Thursday, September 4, 2008

we, too, are america

September 11, 2005

Senator Joseph Lieberman
One Constitution Plaza

7th Floor

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


  1. did the senator respond, form letter or otherwise?

  2. what is this? a letter i sent to joseph lieberman when i was a grad student in new haven, CT. his home state. i thought it would be appropriate to share after the last post with the "i, too, sing america" poem. that poem, of course, inspired this letter.

    i was getting tired of secondary security checks every time i came back to the states from trips abroad. i mentioned this to our dean and he offered to deliver the letter to lieberman himself.

    this isn't precisely the letter the senator's office received. i was asked to edit the first paragraph... taking out the "i, too, sing america" and the "we are the darker brothers" sentences. all else is the same.

    i did get a call from the senator's office. they said they'd take the matter up with the TSA and DHS. i'm sure they did, but i didn't hear anything back. that said, i also haven't gotten as much flack at airports since then. it hasn't disappeared, but it has gotten better.

  3. ha! you beat me to the comment section, ellen... i was composing the note above when i stepped away for a bit. thanks for keeping me on my toes!

    peace :)

  4. the dork activist in me had to inquire. i disapprove of the edits that were requested of you. in fact, i think they're telling. who requested the edits - the dean? well, i guess you don't have to say in case that person reads this blog.

  5. It is beautiful letter, and very timely... With Lieberman speaking at the RNC.

    I huge concerns over issues of Civil Liberties in a future Republicans Administration. In the dark of night, during a congressional recess and while the spotlight of media's attention is on the Conventions , the current administration is trying to pass some very far reaching regulations that could make future trips not only to the airport but bank, gym, lunch, even a neighbor's house a basis for an FBI investigation. ( I am not sure what are the specific characteristics what would trigger an investigation because that information is classified)

    I would also like to note that open source data mining, as it has been called, may lead to "hummid" and "‘ubbid" named US citizens finding it difficult to get loans and Credit Cards, or even do business in the US.

    I will not turn this into a pitch for our community to rock the polls this Nov. 4th, but rather a warning of things to come if we don't...

    I don't think i need to sign this comment I am sure you already know who this is :)


  6. disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in this comment section (or any comment section on this blog) are strictly those of the authors' of the comments. the contents of this section may have been reviewed by the author of this blog, but he does not necessarily approve or endorse them.

    that said, thanks nadine! ;)