Friday, 18 June 2010

What’s your passport worth – get a second opinion from Yahya Wehelie before deciding?

'True blue' Singaporeans recently made a lot of noise about the relatively liberal naturalization policy pursued by the government. Yet, Singaporeans forget that those who take oath as Singaporeans must sacrifice their existing citizenship. Dual citizenships are not permissibly under Singapore law.

Ok, a Pakistani passport does not facilitate travel – one is immediately branded a terrorist suspect and selected for 'random' screening in most Western nations. (An experience which changes little even with a Singapore passport – it's the religion and place of birth which elicits the extra 'attention.')
The Pakistan government is poor so one gives up little in the form of government benefits. That is, unless you happen to be one of the many Pakistanis stranded in violence struck Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Then you benefit from a speedy repatriation arranged by the Pakistan government.
Yet, emotionally it is not easy giving up one's nationality. But my discord is mild compared to Yahya Wehelie's issues.
Wehelie was born and raised in the US. He is a 26 year old US citizen. Like most people, Wehelie does not have another passport. Nor can he call another nation home.
Wehelie's problem – the US government is not letting Wehelie set foot in the US. Following eighteen months outside the US, Wehelie was 'waylaid' in Egypt on May 5. 'Waylaid' includes being detained by Egyptian authorities.
No, he has not been charged with any crime. There is no outstanding arrest warrant in his name. So, what's the problem?
Well, Wehelie's Muslim. His parents were Somali – and we know all Somalis, or at least most, are terrorists. Most importantly, he spent the last eighteen months studying in Yemen. After all, there is nothing to study in Yemen except terrorism.
So, Wehelie's name was placed on the US 'no-fly' list. Hence, he is unable to return to the US – his place of birth and home country.

Surely, there are legitimate security constraints faced by US authorities. Islamic terrorism is a serious problem. Basic racial profiling techniques make Wehelie stand out like a sore thumb due to his background and studies in Yemen.
But can a nation keep a citizen out of her own country? Something is terribly wrong here. Where does Egypt deport Wehelie once his Egyptian visa expires?
If Wehelie is a known security threat the US authorities should arrest him and charge him in court - in the US. As a citizen he has rights. Those rights are being flouted ostensibly only on the basis of his religion and Somali background. Is there a better explanation?
If there is one overarching principle associated with Constitutional republics, it is the supremacy of law. Based on the Wehelie experience, US law is hopelessly failing any sort of 'due process' test. His fundamental rights as a US citizen have been conveniently discarded.
Citizens are citizens – theoretically at least. Clearly, it helps if you are part of the majority race and religion.
The trouble with human nature is no matter how hard we try to raise awareness some biases tend to stay with us. Such biases are often institutionalized into legal frameworks and societal norms.
Passports have real value in today's globalized world.
Many Somalis will go to great lengths to become American citizens. These Somalis assume becoming an American citizen confers upon you the fundamental freedoms and rights granted by the US constitution.
The same rights which Wehelie acquired at his birth in Fairfax, Virgina 26 years ago. Cynics might suggest, "In today's world, being Muslim means you have no rights. Only privileges which can be taken away at will, even in the land of motherhood and apple pie."
I didn't believe it a few years ago, but it's becoming harder to argue with the pessimistic notion that Muslims are the new 'blacks' in American society, i.e. subject to institutional and other subtle forms racism of the sort often faced by African-Americans until recently.

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