Entry Denied/Entry Permitted?
I was in Brisbane when Baghdad
fell this year. The date was 9 April 2003. I don't think
I would have remembered even such a momentous historic episode
as this had it not coincided with another truly unforgettable
event more than five decades earlier--my own birthday. After
hours of watching the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein
in Baghdad Square on TV again and again (I am afraid I might
have forgotten the name of the Square) and feeling the additional
weight of another year, I decided that I had do something.
I realised I was hungry and ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut.
A sample of the conversation with the guy at Pizza Hut is
Hello, could I please have a large Supreme
Pizza with lots of meat and green pepper and mushrooms?
Sure, sir. Could I have your address and
telephone number, please?
Okay, and how long will it take? I gave
him my address and telephone number.
About 20 minutes. And your name, sir?
There was a long pause at the other end.
I reckon the guy was also watching TV and witnessing the
fall of Saddam Hussain and Baghdad.
And your first initial?
S. S as in SADDAM. My name is S. Hussain.
Another long pause.
You must be kidding, sir?
No, I am not. I am dead serious.
End of story. My pizza arrived on time and
with more green pepper than I expected.
My name is not a burden to me; I wear it
lightly and without much self-consciousness. I am a Muslim
and over 45, and according to the profiling of aliens by
US authorities, not likely to be engaged in unlawful activities
like hijacking airplanes or blowing up buildings. I am a
lucky man. Besides, I have no plans of going to the US soon.
However, other younger men aged between
15 and 45 with names like mine, who want to study in the
US or are already studying there, are not likely to wear
their names with such insouciance. All the Hussains and
Hassans, all the Mohammads and Ahmeds, all the Islams and
Rahmans are immediately suspect. They wear their names like
albatrosses round their necks. Being a Bangladeshi does
not help either. Bangladesh and Bangladeshi Muslims like
Muslims of about 25 other nations are in the terror blacklist.
It is unfortunate that my son and many like him, now students
in the US, are all irrevocably tied to their paternal surnames
If I had known this earlier, about 20 years
back, I would have seriously considered giving my son a
crypto-Muslim name, a name that would disguise his Muslim
genealogy, and create some confusion about his religious
identity. Consider a name like Tariq Aziz. For years I thought
that Saddam's Foreign Minister was a Muslim when he was
actually a good Christian masquerading under a Muslim-sounding
name. A name like Christopher Purification Adhidary, a real
name I assure you, or a name like Sebastian Pramanik or
Anthony Biswas could be really handy in situations where
religious identification is not desired. But such crypto-Muslim
names can only provide momentary respite because you are
still stuck with your Bangladeshi passport.
A new US immigration regulation stipulates
that all students from the blacklisted countries are to
be registered as special registrants and must conform to
the National Security Entry Exit Requirement System (NSEER).
What this means is that any specially-registered student
must inform the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), previously
known as the Immigration and Naturalisation Services (INS),
anytime he enters or departs from the US at the Port of
Entry/Departure. It now appears that a number of students
did not know about this little-publicised NSEERS regulation.
Some students, I have heard from personal sources and newspaper
reports, have been turned back from the US because they
had failed to register while departing from the US. Some
others I know are getting ready to go soon. Their fate hangs
Imagine this scenario. You spend almost
a year applying to different US universities, writing student
essays, appearing in the TOEFL and SAT exams, and preparing
all the other things that you have to prepare, not to mention
all the money you have spent in doing all this. The coveted
acceptance letter arrives one day. And then finally you
depart after being given security clearance after weeks
of agonising wait. You miss your orientation week, you miss
a few days of classes, but gradually you settle in and manage
to do quite well in your studies. And then you rush home
during summer holidays, failing to register with the INS
at the port of departure because you did not know anything
And what price might you pay for this? It
is possible that you may be sent back, and it is also possible
that they just might let you in. Imagine the psychological
state of a young man flying thousands of miles away from
home, stopping first at Dubai, then a few hours in Heathrow,
and then arriving at the US, only to be told that he can't
be admitted because he failed to register while departing.
The small print in various cables that I have read suggests
that if a student can show good cause for his failure to
comply and if he guarantees to comply in future, the immigration
officer may let him in. Everything seems to depend upon
the good sense, reasonableness, and compassion of the immigration
Can one dare hope that such qualities will
prevail in a world increasingly dominated by absurd paranoia
and fear of others with different names, different religions,
and different complexions? Even as you read this today,
I await news of whether a student very close to me has been
given permission to enter or denied permission. And while
I wait, I will order another pizza, this time from Dominous
Pizza in Dhanmandi. [email@example.com]