By ABDUSSALAM MOHAMED, Senior Staff Writer InFocus Newspaper
LOS ANGELES – In a post-9/11 world, returning from an overseas trip could mean a serious ordeal at the port of entry for many American Arab and Muslim travelers, especially those returning from the Middle East or a Muslim country.
Many recount harrowing experiences of unfair treatment, rude behavior, unnecessary and humiliating interrogations, unprofessional conduct by DHS officials and long detentions for little or no reasonable cause. For many, the striking similarities between their stories and the frequency of occurrence point to one inevitable conclusion: profiling.
They argue that no matter when or where they travel, the crosshairs of airport security seem to be repeatedly locked on them...
For Shaikh Yassir Fazaga, 35, religious director at the Orange County Islamic Foundation in Mission Viejo, Calif., being detained and questioned when traveling through American ports is not just the norm but also an expected inconvenience.
“Any time I leave the country, I’m usually stopped for at least an hour or two - the most was four hours,” said the Eritrea-born soft-spoken imam. “I’ve gotten so used to it, that I actually prepare myself.”
An almost identical experience happened to no other than Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and a very well-known and respected Muslim leader.
As recently as July of this year, Ayloush arrived in Denver, Colo., on a flight from London, England, but which originated in Lebanon, and said that when a DHS agent could not clear his passport, he was ushered into a private room.
There he was interrogated about his trip, which he took to visit his sick grandmother and to attend a brother’s wedding.
“Which countries did you visit? How did you get through those countries? How many people were in the car? Who was driving the car?” the DHS officer asked sternly. And then she asked him what he did for a living.
“The minute I told her I worked for CAIR, she suddenly became more cautious in her line of questioning,” Ayloush said. “She suddenly affected a friendly tone and even asked when would CAIR open a chapter in Colorado.”
Fazaga said he experiences similar treatment with regards to the questioning. He said he is asked questions such as, “What do you think of Bukhari (a ninth century Muslim scholar of Hadith)? How come you are not dressed as an imam? What are your thoughts on the Shia? What are your feelings on jihad?”
Ayloush doubts DHS agents such as these know what they are doing or looking for. “There’s such a high level of fear and paranoia, there is no legitimate reason for many of these type of searches and questions,” he said.
In his case, the DHS officer apologized and argued she was just doing her job, he said. But Ayloush contended, “common sense should be part of her job, too.” Happily for the 37-year old executive director, he was able to catch his connecting flight.
But for Fazaga and almost 75 percent of the Saudia Airlines passengers who landed at the John F. Kennedy airport in New York City a few months ago, this was not the case. Because the plane arrived in the evening, many people missed their connecting flights and had to wait until the next morning for a connection. “It was a sad scene to see nursing mothers with crying babies who needed to be changed and fed, students and people on work deadlines detained for hours,” Fazaga said. “Some were coming for the first time to this country, and could not afford to spend the night at a hotel, so after an 11 hour flight, they remained stuck at the airport for 12 hours.”
“Profiling people based solely on their Muslim background is either due to incompetence, bias or ignorance,” he said. “There is no shame in being ignorant but those who are in charge of such an important job cannot hide behind ignorance, especially post 9/11.”...
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- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html