Step Two: The Lawsuit

This week, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit on my behalf to hold the parties responsible for arresting and detaining me on 9/11/11 for “suspicious behavior” on a flight from Denver to Detroit.

That “suspicious behavior” seems to mean having an Arabic last name and sitting next to two men of South Asian descent. Nothing more. You can read about the experience I had in a previous blog post.

The ACLU, working in tandem with lawyers from the national ACLU office and private attorneys from two firms, have made the claims through the lawsuit that my constitutional rights were violated and I was racially profiled. You find a summary of the claim at the ACLU’s website.

Here’s an excerpt:

Through public records, the ACLU discovered that Hebshi was removed from the flight because she was seated next to the men and because of her ethnic name. A small number of passengers noticed the two men go to the bathroom in succession and complained to the flight crew. The two men were cleared of any wrongdoing and were also released from custody later that evening.

The complaint cites a number of violations, including unreasonable search and seizure prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, and discrimination prohibited by the federal civil rights laws. The lawsuit was filed against Frontier Airlines as well as officials with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Wayne County Airport Authority, Detroit Metro Airport Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

We held a press conference in Detroit on Tuesday announcing the case and explaining the reasons for taking action. I made a statement, which you can read in full on the ACLU’s blog here.

Here’s an excerpt:

This, certainly, was a difficult day for me, but I also recognize that many others have experienced similar horrors because of racial profiling. Through this lawsuit, I hope to reclaim the dignity that is taken from us when racial profiling trumps the American values of fairness and equality.

I appreciate the tremendous support I have received from friends, family and strangers who feel as outraged as I am that this happened. And I hope that through this lawsuit not only will public awareness grow of this issue, but some changes will be implemented into the system so innocent people are not targeted as criminals.

Here are some of the media reports since Tuesday’s press conference:



Too good not to share

Too good not to share

Got this from a friend on Facebook. Happy MLK Day + Inauguration Day, and a day to reflect on how far we’ve come, yet how far we still need to go.

It’s been one year…

A year ago I was sitting on a plane flying home from San Francisco after a weekend visiting friends and family. When my flight landed in Detroit, after a layover in Denver, a routine trip turned into a shocking event that changed my life.

It was the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I had expected a quiet flight, but instead I was accused of acting suspiciously during the flight along with two Indian men sitting in my row. In Detroit the three of us were forced off the plane by armed guards, handcuffed and taken to the airport police station where we were strip searched and interrogated for four hours by the FBI, Homeland Security and airport security.

It was a horrifying experience for me, and you can read about it in a post I wrote the following day. Now a year later, I am glad it is behind me.

In the year that’s passed, I have learned a lot about Americans’ fears, media spotlights, civil liberties, constitutional rights and legal recourse available. I am continuing to work with the ACLU in the hope that public awareness can help deter another incident like this. I am writing in depth about the incident and about the changes in our society since that tragic Tuesday morning, now 11 years ago, in which almost 3.000 people lost their lives.

We’ve entered into two wars seen as retaliation and spent trillions of dollars on those operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve lost 6,700 Americans who have fought in those two wars, almost 50,000 U.S. military personnel have returned from the Middle East with physical and emotional wounds.

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy is struggling to find its footing and the national unemployment rate is seemingly holding steady around 8 percent. We’re looking toward a November election that will determine a president and many congressional seats, and the issues being batted around are the economy, jobs and antiquated social issues, like contraception, a woman’s right to choose and equality for gays and lesbians. There’s very little talk about the wars in the Middle East, the ongoing suspicion of Muslims in America and the violence that sometimes occurs because of latent hostility toward those who look Middle Eastern.

Just last month, six Sikhs died at their temple in Wisconsin, when a man with ties to neo-Nazi groups and who served in the U.S. military, opened fire while they were praying.

Today we remember those who died 11 years ago in the attacks that forever would change our country, but we also need to look to the future and decide how best to heal those wounds and move toward compassion and peace. This country has had its share of racial strife. From its founding, only white, land-owning men were given the power to have their voices heard in government. Oppression has found its way into every crevice of our society, and members of every ethnicity that makes up this melting pot of a country has felt the effects of discrimination at one time or another. But, as the constitution says, our goal is to continually mold the united states into a “more perfect Union.”

We can take today and make tomorrow better. We can always look forward to making tomorrow better.

NDAA 2012: ‘Military detention authority on steroids’

I guess I was lucky that I was pulled off a plane by armed men, frisked, hands and feet splayed on the side of a police car and taken to a police building where I was held, strip searched and interrogated for four hours without really knowing why I was there. I was lucky in that it was before a bill like the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 was passed.

If I was held under the NDAA’s proposed guidelines, I could have been shipped off to Guantánamo and held indefinitely without trial.

A Michigan Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin, wrote the language that would allow the military to hold anyone — U.S. citizens and non —  suspected of terrorism for as long as it wants without the constitutional promise of a trial. Not only does the NDAA violate the constitution, but it would be another step toward a xenophobic police state where suspicious behavior is just as good as hard evidence.

It’s scary to think that in my case, I could be suspected of terrorism just for sitting next to two Indian men who needed to use the bathroom on an airplane and remained indisposed a little too long. That means anyone who “looks” threatening or “acts” threatening, to which there are no clear guidelines, could be shipped off to a military prison with a reputation for torturing its prisoners and stripped of their civil liberties, including due process . No, it’s not just scary, it’s unjust and corrupt.

The ACLU had this to say about the bill:

“This bill puts military detention authority on steroids and makes it permanent. If it becomes law, American citizens and others are at real risk of being locked away by the military without charge or trial.”


“Based on suspicion alone, no place and no person are off-limits to military detention without charge or trial.”

President Obama has threatened to veto it, saying:

“Any bill that challenges or constrains the President’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the Nation would prompt the President’s senior advisers to recommend a veto.”

Retired four-star Marine generals wrote an op-ed in the New York Times saying:

“…some in Congress are all too willing to undermine our ideals in the name of fighting terrorism.”

Let’s hope for all our sakes that Obama vetoes the bill—even if he’s doing it for the wrong reasons.

Read more:

Green Friday

The chaos of Black Friday. Source:

Yesterday, someone I follow on Twitter sent out a tweet saying: “Don’t give Black Friday your Black Dollars!” It resonated with me because I’ve always witnessed Christmas, as an outsider non-Christian, as a time when Americans go a little bit crazy about buying stuff.

Now as it seems people are waking up from a 30-plus-year sleep believing that unregulated capitalism can keep us safe and happy, it is a perfect opportunity to take action and change the status quo.

Maybe instead of shopping on Black Friday and giving our hard-earned cash to the multinational corporations and institutions that are appealing to our American instinct to buy more stuff, we can savor the meaning of the prior day’s Thanksgiving and really feel thanks and blessings for all the richness we have in our lives.

By staying in and not giving in to the marketing machine and mobs and mayhem of Black Friday, we will also be giving Mother Nature a break. So this year, I’m calling the day after Thanksgiving “Green Friday.”

If we protest shopping and stay in to spend time with family and friends or just spend time reading a book, walking in the woods or around the neighborhood, if we protest spending any money unless absolutely necessary, we will be burning less fuel, sitting in fewer traffic jams, using less electricity and reducing our stress.

Green Friday will be a way for me to sit back, continue to digest the copious amount of food ingested the night before, relax, visit with friends, enjoy my family and — if the weather’s good enough– take a walk outside in the fresh air away from crowds, away from big box stores, and away from the consumeristic ideal that has swallowed the holiday of Christmas.

Will you join me?

P.S. Naomi Klein recently wrote about how those who deny climate change’s existence or, rather, humans’ contribution to climate change, believe that anti-capitalists have drummed up the science to promote socialism and squash American freedom. Read on here.

A new year, a new tone

Shana Tova! It’s the Jewish new year tonight. Jews around the world will be dipping crisp apples into sweet honey to remind apples and honeythemselves 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.

Read the column.

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.

It’s about our rights

It’s been a week since I posted to this blog about my experience being taken from my flight to Detroit and detained for “suspicious activity.” The response to the post has been overwhelming and, for the most, part supportive.

I have done several interviews with media outlets and have subsequently written a few accounts for other publications, but I kept coming back to the idea that the story is not about me. It’s about our rights. We live in a country that was founded on distinct principles of freedom and democracy. We have a constitution to protect those tenets. There is nothing clearer than that.

What happened to me violates those rights–specifically the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The attention my blog post received clearly demonstrates the need for continued dialogue and action about where we stand as a country in making sure all Americans’ rights are preserved. There are ways to ensure safety and protect our rights. We need to find a balance.

Read more:


Gosh, I feel like I have stage fright…but I feel I should post a response to the incredible response that my last post received and continues to generate.

I had no idea when I sat down to write on Monday about my ordeal the previous day that it would have exploded into this and thrust me and these issues at hand into the spotlight. But I appreciate the dialogue it has generated and feel so much support.

I’m having trouble keeping up with the comments on the post. Some of these discussions have been going on for almost as long as the post has been up! It seems obvious that what happened stirred some deep sentiments among the readers, and, if nothing else comes of it, at least we can say we have the freedom and ability to have this dialogue in an open environment.

Thank you for all the support and well wishes, and I will continue to update this blog as any news transpires.


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