The way we are treated at US airports

Word of advice for Washington – in your efforts to win the battle against the terrorists, don’t humiliate your friends, says Bilal Qureshi

After spending about a year in Pakistan, I arrived back home, that is back in the States last night. Well, as I was at the last stop before exiting the immigration area at Dulles Airport, I was asked to come to a separate area without giving me any reason for it.

I went to the separate area and there were dozens and dozens of people from Pakistan, India , Bangladesh , and couple of families from Africa.

First, I was confused as I had been traveling for about 24 hours (without any sleep) and because I was tired and fatigued, it took me a while to grasp that all of us in that room were dark colored Asian, and most probably all of us were Muslims (perhaps with one or two exceptions) and this made me very upset.

I kept asking the big bulky guys in uniform about the reason for pulling me out, but no answer was given. This is not the way to treat Americans, even if they have Muslim names.

I am not bothered by the special measures that the United States government has put in place to prevent the bad guys from entering the country. I am all for it, but the U.S. government should learn to differentiate between law abiding U.S. citizens like myself and those who don’t like America. What bothered me the most was that I was detained for three hours without any reason. My luggage was also opened, but once again, I was not told why my entire luggage was searched. This is not right, and this should not happen in America.

America can do better and America must not lower its standards in this fight.

Before last night’s horrible experience, I was not sure what it meant when people suggest that the United States has not been able to win the hearts and minds of Muslims, at least so far. Now, I can understand this failure. Also, wherever I went in Pakistan , people asked me about the ‘bad’ treatment that Pakistanis (or Muslims) face in America, especially when they travel, but I always told Pakistanis that this notion of Muslims not being treated fairly in America is wrong.

But now after last night, I am not so sure about it.

Couple of years ago, I remember friends talking about an organization that was set up by Muslim lawyers in America to fight back against harassment that Pakistanis and Muslims encounter at American airports, but I paid no attention to that effort at the time. Today, I understand why Muslims, especially Pakistanis have been complaining about the way they feel they are treated in America. I too was upset last night to see that even non-US. Citizens were exiting the airport without any problem, and the U.S citizens like me were subjected to additional questioning and luggage search without any reason.

As a friend of progressive forces, and as an American who is proud to be an American, I urge the United States government to re-consider this policy of secondary searches and questioning when someone tries to enter America. This is not the right way to make friends with people who are needed to on our side in this fight to defeat the terrorists.

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