I dread US airports. From the moment I enter until the moment I leave, I feel as if I am trapped by my own fears generated from countless experiences of racial profiling, prolonged interrogations and baseless suspicion.
I have done nothing deserving of incrimination. True, I have been very critical of successive US governments for their horrendous foreign policies and immoral wars abroad, as well as the devastating social injustice and economic inequality at home. But what is the worth, or even the use, of being an intellectual or a journalist if one turns a blind eye to injustice?
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The first time I was held for hours was at JFK Airport in 2003. The hyped fear of terrorists lurking everywhere was at its peak. Expectedly, Muslims stood accused, paying the price of unwarranted US military adventures in the Middle East and the resulting terrorism and violence everywhere else.
“What do you have against our president?” a large officer with a black baseball cap asked, as if my criticism of George W Bush‘s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a violation of the US’s most sacred laws. He expected no answer, and carried on rummaging through my belongings in a small, poorly lit room.
Soon after, I was held at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. The ill-informed officers found a receipt in my bags that read: “Halal Restaurant”. One officer tried to argue that my culinary choice reflected my extremist religious beliefs. I told him that his logic would indict half of the city of London due to the proliferation of halal kebab restaurants there.
But the harassment never stopped. In fact, it worsened, progressively becoming routine. Good Americans are asked to remain vigilant. “If you see something, say something,” they are constantly reminded.
The underlying message seems to always point at reporting dark skin men and women, usually Muslims for behaving “suspiciously”, as in speaking Arabic, or uttering the word “inshallah”, which means, “God willing”.
Per the above logic, even blatant racism goes unpunished. Numerous accounts of Muslims being thrown out of aeroplanes, often kicking and screaming, is becoming an acceptable norm.
When Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, 26 was kicked out of a Southwest Airlines flight last year for speaking Arabic on the phone, the agent who escorted him reprimanded him for using his mother tongue in public considering “today’s political climate”.
More recently, Anila Dualatzai was shamelessly dragged down the aisle of a plane heading to Los Angeles.
Her lawyer described her ordeal in an interview with the Washington Post. She was “profiled, abused, interrogated, detained, and subjected to false reporting and the trauma of racist, vitriolic public shaming precisely because she is a woman, a person of color, and a Muslim”.
None of this is new. It has become the norm for many years in a country that consistently makes a spectacle of other nations for their poor human rights records and mistreatment of minorities.
Stories of abuse of US Muslims are numerous and constantly growing. Only some of them become news, because of the sheer inhumanity or absurdity of the events. In 2015, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was detained and hauled off to a police facility in handcuffs when he brought a handmade clock to school to proudly show his teachers. Instead, they reported him to authorities for making a bomb.
Such anti-Muslim hysteria, stimulated by media fear-mongering is precisely the type of verbiage that an opportunistic, populist president like Donald Trump needs to present himself as the protector of the nation. His incessant efforts to prevent citizens of Muslims countries from travelling to the US only feeds such irrational fear and distracts everyone from the real problems that continue to afflict his country.
Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has been taking place for years, especially after he ran for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The more his popularity grew, the more detestable his anti-Muslim propaganda became. In a statement he issued in December 2015, he called for a “total and complete shutdown” of US borders “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
He bemoaned Muslims’ purported “great hatred towards Americans”.
“Without looking at various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension,” he said.
But a quick look at the polling data may surprise Trump, who has hardly been a fan of facts to begin with.
Newsweek reported on statistics first assembled by Mother Jones showing that white men have committed most of the country’s mass killings. Since 1982, the “majority of mass shootings – 54 percent – were committed by white men,” numbers show.
Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old white man who massacred 58 people and wounded hundreds more at the Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas on October 1 was only one of an ever-growing list.
Countless government officials and journalists have fanned out to find out “why” Paddock would carry out such a heinous act, as if white man’s violence is a rare phenomenon in a country supposedly threatened by blacks, Mexicans and Muslims.
Some sunk to new lows, attempting to connect the deranged Paddock to the Middle East – as if such a connection can offer the only rational explanation for his reprehensible act.
“Investigators remain stumped as to Paddock’s motives, but said he visited the contentious region (of the Middle East) on a cruise,” reported the Independent. The fact that he has also travelled on 11 cruises with numerous destinations and many stops seemed a superfluous fact.
Yet the truth is the white man’s profile is the most violent in the United States, according to irrefutable data.
“White men commit mass shootings out of a sense of entitlement,” John Haltiwanger wrote in Newsweek.
Research conducted by Eric Madfis from the University of Washington argued in 2014 that in the US “middle-class Caucasian heterosexual males in their teenage years and in middle age commit mass murder … in numbers disproportionately high relative to their share of the population.” He ascribed this finding to “white entitlement” and “heterosexual masculinity” among other reasons.
Yet, a whole race, gender and religion are not held suspect. Christian white men are not dragged off planes or interrogated for hours in airports about the type food they eat and the political ideas they champion.
Earlier this year, two officers sought me from within a crowd at the Seattle airport. They seemed to know who I was. They asked me to follow them, and I obliged. Being an Arab often renders one’s US citizenship almost irrelevant.
In a back room, I was asked numerous questions about my politics, ideas, writing, my children, my friends and my late Palestinian parents.
Meanwhile, an officer took my bag and all of my papers, including receipts, business cards, and more. I did not protest. I am so used to this treatment and endless questioning that I simply go through the motions and answer the questions the best way I know how.
The fact that I am an American citizen, who acquired high education, bought a home, raised a good family, paid my taxes, obeyed the law and contributed to society in myriad ways is not enough to exclude me from the suspicious “brown men” category.
I remain an Arab, a Muslim and a dissident, all unforgivable sins in the new, rapidly changing America.
Certainly, anti-Arab and Muslim sentiment in the US has been around for generations, but it has risen sharply in the last two decades. Arabs and Muslims have become an easy scapegoat for all of America’s failed wars and violence.
It mattered little that, since September 11, 2001, the odds of being killed by terrorism are 1 in 110,000,000, an extremely negligible number compared with the millions who die as a result of diabetes, for example, or shark attacks, for that matter.
“Terrorism” has morphed from being a violent phenomenon requiring national debate and sensible policies to combat it, into a bogeyman that forces everyone into conformity, and divides people between being docile and obedient on the one hand, and “radical” and suspect, on the other.
But blaming Muslims for the decline of the American empire is as ineffective as it is dishonest.
Arabs and Muslims are not responsible for the death of the “American dream”, if one truly existed in the first place; nor the election of Donald Trump; nor the utter corruption and mafia-like practices of America’s ruling elites and political parties.
It was not the Arabs and Muslims who duped the US into invading Iraq and Afghanistan, where millions of Arabs and Muslims lost their lives as a result of unchecked US military adventurism.
In fact, Arabs and Muslims are by far the greatest victims of terrorism, whether state-sponsored terror or that of desperate, vile groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and al-Qaeda.
Shelving all pressing problems and putting the focus on chasing after, demonising and humiliating brown-skinned men and women is certainly not the way out of the economic, political and foreign policy quagmires which American ruling elites have invited upon their country.
Such unlawful and undemocratic behaviour may feed anti-Muslim hysteria a little longer, and give the likes of Trump more fodder for their useless efforts targeting innocent men and women. But in the long run, it will do the country much harm, damaging its democratic institutions and contributing to the culture of violence founded on entitled white men touting guns and shooting at innocent people.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.