Shana Tova! It’s the Jewish new year tonight. Jews around the world will be dipping crisp apples into sweet honey to remind themselves to have a sweet year–probably a fruitful one at that, forgive the really bad pun. (To read some official rabbinic explanation of this custom, click here.)
While my year ended on a strange note, due to the activity that resulted from my post detailing my detainment on Sept. 11, I have good reason to believe that the new year will bring some good–and perhaps sweet–moments.
Today I was forwarded two articles related to my detainment that signaled that the conversation has turned from just the telling of my story to a larger perspective and the issues that surround what happened to me.
The first article, written by the wife of a Kenyan man with a “common Muslim” name, described how a flight attendant told him and another man with a Muslim-sounding name to get off the plane before takeoff on the same day I was detained. He was taken by an immigration official back to the waiting area at the gate and asked a few questions about his travels to Somalia, which neighbors his home country. His wife joined him while he was questioned and even answered some questions for him.
In the end, the couple, while embarrassed, was released and the plane waited for them. They caught their flight to San Francisco. She writes:
“The immigration guy isn’t responsible for American foreign policy. Inside the borders of our country, he was nice and respectful, which is more than you can say for government officials in Kenya. And in the end, we made it onto the plane.”
Read the article and see what you think about this incident.
The argument here, that the agent was doing his job and isn’t responsible for foreign policy is one I felt while I was sitting in the detention cell pondering my fate. But, the Kenyan man’s treatment was far less severe than mine, and I know that what was done to me was violating and humiliating.
However, it also points out that security methods can be less intrusive, costly and excessive. By pulling the man off the plane before takeoff, the crew did not need to ask for fighter jets to trail the plane to its destination. Police cars did not need to surround the plane upon landing. Armed officers did not need to storm the plane and handcuff and detain three innocent people. It’s like firing at an ant with a bazooka.
The second article comes from the Des Moines Register, following a probing editorial over the weekend. The writer, Register columnist Rekha Basu, discusses racial profiling in response to my detainment. She writes that while people in our post-9/11 society are feeling anxious and fearful of dark-skinned people, it is not a reaction that should be tolerated. She writes:
Throwing a blanket of suspicion around people of different ethnicities goes against American notions of due process, civil liberties, the presumption of innocence and equality.
What I am hoping for in this new year is that the dialogue that has ignited over our national security methods, racial profiling and the state of our union 10 years after the horrific events of 9/11/01 will not cease.
Yesterday I was asked if I am patriotic. The question made me pause, as patriotism has become such a loaded and firey idea. It made me realize that my definition of patriotism is to have my country be as upstanding and democratic as possible, to never settle and to always strive for the highest point of justice and order. When people feel safe and empowered progress ensues. When people live in fear and judgment they falter.
In this new year, I hope we strive to always do better and to remember that we live in a democracy of the people, for the people and by the people. Those words were not written in vain. We have the power to stand up to injustice and intolerance. If we take this lightly we will falter. We must not succumb to that.