Muslim Man Detained in Boston Days After Marathon Bombing
Because it’s not a part of my everyday life, I forget about anti-Muslim bias until I read letters from women like Lindsay Aouled Ezzine. Lindsay is an American-born Christian woman married to a wonderful and kind Muslim immigrant man. Although her marriage is built on mutual respect and support, her letter tells of the hatred and intolerance they endure from the country in which she was born and raised.
She speaks of a family friend, a Muslim man who flew into Boston for a visit and was held for 2 days without being offered food or water. He had done nothing wrong and was never charged with a single crime, but was forced to remain handcuffed in a cell until he was finally sent back home. He was provided with a translator for only about a half hour during 2 days of interrogation.
We recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing our National Anthem so many times that we can repeat them without even thinking. But do we REALLY believe in liberty and justice for all? Or just for those who look like and think and believe like we do? When Americans allow these abuses of human rights and freedoms to happen, WE allow people like the Boston Marathon bomber to win. We are not “Boston Strong” when we allow innocent people to suffer because of our own ignorance and fear – We are Boston WRONG.
Read Lindsay’s letter, get angry or ashamed or however it moves you, and then DO something about it, even if it’s only within yourself. America is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Let’s make those words actually mean something again.
My Fellow Americans,
My husband is Muslim and I am Christian. Unfortunately, while this isn’t an issue for us and certainly should’t matter at all to anyone outside of our marriage, one’s religious affiliation has become increasingly important and is an issue that I feel compelled to address due to recent experiences. We met and were married in Tunisia where we were warmly accepted by friends and family. People were often curious about our relationship, but we were always encouraged by their questions, curiosity, and eager acceptance of our relationship. When we decided to move to the U.S., we expected a similar response. While most of our friends and family here have accepted our relationship, we have also seen, heard and experienced a shocking amount of intolerance.
On Wednesday, April 24, my husband went to Boston’s Logan airport to pick up a childhood friend who was planning a trip to the U.S. and who we invited to stay with us for his first 2 weeks in our country. Unfortunately, the experience for my husband and his friend, both of whom are Muslim, was one of unimaginable hatred and fear. It is my strong belief that these acts are perpetuated through a lack of understanding and awareness. It is with my hope to help break this destructive cycle, along with my love and pride for my husband, that I would like to share their story with you.
Knowing the security systems in Boston, we were certain that his friend would need extra time to clear security, particularly because he is an Arab Muslim. With this in mind, and because both my husband and I were scheduled to work that day, we told his friend to wait for my husband outside of the custom doors if he cleared security before my husband arrived. His flight landed at 1:30pm and my husband arrived at Logan airport shortly after 4:00pm. Soon after his arrival, my husband received a phone call from the Customs & Border Protection Bureau asking his location and that he meet them for questioning. We would later learn that the custom’s officers had found my husband’s phone number in our friend’s belongings while conducting their search of him and that they had called without our friend’s knowledge and without ever informing him that they had contacted us.
Because my husband does not speak English fluently, he planned to call me when he arrived at the information counter so that I could translate for him should there be a language barrier. Upon arrival at the counter, my husband was approached by two armed officers who asked for my husband’s name and identification. My husband provided his information, immediately called me, and passed the officer his phone. The officer explained that they had been trying to question my husband’s non-English speaking friend for the past 3.5 hours without the help of a translator and were having difficulty communicating with him. I requested that they find him a translator and was informed that they had been unable to locate a French-speaking translator in Boston and asked me to explain our friend’s visa application. Not being familiar with the situation and not being allowed to communicate with our friend, I reminded the custom’s officer that I would be unable to translate for him without also being allowed to speak with him. I asked again that he only speak with our friend through the help of a translator and was told that they were currently seeking an Arabic speaking translator, but would continue in their attempts to communicate with him until one had been located. After I hung up the phone, the officer began questioningmy husband. While he was taking down my husband’s information and responses, my husband asked the officer to explain why he was taking all of this information, to which the officer responded, “just a minute,” and then left before giving any explanation.
After a full hour had passed without any news or updates on the progress of the interview and without confirmation that a translator had been provided, I called the Customs & Border Protection Bureau, but was told that the interview process could take more time and that they could not provide me with any additional information. At the airport, my husband continued to wait without any updates for an additional 30 minutes before the armed officers appeared again and asked him to provide his identification once again. Though no explanation was given as to why they were gathering this information, my husband willingly cooperated and offered to show the officer his green card as well. This cooperation elicited further unrelated and unwarranted questioning from the officer:
– “Is your wife Tunisian as well?” No, she is American.
-“Has she converted to Islam?” No, she is Christian.
-“How is that?” I respect my wife and she respects me. We don’t have a problem.
-“Did you come here on a visa and change your status after you married her here?” No, we met in Tunisia and were married in Tunisia, but after the revolution, it was not possible to stay in Tunisia and so we came here.
Religious differences should never represent a barrier to love, but a lack of understanding and respect always will. My husband should never have been questioned and should not have had to provide information on his immigration or marital status while waiting for his friend to be processed, but he showed dignity and respect for the officer who simultaneously showed him a complete lack of respect.
As proud as I am of my husband, I am equally horrified and heartbroken by the mindset of hate and prejudice that he and his friend had to face so undeservedly. Is this the new norm in American society? Is the freedom of religion and from religious persecution only a right when the religion is a form of Christianity?
Over the past 2 years, my husband and I have often felt forced to tiptoe around his religion and whisper his full name so that it will sound less Arab or less Muslim. At the same time that we practice precaution when speaking of his religion, he regularly hears whispers from people and saw distinctive fear from others who spoke to him immediately following the recent explosions in Boston. We have seen people cross the street when we speak Arabic together in public and have heard countless hurtful jokes and comments repeated in our presence. In a country with so many freedoms, we are so desperately missing our fundamental freedoms.
My husband’s friend was ultimately not allowed to enter the country. We were not given an explanation because we were not his immediate family. We were told only that he would be sent home on the evening flight, but that he could not make any phone calls. We were not given his flight number or time and were not allowed to speak with him and, because he would not be allowed to make a phone call, we reached out to his family and told them to expect him at some point the following day. However, by the following morning, no one had heard from our friend and everyone’s concern was growing.
Another conversation that morning with the Customs & Border Protection Bureau in Boston revealed that our friend was still handcuffed in a holding cell at the airport. The officer informed me that our friend had gone to the hospital the night before, but would be placed on aflight that afternoon or evening. I asked for additional details regarding the hospital visit and was finally allowed to speak with our friend. Only then did I learn that he had been unable to breathe the night before after suffering a panic attack and so asked to be brought to the hospital. The officers reluctantly agreed and brought him to the hospital where our friend said that he was given several shots and was returned to the airport to await another flight. When I asked if he had eaten, he said that he had only had enough money to buy some milk and a small coffee and that he had not been offered any food or water since his arrival the previous day. He did not understand why he had not allowed to enter the country after having already been granted a visa from the U.S. embassy in Tunisia. He had not received a translator except during a small portion of the interrogation. He asked that I call his mother to let her know that he was safe and I asked the officer to inform me of his flight times as soon as they were available so that I could transmit them to his family as well.
Later that same afternoon, the Customs & Border Protection Bureau called me with the flight numbers from Boston to London and London to Tunis. I asked if our friend had been informed of these flights and was told that they had tried to convey it to him, but were not sure that he had understood. I once again asked if they had used a translator and was told that they had only used a phone translator once earlier in day, but that they had not done so since. I asked to be allowed to tell him the times and spoke with our friend again who was still handcuffed and had still not eaten. I reminded him that he had the right to be given food and water and that he could ask for both if they were not being offered to him.
Later that evening, we called again to check on his condition and to verify that he had eaten. We were not allowed to speak directly with him, but were told that he had been seen with food and, when I asked if he was still handcuffed, I was told only that he was being cared for. We asked to speak with our friend before his flight and were told that when the opportunity presented itself, they would call us. We waited for their phone call for 4 hours and then decided to try calling again. My husband was finally allowed to speak with his childhood friend and learned that they had not only conducted a physical full body search, but had also conducted a full body x-ray scan. He was still handcuffed and alone in a cell, but had not been charged and there was no evidence to indicate that he was a threat of flight risk. He was afraid and said that, while he had not been hurt physically, he had been treated very poorly and with complete personal disrespect. He had been made to feel like a terrorist. Although he finally spoke up and told the officers he was hungry, when the officer brought himfood, our friendwas told he had to pay for it. His flight was the last scheduled flight to London that evening and he would not arrive in Tunis until the following evening, but he was impatient to return home after being so mistreated without cause.
Hatred and fear walk hand in hand, but understanding can often erase both. We, as a culture, are increasingly willing to endorse and encourage stereotypes without first putting in the effort required to understand that which we fear and hate. What happened to the America who welcomed those seeking refuge from the world’s injustices? What has happened to our own justice system, built upon the idea that all are innocent until proven guilty? Was our country not founded on the principle that ALL men are created equal?
We are a country of immigrants who came to the United States seeking a new life. We welcome immigrants with our words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It is time that we also welcome them with our actions and treat our fellow human beings with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Lindsay Aouled Ezzine
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