The perversion of purported American values

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The Independent Online

"Crazy" was how Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, described his treatment at the hands of the US authorities when he arrived back in Britain yesterday, and it is hard to better his description. His flight had been diverted to the US state of Maine; he had been removed, questioned and deported. Apparently, his name had featured on a US "no fly" list - a perilously big-brother concept if ever there was one - but not on the version the airline had consulted.

Yusuf Islam's experience highlights the absurd lengths to which the US authorities are prepared to go to insulate their country from the terrorist threat. Elementary precautions, such as airline security on internal US flights, still leave much to be desired, yet innocent and thoroughly responsible foreigners - usually of a certain appearance and with certain types of names - are kept out of the country. In Mr Islam's case, his exclusion was all the more ridiculous because he had been travelling to the US very recently without any problems.

What we are seeing in Mr Islam's case, and that of many others who have been prevented - albeit less dramatically - from visiting the US, is not just racial or religious profiling of the most despicable variety. It is the perversion of all that the United States professes to stand for. Those who would work, study or holiday in the "land of the free" now find a host of ill-conceived obstacles in their path. As a consequence, many people now simply avoid the US and travel to Europe instead.

Worse, perhaps - and something that should worry the US authorities no less than the terrorist threat - is the fact that the information on which their checks are based has so often proved inaccurate. Mr Islam's whole career is testimony to the fact that he is about as averse to terrorism as it is possible to be. Information on which the US has based extradition requests to the British authorities has proved similarly unreliable. Who compiles these "no fly" lists? Where does the information come from and how else is it used? Who checks the checkers?

The Foreign Secretary was right to complain publicly to the US authorities. Representations should have been made long before Mr Islam made his unscheduled stopover in Maine.