Thursday, Oct 23rd, 2014

Indian filmstar Shahrukh Khan’s detention at a US Airport – what we should be asking

Indian film star Shahrukh Khan’s detention at New Jersey asks an important question.

By on Wednesday, August 26th, 2009 - 787 words.

shahrukh-khan1So India’s biggest film star Shahrukh Khan has been detained at Newark Newark Liberty International Airport  in New Jersey. So what you say? Those of us who travel, have all had to go through these “random” checks at US airports at some point or the other, especially if you happen to have a non American passport. However, even American citizens  have not been spared the ignominy of being “randomly” selected for questioning from time to time. This in turn has sparked tremendous outrage in India, and in the internet community via blogs and forums. What really spiced up this issue is a statement by Mr Khan himself, in which he claims that he was targetted because of his surname and religion. Interestingly, Khan was in US to shoot for an Indian film aptly titled “My Name is Khan” which is apparently about the post 9/11 discrimination faced by Muslims in America.

Needless to say, Bollywood, the largest film industry in the world, producing well over 700-800 films a year has reacted with outrage. While most found it silly that the security officials did not know who Shahrukh Khan was, the Indian Information and Broadcasting minister Ambika Sohni has asked for “tit for tat” treatment to be metted out to American citizens visiting India.

It is important to note however that the US officials have very clearly downplayed the issue and have claimed that he was detained because his name came up in a computer generated list.

Personally, I feel that despite the tremendous attention that this topic is generating, in fact, one of my friends joked that Shahrukh Khan managed to divert attention off swine flue in India, the core issue was unfortunately missed. What I suspect has happened here is a classic case of misunderstanding that is so common between two cultures.

Having grown up in the subcontinent, I can bear witness to the fact that in the subcontinent, “migh is right”. If you are a powerful politician, famous celebrity, business tycoon, or related to any of these people, you can get away with even murder, (depending on the level of your power and control). It is all about contacts, references and power over there. So if you are Shahrukh Khan in India, there is no way in hell you will ever have to go through any of these hurdels and security checks that us poor commoners have to go through. In fact, recently I read that a Pakistani singer managed to get the flight she was travelling on to go back to its destination because she had forgotten her bag.

This is why this has become such a big deal in India and this is why the Bollywood film industry, Indian media and Indian politicians are reacting with such outrage and anger.

There is however a section of people who have lauded the security standards of America and associate it with the fact that there has been no terrorist attack on America since 9/11. In a world where a suicide bombing killing less than 20 people does not even make headline news, it is indeed a tremendous achievement.

I mentioned somewhere above that the core issue was missed by everyone. What is this core issue you ask? The reason I am writing about this is not because some film star was detained. This is a big deal because of the what people have to go through at Airports in America now because of 9/11. I have heard much worse and much more humiliating stories from ordinary people. Without any malice or disrespected to the 9/11 victims and their families, it is time the world and especially America got over 9/11.

I am reminded of a piece I had read a long time back on LA Times about putting 9/11 into perspective. I quote the first paragraph from that piece,

IMAGINE THAT on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism.

This issue has once again posed that tricky question to all of us, did we over react to 9/11? Are such strict security measures that often infringe on civil liberties absolutely necessary to prevent another terrorist attack? I feel THIS is what needs to be debated and discussed rather than what is being discussed now.

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Faraaz Rahman

Faraaz Rahman used to be a dreamer. Now he is an accountant. In other news, he loves watching films, cricket and walking on the beach barefoot.

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