terrorist threat.

“It would be ludicrous for law enforcement to target all who oppose taxes or abortions or who support environmentalism because of the bad acts of a few. The recent and tragic killing of 77 people in Norway by a man described as an anti-Muslim right-wing fundamentalist Christian also serves as a strong caution for law enforcement in America.”

The report notes that U.S. government officials say one thing but practice something else.

“(Former) Attorney General (John) Ashcroft failed to learn from the profiling failures and abuses on his watch. Instead, even as he issued guidelines in 2003 that acknowledged “America’s moral obligation to prohibit racial profiling,” that “profiling is discrimination,” and that “stereotyping certain races as having a greater propensity to commit crimes is absolutely prohibited,” he specifically permitted racial, religious, and ethnic profiling in national security investigations.”

It noted that in 1988, for example, President Reagan apologised on behalf of the nation to Japanese Americans singled out for internment during World War II. In February 2001, President Bush forcefully told Congress that profiling is “wrong and we will end it in America,” the ACLU report says.

It adds, “American policymakers need to acknowledge the reality that counter-terrorism profiling of Muslims and its sister evil, the “radicalization” theory, directly undermine America’s greatest strengths. Unfairly targeting American Muslims will serve only to alienate them from their government and law enforcement. It also sends the message that our government views prejudice against Muslims as acceptable.”

A couple of lawsuits by those who have reason to believe they have been racially profiled should help set things right.


From Hyperpower to Declining Power — Changing Global Perceptions of the U.S. in the Post-Sept. 11 Era

Global public perceptions about the United States have “waxed and waned” all through the first decade of the 21st century and are now at a stage where “many now see the financially-strapped U.S. as a great power in decline,” according to a Pew Global Attitudes Project analysis.

Project Associate Director Richard Wike, in a September 7 report published on the Pew website, said, “Early in the post-Sept. 11 era, the projection of American military strength led to pervasive fears of an unleashed, and unchecked, hyperpower. More recently, however, the global financial crisis has turned the spotlight to America’s declining economic prowess. Once the fearsome colossus, many now see the financially-strapped U.S. as a great power in decline.”

The report indicates the bind in which the world finds itself. The decline in U.S. power is being matched by a rise in Chinese power, but the report says that not too many countries are happy about this, either. A country once trusted as a bastion of freedom and democracy is on the way down because it betrayed its values while other less free and democratic countries are on the way up. In other words, global democratic freedoms are the biggest casualty.

Says the report, “In the decade since the Sept. 11 attacks, America’s global image has followed a remarkable, if now familiar, trajectory. Initially, there was a global outpouring of sympathy for the United States, but it was short-lived. As the Bush Administration pivoted from Afghanistan to Iraq, and as American anti-terrorism efforts expanded, many around the world turned against the U.S.

“Widespread anti-Americanism remained a key feature of international public opinion throughout the Bush years, before fading significantly following the election of Barack Obama. However, at the same time as ratings for the U.S. were waning and waxing, other changes in perceptions of America and its role in the world were also evident.”

The report noted that the global publics had already begun to register their concerns about the reach of American power when “the U.S. began utilizing its considerable military and intelligence resources in the wake of Sept. 11.”

It said, “The first Pew Global Attitudes survey, conducted in 2002, found that less than a year after the attacks, goodwill toward the U.S. was already beginning to ebb in many nations, including some of America’s closest allies. For instance, the percentage of Germans with a favorable view of the U.S. fell from 78% in 2000 to 60% in 2002, and in Britain it dropped from 83% to 75%.

“With the onset of the Iraq war in 2003, anti-Americanism surged across much of the globe. Ratings plummeted further in Western Europe, and negative attitudes toward the U.S. became common in parts of the Muslim world where previously America had been relatively well-regarded, such as Turkey and Indonesia.”

It added, “Opinions about the U.S. remained largely negative throughout the Bush years, as publics around the world expressed serious concerns about American policies and the use of American power. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were consistently unpopular, and more broadly, U.S. anti-terrorism efforts were viewed with skepticism and fear.

“For instance, a 2004 Global Attitudes poll found majorities in Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan, and Jordan saying they opposed U.S. anti-terrorism efforts and that the U.S. was overreacting to the threat of international terrorism. Moreover, most of those surveyed in these four nations did not think the war on terrorism was a sincere effort.

“Combating violent extremism may have been the stated goal of U.S. policy, but many respondents felt this was a smokescreen to hide the real objectives, such as gaining control of Middle Eastern oil, targeting unfriendly Muslim governments, protecting Israel, and dominating the world.

“And many in predominantly Muslim nations worried that American power could be used against their country. Since the Global Attitudes Project first asked this question in 2003, majorities in most Muslim nations surveyed have consistently said they are worried that the U.S. could pose a military threat to their country someday.”

The analysis refers to 2008 as “a pivotal year” with the election of Barack Obama leading to “dramatically higher ratings for the U.S. in many nations.” That has not been a uniform view.

It adds, “While America’s image has rebounded in much of the world, there has been no Obama bounce in several predominantly Muslim nations that are central to U.S. strategic interests. Fewer than one-in-five Turks, Pakistanis, Jordanians, or Palestinians offered a favorable opinion of the U.S. in the 2011 Global Attitudes poll. In these nations, many of the contentious issues from the Bush era – Afghanistan, anti-terrorism efforts, U.S. policy toward Israel – continue to drive anti-American sentiments.”