I have a story and a message for those of you whose consciences have not yet despaired of trying.
So today, on my way home from Orlando, a purely domestic flight, my family and I were detained at the airport.
Now, my father being held up at airports is not an unusual occurrence for my family (and, I’m sure, many other Muslim families), primarily because of his prolific Muslim activism over his past 32 years as an American - indeed, we’re far more surprised when it doesn’t happen. But this time, something different happened - my mother and I also ended up on the mysterious (and supposedly random) “SSSS” list.
What this meant is that the three of us (with my little brothers in tow), the only ostensibly Muslim family, were pulled aside in front of everyone by an incredibly rude TSA officer (who chose to primarily escort us by finger-wagging) and forced to stand there as another officer called the powers that be (the FBI) to determine if our evil Muslim-ness was a threat. At that point, we did not make much of a fuss, and instead made jokes about “random” searches and smuggling coconuts from the Bahamas and similar things, because sometimes laughing in the face of injustice really is the only thing you can do.
Apparently, the powers said something, because we were graciously allowed to continue to a search more prolific than that of our fellow passengers: a pat down, a thorough bag and shoe search by hand, and that hand swipe thing that checks for drugs and explosives. During the bag search, an officer made some rather shameless comments about the contents of my mother’s bag, and then asked her if she spoke English. Being the fantastic person she is, she began a vehement discussion of sorts with the officer about the clear failure of the system to secure liberty and justice and rights to all Americans and about the complete insensibility of the situation.
Although I had been restraining myself previously, deciding to not take it up with the officers who have little control over the incredibly broken system, something snapped in me and I decided to join my mother. Together, we told the officer about this infringement upon our freedoms, this constant reminder that we were guilty until proven innocent. The officer, while not exactly rude, was still standoffish. The discussion continued.
And then… another officer came. This officer decided to begin lecturing my mother and me about how loud we were being, and how he could hear us all the way from the other side of the area. He told us that we shouldn’t be talking like that (a textbook example of tone policing) and that we were disturbing other travelers. I told him that I couldn’t care less if others were being inconvenienced by my standing up against injustice, and suggested that they in fact SHOULD be inconvenienced when others are facing such an infringement - nothing ever comes from an ignorant and complacent public.
This officer, however, decided to treat me like a child, telling me that this was “inappropriate” and that I needed to “calm down.” I told him that my anger was justified, and repeatedly told him that I was an adult and that his condescension was not appreciated, but he insisted that it was respect. I told him there was a clear line between respect and condescension and that I was an adult and that he needed to stop treating me like a child, especially when it came to an issue as fundamental as this.
In response (get this), he turned to my mother and began to tell her that I was causing a scene and it was unnecessary. I told him to stop talking to my mother about me like I was a child, and that my concerns were legitimate, and that I would not take this 80000th injustice with a smile and a nod.
At that point, my father came back from his patdown, and this officer turns to my dad and begins lecturing HIM about me. I approached the conversation, and the officer told me it didn’t concern me, but I told him hell yes it did if he was talking about me and if he had my passport in his hand. He decided to ignore me and I sort of stormed sort of stepped aside to get my shoes and bag and try to cool down, because I was 10000% done with this guy.
Another officer then came over and began talking to my mother about how she completely understood and there was little she could do and gave her a number and email to contact. She was the only officer who treated us with respect and like human beings - clearly the exception, not the rule.
After that, we left to get onto our plane, and now I’m sitting in the gate and writing this. But I am left with several conclusions and questions.
It is impossible to be an active Muslim American and not be controversial. That’s why my dad is on the list.
But if that’s why my dad is, then why my mother, who is a law-abiding American citizen who teaches at a community college and hasn’t been involved in heavy activism or other activities of the sort?
And why me, a 17-year-old American-born-and-raised teenager whose favorite pastimes include reading, blogging, and marathoning TV shows?
If we’re going to accept the premise that my dad is on the list reasonably (and we shouldn’t), then are my mother and I on it by association? Is this collective punishment, something illegal under international (and by extension) US law?
And if we aren’t going to accept that premise, then are we just going to accept that Muslim Americans should be put on lists by virtue of their religious beliefs? Are we going to accept that the US engages (and it does) in profiling in its law enforcement and homeland security, and that this is a part of life we are willing to stomach?
And if this only happens on a domestic flight, please consider what happens on international ones. (Answer: Hours of search and questioning - even on the port back from the Bahamas.)
(And, perhaps tangentially, if DHS is this horrible to citizens domestically, consider what happens to those who are undocumented being held in detention centers miles from home?)
In the aftermath of 9/11, the US government has engaged in massive programs that criminalize and victimize Muslim Americans, from the micro(ish) level in the NYPD to the macro level in the Department of Homeland Security. And while civil rights groups have made some progress on such issues (shout out to CAIR, the ACLU, and the ADC among others), the path remains long and unpleasant. My family still goes to the airport hours early because we know what will happen. We still tell family members to pick us up hours late from international flights. We still gird ourselves for extra scrutiny from law enforcement.
We still feel like second-class citizens in the only home we have.
We still feel like we are seen through lenses of guilty-guilty-guilty, when the Constitution guarantees us innocent-innocent-innocent.
We are sick and tired and disappointed.
There’s something deeply wrong here, America. And we are so, so tired of being the only ones who see it.
Open your eyes.