This week, an American Muslim human rights activist shared an anecdote of being harassed and detained at an American airport.
The writer, Qasim Rashid, is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. On August 6, he returned from London to U.S. and landed at Dulles airport.
After he was cleared for exit, he quickly ran through his checklist: Lug his baggage out, get an Uber, go home.
As he made his way to the exit, he was called by a member of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). He was informed by a middle-aged white woman that he had been “randomly selected” for a check.
A little annoyed but not surprised, he followed her into a vacant interrogation room. The woman asked him if he was smuggling anything and asked him to run his luggage on the X-ray belt. He complied, the luggage cleared.
Qasim was done, dusted and ready to leave. Until he was stopped again.
This time, a man from CBP stopped him and expressed suspicion that the bar of dairy milk chocolate, which he had got for his children, was explosive.
Even after Qasim showed the man the receipt of the chocolates, the man persisted and removed the cover of the chocolate.
Qasim protested that he has Global Entry and shouldn’t have to go through this.
After the official failed to find a hand grenade or a suicide jacket inside, Qasim was finally free to leave with his opened bar of chocolate. And then he was stopped yet again.
This time, he was told that he had been non-compliant. Even as a person routinely subjected to these procedures, Qasim felt his patience wearing thin. Then he was told that his Global Entry card would have to be confiscated for breaking the law. Even as Qasim’s rage grew, he was pulled into the quicksand of worrying thoughts.
“Still, my mind began to wander. What if he doesn’t return my ID card? What if they arrest me? These are the same people who are ripping migrant children from their parents and throwing them in latter-day concentration camps—there’s no telling what they can do to a minority this president has tried to ban from entering the country.”
Qasim was finally able to meet the supervisor of the officer who took away his card, who was, thankfully, puzzled when his subordinate alleged that he had “harassed” CBP officials. He then went ahead and asked Qasim what he did for a living.
Qasim looked up to see the supervisor in the face and replied, “I’m a civil rights lawyer with expertise on racial and religious discrimination and profiling.”
The effect was immediate. Instead of answering Qasim, the supervisor looked at his subordinates and asked him to let Qasim go.
In Muslim households, this is the kind of incident that, although mundane, never fails to elicit worry. Parents instruct their children to keep their head down and comply on the airport, and to not be provoked into saying or doing anything they may regret later. Qasim says he wrote about his experience not to invoke shock or empathy, but to let others like him know that they are mostly detained illegally on airports. This is why the CBP is so intimidated by a lawyer who would know his constitutional rights in the situation. He requested Muslims to read up more on their rights during detention.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters/James Duggan