The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Discrimination and revenge

with 5 comments

A rickshaw seat in Karachi, Pakistan

A rickshaw seat in Karachi, Pakistan

Much has been said about Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan being stopped at the Newark airport in the US and detained for an hour for questioning – while the actor – who was a presenter at the Golden Globes and has just finished shooting for (a film ironically called) My Name is Khan which deals with perceptions of Muslims post-9/11.

But while the actor has said this isn’t the first time this has happened to him, he at least managed to get out after the Indian consulate and a Congress MP intervened. Sepia Mutiny pointed out what happens to those of us who aren’t famous:

But what happens to people who aren’t famous? Let’s say they’re Muslim, Brown, Pakistani and working for the US government? Then it seems you can be detained and not even the government agency you’re working for can get you out:

Rahman Bunairee is a Pakistani journalist who works as a contract reporter for VOA’s Deewa Radio and for a privately-owned Pakistani television station. The 33-year-old planned to join VOA [Voice of America] in Washington for one year, and arrived at Dulles Airport on Sunday with a visa issued by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. It is not clear why he was detained and why he is still being held in U.S. custody… The journalist, whose home was destroyed by the Taliban last month, was taken into custody on Sunday. [link]

Post-9/11 cases such as these have been reported so regularly that there impact has been lost. I have personally been quite fortunate to not have had to deal with questioning at any point during my travels (but I’ve already been dealt a bad hand because of my Pakistani passport, which ensures denials of visas for no reason (thanks Lebanon!)) But the racial profiling isn’t likely to change soon: and honestly, I feel it may get worse in the years to come courtesy the extreme right-wing elements that have begun to proliferate in the EU.

That said, I often feel countries also exact their revenge on hapless Westerners. I love Syria but having witnessed the runaround they make American and British citizens do at the land borders may be an entertaining sight for some of us (who are welcomed in with Marhabas and Ahlan wa Sahlans and get to pay lesser entrance fees at the Ummayad Mosque by being Muslim) but doesn’t help the cause of tourism any. Same goes for Pakistan – I have heard terrible stories of people trying to get visas who are either made to run around or find their visas delayed for some reason or the other. Of course, there’s another side to the story, and both Syria and Pakistan are incredibly hospitable countries but you’ll find horror stories on both sides – and they’ll both need to clean up the mess.


Written by Saba Imtiaz

August 16, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Pakistan

Tagged with , , ,

5 Responses

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  1. […] For now – here’s what I’ve been writing for the Zeitgeist Politics this week: discrimination and revenge at borders (inspired by Shah Rukh Khan and the hours I’ve spent at embassies, ministries and in visa […]

  2. Whenever I visit Pakistan I seem to pay a different price for my visa depending on the mood of the official. ie. the grumpier and most pissed off he is the more I have to pay. Also, my fellow British compatriots who just happened to be of Pakistani descent pay less that half of what I do. Isn’t that ethnic discrimination?
    Not the same as being questioned for hours on suspicious grounds obviously but its a point noted.
    Yes, extreme right-wing elements have gained some political ground in a the past few years but please….compared to the extreme elements who control large parts of the Middle East and Asia, the EU is a paradise. Hence the stream of immigration from all parts of the world that continues in earnest. The extremists in the EU may have gained a few paltry seats in the European Parliament but they have absolutely no influence or power. Not to be ignored and certainly to be fought but they aren’t a threat to the established political order.

    Max Robinson

    August 29, 2009 at 1:28 am

    • Max – re: the Pakistan point, I agree that they do discriminate which is why I mentioned the runaround the authorities make foreigners do.

      Re: the extreme right-wing elements rising in the EU, I meant this in the context of immigration, which I do think will affect the UK should parties like the BNP gain more ground. The point was not to say that right-wing parties have a dominant influence on the EU as a whole.

      Thirdly, do you not think that the EU will become a highly undesirable place to immigrate to given the rise of right-wing parties in specific countries at some point in the future? But even if it doesn’t – considering the fact that racism has existed for decades – how does that have anything to do with whatever ‘extreme’ elements you say control large parts of the Middle East and Asia. (Though immigration to the UK appears to have shown quite a drop from 2007-2008) I’d actually be interested to know what countries you’re referring to in the ME and Asia specifically.

      Saba Imtiaz

      August 29, 2009 at 2:50 am

  3. Max,

    I too am wondering what “extreme elements” exactly you’re talking about that supposedly ‘control large parts of Asia and the Middle East’?

    Also, coming from an immigrant background myself, i’d say much of the immigration occurs for reasons of economic opportunity rather than as an escape from some sort of ‘extremism’.

    And finally, whether or not Pakistan or other places have flawed immigration systems does not excuse your UK or my Australia. Racial profiling is wrong and so is interrogating someone for hours purely by virtue of the fact that they have a muslim name. It’s humiliating and Orientalist.


    August 29, 2009 at 2:59 am

  4. […] – or kicking em out – doesn’t help Pakistan at all. As I pointed out in an earlier post, the reverse discrimination Pakistan does has never helped. In his book (which was published this […]

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