September 11, 2005
Senator Joseph Lieberman
One Constitution Plaza
Hartford, CT 06103
Dear Senator Lieberman:
My name is Mohamad Abdullatif Chakaki and I, too, sing America. I am a resident of your state, a graduate student at your alma mater, a proud Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and your former neighbor at the Hillendale in Washington, D.C. More importantly, I am a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. The words of Langston Hughes I alluded to above express, all too well, the situation I find myself in as a Muslim Arab-American in the U.S. today. We are the darker brothers and we are sent to eat in the kitchen—or, in my case, the back room of my own country’s international airports—when company comes. I am writing to you, Senator Lieberman, to help me change that.
I am tired of being treated with suspicion and contempt upon arrival to America’s modern Ellis Islands. I now know better than to expect a warm welcome home at places like Newark’s “Liberty” International Airport and New York’s JFK, the scenes of my most recent and decidedly unwelcome experiences. The racial profiling that occurs at these airports is a disgrace to the notion of liberty and to the memory of our late President. Moreover, the fact that this profiling targets Muslim and Arab-Americans—yes, U.S. citizens—and finds us, in particular, as “something interesting” (to quote the officer who handled my case at Newark) is intolerable.
Senator Lieberman, I cannot express to you how humiliating and degrading it felt to be confined to that back room at Liberty International Airport for over an hour. It was not because I felt uncomfortable among my many African, South Asian and Southeast Asian brothers and sisters who silently suffered the racism along with me. Instead, it was because I was the only U.S. citizen among them and the only U.S. citizen who was not whisked in and out of the back room and apologized to vehemently for the inconvenience. As far as Homeland Security is concerned, I am no American. I belong in the back room. This is not an isolated incident, either. This is how I am made to feel every time I come home from overseas travel. I want this to end, sir, and I would like you to help me.
Allow me to close, if I may, by offering you what I believe is fresh insight into this situation of racial profiling as it concerns Muslim-Americans, and their names in particular. A tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) states, “The best of names are those with hummid (i.e. Muhammad, Ahmad, Mahmood…) and ‘ubbid (i.e. Abdullah, Abdul-Jabbar, Abdul-Malik…).” These are the very same names that land people in secondary security stations and the back rooms of international airports in the U.S., as I know all too well. If racial profiling is a part of homeland security measures that we are not prepared to give up, then we have a case where our national policy is at odds with the values of an entire people, including this nation's very own people, born and bred. This needs to end. We, too, are America.
Mohamad A. Chakaki