KARACHI, Pakistan --Last month, as I approached the security checkpoints at John F. Kennedy International Airport, I was apprehensive of what security screening I would have to endure.
Considering this was days after the Christmas Day terrorist attempt and that I was traveling to Pakistan, I braced myself for the worst, including a full pat-down and a thorough search of my luggage. Instead, after a short line in the screening area and a brief walk through a metal detector, I was allowed to enter my terminal. I was not even asked to place into a tiny bag any liquid substances that I might be carrying.
Days after I arrived in Karachi, news of plans for full-body scanners at U.S. airports began to surface. The idea of such a device at an airport is certainly unpleasant. And the debate over heightened security measures at airports serves as a chilling reminder of the dangerous times that we live in.
As residents of the United States, we are under constant threat of terrorist attacks from forces working within, and beyond, the nation's borders. As a result, we need to examine how far we are willing to go to protect ourselves and our families. Although the "war on terrorism" is still with us, we should assess how lucky we are to be in a situation where we need to pick up a newspaper - and not look outside our windows - to see the progress of this war.
I arrived in Karachi on the last day of December. On the first day of the new year, the usually vibrant and bustling streets of Karachi were eerily quiet. As a protest against the bloody bombing of a Shiite procession on Dec. 28 and the inevitable riots that followed, the city was on a strike against terrorism. Considering that it was the first day of 2010, it was not a good sign of what this year holds in store for Pakistan. (Strikes here are counter-productive and often violent. Public transportation is shut down and businesses are forced to remain closed. Vehicles and businesses that dare to open are attacked.)
In my lifetime, I do not think I really remember a time when Karachi was peaceful; warring political parties, military coups and religious sects trying to obliterate one another have almost always dominated the headlines. Recently, however, the city has been put into an unprecedented situation. Over the past few years the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi have proliferated, and many of these groups have established bases in northern Pakistan. Members of these organizations flock to the southern city of Karachi as a safe haven from the drones that are roaming the north. Their aim is to destabilize the city and, ultimately, establish Islamic law.
Living in the U.S., we are lucky to be away from most of the physical aspects of war. Over here, however, the war is not in a far away land - it is on the very streets that we drive on. Religious zealots rove the city, wreaking havoc and terror; volleyball games, cricket matches and bazaars are no longer safe.
A politically and religiously divided population is grappling with how to make a living under the constant threat of terrorism and political strife. The people of this city have learned to adapt to the violence that surrounds them.
It has been two years since my last visit. At first, the familiar streets were welcoming and unchanged. Eventually, I noticed new details. Guard walls around houses and buildings seemed higher and were topped off with barbed wire. Police patrol cars were stationed in random spots to scope out suspicious-looking vehicles. Now, getting to an event at a five-star hotel involves multiple security checks, including the opening of vehicle trunks and hoods, bomb-detection dogs, and the scanning of vehicles with munitions-detecting machines. These measures serve as a sobering reminder of the circumstances that we live in.
Last spring, many schools were forced to close for weeks after the Taliban made an open threat against schools that had a Cambridge-based coeducation system. Some schools also required teachers to participate in variations of defense training, and the British Council of Pakistan had to delay national exams that are equivalent to the SAT.
As we enter another year plagued by war, we must accept that changes are continually going to be implemented to meet the increasing threat against democracy. While full-body scanners still seem just as perverse to me as they did when I landed in Karachi, after spending a few days in this city I have come to understand that as Americans, we are lucky to be in a society that remains unaffected by the immediate effects of terrorism. We can live our lives without constantly being reminded that we are, in fact, in a time of war.
Having to walk through a full-body scanner to maintain the peaceful lives we have is a very small price to pay.
Saira Khan recently graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is now writing for Dawn, Pakistan's largest daily English-language newspaper. Her e-mail is email@example.com.