Scary Bad Guys, Part II

The conversation went something like this: “Yes, I heard something about it. I spoke with one of the Imams who was present at that meeting,” though not one of the six from Phoenix who were detained. “It happens all the time to Muslims now, at airports. Maybe not as rudely as right after September 11, but all the time.”

I’m trying to take in what I’m hearing: It happens so often that this isn’t really news to you?

That’s right. So finally I ask my friend, the gentle-voiced Islamic scholar with the wry sense of humor (who’s a physics professor by day): “What has your experience been?”

“My experience? When I get off the plane, coming from abroad, the two officials are standing there at the gate, and they take me into a room, and I sit and wait, and they verify who I am, and they apologize and let me go. They are almost always courteous, polite, sometimes even apologetic; they are doing their job. They are always there, right when I get off the plane.” For example, this happened not once but twice last year, once when my friend returned from hajj and once when he returned from visiting his home in Algeria, where he hadn’t been in 20 years. “It happens to other Muslims too, but for ordinary Muslims it’s not right at the door from the plane, they go through Customs and they are asked to go to a different area. Sometimes they have to wait much longer — 4, 5, 6 hours. It’s never been over an hour that I had to wait.” Then he told us a story of a local physician who was detained for six hours returning from Canada because his name appeared on some list. After the six hours of waiting, they (whoever detained him) apologized. He asked if it was likely to happen again. “Unfortunately, yes,” he was told. He consulted with lawyers but they told him there wasn’t much he could do, just call them if it happened again.

So I imagine that my scholarly friend’s name gets flagged any time he’s on an arriving passenger list. I imagine that the local physician has the same name as someone “they” suspect of nefarious behavior. Can’t they just make a notation next to their names on some secure government website: “Not an Islamist radical”??

I Googled my friend. There are over 700 entries, almost entirely lectures and scholarly presentations. If anyone bothered to watch the videos (which I am doing while I type this) or listen to what he has to say, they would know that his teaching is all about how to purify the soul, to expand the heart, to refine the compassion. Not how to hurt anyone. There is NO REASON why he should be stopped every time he gets off the plane from Saudi Arabia or Dubai. God willing, he goes on hajj every year. So he comes back with God in his heart and sits patiently.

He also travels a great deal within the United States, speaking at different conferences and gatherings. At most airports he is treated politely, he says; but he is certainly stopped more often than those of us who don’t have Arabic names, scholarly Muslim credentials, and beards.

This is not right, my friends.

See Part I and Part III.