“Routine” Detention of King Khan

August 24, 2009

Shahrukh Khan, one of the most famous men in the world was detained in New Jersey last week and thinks it was because of his Muslim surname. I don’t condone unreasonably preferential treatment for megastars, but something is amiss when terms like “Islamaphobia” and “Racial Profiling” are internationally understood within an American context.

Until this story, I only knew friends travelling to and from countries officially designated as “Islamic” like, Pakistan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates who sometimes felt they’re racially profiled at airports. But this story reveals a string of “Indian officials and celebrities have been treated poorly by American immigration officials. Continental Airlines staff at Delhi frisked Former Indian President, APJ Abdul Kalam; then-sitting Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes was “strip-searched” at Dulles Airport in 2003; and Bollywood stars Irfan Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, John Abraham, and Neil Nitin Mukesh have all been detained by Homeland Security”.   It’s quite a list actually. You hitch together Islamophobia apparently “Run Amok“, the staggering number of news stories on “Us airports racial profiling”  since 2001 with this string of prominent cases (thus not counting everyday citizens) from the second most populated country in the planet, and I think we might have a problem.

Travelling from Vegas last year, as I handed my pass to board a flight back to DC I was stopped and asked to wait aside for reasons not disclosed. Four French nationals were told the same. As all the other passengers boarded, we waited for at least 15 minutes and were given no explanation for being pulled aside. Eventually a burly looking woman and imperturbable looking man in black security garb arrived and said we were to be frisked. One of the French nationals and I asked why this was necessary after having already cleared regular security to which they responded,  it’s just “routine”. The response  doesn’t qualify as a logical answer to the question, but neither guard seemed interested in engaging in sound argumentation: futility kept me from trying to get an accurate response. The burly one frisked me and a French female who had a duffle bag much larger and fuller than my over the shoulder  bag. She didn’t search the French female’s duffle, but mine was searched at length despite having been through X-ray and manual security beforehand. I watched her tinker with my book, pens, makeup pouch, stuffed toy, and laptop and mentioned to her: “You forgot to check the other girl’s bag”. She said “what?” I repeated my comment as she re-fastened my bag and handed it back to me. I walked away as she started to answer figuring a response was likely to include the word “routine” and leave any reasonable person dissatisfied.

Homeland Securities explanation to Shahrukh Khan was identical: his treatment was “routine”. But Khan said he felt “humiliated” and in saying “we should not be treated on the basis of our color or nationality” made clear that he felt racially profiled. In my experience, I didn’t feel humiliated although I was dissatisfied, because as an American national, the only variable for which I received a more in depth check than the French female, was aapparently my race. It was discriminatory, and it didn’t feel nice.

I’m not vouching for less security necessarily, but it’s time a solution is explored if these “routine” searches/detentions are increasingly discriminatory extending to variables such as race, religious affiliation and nationality. We live in too rapidly a globalizing world for the United States to come across as unwelcoming.



  1. […] is especially important because racial profiling is already a widespread concern for inbound travelers to the United States. CAIR (the Council on American Islamic Relations) spokesperson Ibrahim Cooper says the new […]


  2. […] is especially important because racial profiling is already a widespread international concern for inbound travelers to the United S…. CAIR (the Council on American Islamic Relations) spokesperson Ibrahim Cooper says the new […]


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