Courtesy CNN

Athens-Based International Travelers Skeptical of Electronics Ban

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ATHENS, Ohio — Some Ohio University faculty and staff affected by the Department of Homeland Security ban on certain onboard electronics are not sure the new rule is about preventing terrorist attacks.

Under the new rules, those flying to the U.S. from 10 airports in eight Middle Eastern countries are barred from bringing devices larger than cell phones into the cabin during flights. These devices include laptops, tablets, DVD players, cameras, and gaming systems.

News of the ban was released Monday, and international airlines were given 96 hours to enforce it.

Monday morning, Royal Jordanian Airlines sent a tweet describing the new rules to its passengers. They were the first of the affected airlines to do so.

Royal Jordanian Airlines in Amman, Jordan is one of 10 airlines in the Middle East affected by the electronics ban. Royal Jordanian operates about 110 flight each day.

The Department of Homeland Security said the regulation is a temporary response to reports that terrorist groups are using electronics to target flights to America.

Dr. Ziad Abu-Rish, a history professor at OU, questions the legitimacy of the reports.

“We have not seen any evidence by the administration to prove that there is a need for such a policy,” Abu-Rish said. “We are told that this is based on intelligence, but no clarification has been given. It’s very difficult to take seriously that this is based on security concerns.”

Traveling passengers now have restricted access to work-related devices on long international flights, an inconvenience that especially affects business travelers.

“When you’re on a 12- to 13-hour flight, and you’re conducting research or attending a conference, you really need to be on the ball and working on those flights,” Abu-Rish said.

Steve Howard, OU’s Director of African Studies, not only thinks the restriction inconveniences passengers, but also adds another layer to recent “discrimination against Muslim populations by the Trump administration.”

“We’re in a very difficult time in terms of U.S. relationship with the Muslim world. We’re really creating an ‘us versus them’ kind of atmosphere,” Howard said.

None of the eight of the countries included in the electronic ban were listed by President Trump in his January executive order banning international travel for non-US citizens. Expanding the list of affected countries in the region “furthers the demonization of people from Muslim majority countries,” Abu-Rish said.

For Howard, the inconvenience to passengers goes beyond restricted use of electronics.

“I’m concerned about [international] students not coming [to OU] or American students not being able to go to some of these places that are important to understand in terms of global culture,” Howard said.

Former OU student Alena Klimas rode a camel on her study abroad trip to Jordan in 2015. OU has current exchanges and partnerships with five Middle Eastern countries.
Former OU student Alena Klimas rode a camel on her study abroad trip to Jordan in 2015. OU has current exchanges and partnerships with five Middle Eastern countries.

Abu-Rish has similar concerns for his students.

“I definitely see this as something that affects people at Ohio University. We have a number of undergraduate students who like to study abroad in the region that would be affected on their return home,” Abu-Rish said.

In an article by the New York Times, the Transportation Security Administration said it is on high alert while the restrictions begin to take place. There have been no reports as to whether the alert is related to the electronics ban.