US President Barack Obama insisted on Saturday that it was not his administration’s policy to target people based on their looks at airports, but said keeping people safe and preventing terrorism was one of his “biggest challenges”.
Responding to questions from a young Sikh at a town hall-type meeting in Westminster on the second day of his three-day visit to London, Obama said he had taken an “adamant stand” on not racially profiling people at US airports.
Asked why he had not taken a firm stand following reports of Sikhs being targeted as Muslims or being racially profiled at US airports, Obama said terrorism in pluralistic societies like the US and Britain would continue to be a challenge, but one that would be overcome.
He said: “I have taken an adamant stand on not racial profiling at airports. It is explicit TSA (Transportation Security Administration) policy not to racially profile”.
“Does that mean that out of hundreds of airports and thousands of TSA officials that there has not been times where a Sikh is going through the airport and somebody targets them for secondary screening because of what they look like? Of course that’s happened.”
“But that’s not my administration’s policy. But it does raise a broader issue, that in pluralistic societies like the United States, like the UK, in diverse societies, one of our biggest challenges is how we are going to approach keeping people safe and preventing terrorist acts”, Obama added.
On Sikhs being targeted after being misunderstood as Muslims, he said: “There was a time when here in the UK terrorism was emanating from the IRA (Irish Republican Army). So this is not uniquely a Muslim problem. What is also true is today there are tiny subset of groups that have perverted Islam and justify killing innocent people”.
“And how we do that (face the challenge) in a way that is consistent with our values, pluralism and respect for religion, is vitally important. This is going to be a challenging issue for some time to come but I am confident that it is an issue that we can succeed at”, he said.