Virgin Atlantic Airlines landed at JFK International Airport,
I couldn't wait to get out of my seat. After a gruelling two-day
journey which included stops in both Dubai and London, I needed
to actually be outside of an airport and feel fresh air in
my lungs -- as fresh as it can get in a polluted city like
New York, that is. Nevertheless, I was excited. Nothing could
get me down. Well almost nothing.
I handed my American passport to an unsmiling Indian lady
named Chopra, who fingered through it for what seemed to be
about ten minutes, before motioning at me (might I add that
she did not bother speaking to me -- perhaps she thought little
Ms. Ali the 'Moslem' could not speak 'Ungrezee' as well as
her) to follow her to the dreaded "room" on the
other side. I have heard of this room from my Muslim counterparts
all over the world. They are taken in there for random reasons.
Some of them are questioned, some of them are stared at and
some of them are just plain harassed. Which would it be for
me, I wondered, as I walked behind Chopra Madam.
what seemed to be an agonisingly long walk down from stall
thirty one to the little "room" next to stall one,
Chopra handed yet another unsmiling officer my passport and
walked away without a second glance.
please step inside and leave your bags outside," a tired,
grumpy voice interrupted my thoughts
to ask who was going to take care of my bag, but thought better
of it. Obviously the rule, 'Please do not leave your baggage
unattended' did not apply here.
a shaky breath and went into the "room." Once inside
I sat there while no one looked at me or spoke to me. This
is a new phenomenon. I've heard a lot about the "room,"
but never have I heard that they actually studiously ignore
you for fifteen minutes. Finally one of the staff took my
passport and looked at it for about another ten minutes, after
which he proceeded to make photocopies of it. He handed my
passport back to me and looked away, going back to other important
am I free to go?" I asked, hating myself for the whiny,
scared tone of my voice.
he answered, not looking at me.
As I was walking out with my baggage, I turned one last time
and burned eyes through stall thirty one. As if she felt something,
Chopra turned and looked at me. Our eyes met and I was almost
tempted to make a rude gesture, but I stopped myself. There's
no telling what kind of repercussions that would have in a
place like JFK. They would probably think I was doing morse
code in Arabic and with my luck, they would arrest me.
only thing about me that fits the profile of a so-called Muslim
terrorist (I'm assuming that was the reason I was taken to
the "room") is my last name. Other than that, I
do not have a beard (at least I hope not), and I do not look
like I'm carrying a bomb hidden away somewhere. It's bad enough
when people who you do not consider as your own treat you
with disrespect and discriminate against you. It's ten times
more humiliating and angering when someone who you can culturally
associate with does so. Chopra may not be Muslim, but she
was from the subcontinent -- a fellow deshi.
may argue that Chopra was just doing her job. I don't think
so. She was trying to prove to her fellow immigration officers
that she is just as ignorant as they are. She was trying to
show them that she associates more with the American world
than she does with the South Asian world. Poor Chopra. She
has spent her whole life in a foreign country pretending to
be someone she is not, trying to gain acceptance by discriminating
against her own kind. Yes, Chopra, I took it personally. I
feel sorry for you, whoever you are, because whether I am
red flagged at JFK or not, at least I know who I am and I
am proud of it.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004