8/17/09

Racist Uncle Sam Did It Again - Mammootty, APJ, Now SRK

. 8/17/09

It seems almost scripted. A universally-adored Indian star, respected as much for the casual manner in which he wears his religious identity and his Indian-ness, makes a movie about being profiled because of religion in a post-9/11, terrified, United States. Then, on the way to a publicity tour in America, he gets stopped — because, he fears, ‘his name is Khan’, as the movie is to be called. But it is not scripted. And neither is the outrage, which is very real — and on a different order of magnitude from when another hero of middle-class India who for many transcends identity, former president Kalam, was frisked at Delhi airport recently. Because this isn’t about VIP privileges.

The central issue here is not a ‘do-you-know-who-I-am’ insult to Khan’s honour, regardless of what his own somewhat confused statements on the subject might imply. It isn’t an American immigration official’s job to know who is a movie star where. Nor should we expect it to be. No, what explains the outrage is the whiff of profiling that surrounds the entire incident. Now, it might well be the case that, the actor’s claims notwithstanding, the fact that Khan’s name is Khan has very little to actually do with why he was stopped. US immigration software frequently chooses people to stop and question further randomly; that randomness is sometimes moderated by a complex set of parameters, the details of which are not public for security reasons. (Within the US, such parameters typically do not officially include, for legal reasons, race, ethnicity or religion.) That being said, however, the US needs to do a better job of making the case that Khan was not singled out because of the religious connotations of his name — and that is something the US would not do to citizens of a friendly nation.

They must do this because it matters. It impacts the domestic politics of friendly nations; and it is rapidly reaching the point at which it affects how a large section of the Indian middle class thinks of America. The one experience unique to all those travelling to the US is immigration; and the reaction to this — and to earlier such stories — shows that that experience isn’t great, and builds up resentment. People are all-too-willing to believe that a great liberal nation has betrayed its principles egregiously by ‘harassing’ Khan. It’s a short step from there to a festering belief — erroneously — that this is the act of an arrogant, racist society. America’s authorities at the highest level need to recognise that this apparently minor problem could have very major implications indeed.

Source: Indian Express





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