Composer seeks answers after US airport detention
New York (AFP) – A prominent composer has asked for answers and greater scrutiny of US airports’ treatment of travelers after he said he was detained for hours on his return to New York.
Mohammed Fairouz, a longtime New York resident whose works are frequently played at major institutions such as Carnegie Hall, said he was pulled aside on April 24 at John F. Kennedy International Airport and held for nearly four hours without explanation.
The composer, who was returning from a string orchestra recording session in Britain, hesitated to allege he was singled out because of his Muslim name. He said that most of the dozens of others in the detention room were from Latin America owing to flight timings.
“I don’t feel like a victim. I’m aware that I’m a very privileged person and I can go out and write and speak and have a platform,” Fairouz told AFP.
“The majority of people in that room don’t have that platform. They are never going to know what happened. They’re going to be intimidated,” Fairouz said.
Fairouz, who first wrote of his experience in a column in the British newspaper The Independent where he comments on politics, said he did not think the incident was linked to President Donald Trump who has championed a tough line on border controls.
Instead, he suspected that officers were filling quotas on how many people to question — and said the male-dominated group sorely needed female representation.
A US Customs and Border Protection spokesman said he could not discuss individual cases but defended the agency, saying it has stopped “thousands of violators of US law.”
“US Customs and Border Protection officers strive to treat all people arriving in the country with dignity and respect,” he said.
But Fairouz said that officers’ brusque behavior ultimately had a “devastating” effect for the United States by discouraging law-abiding students and others from coming.
Fairouz, who holds citizenship in the United Arab Emirates, said there was a double-standard in letting US airports off the hook.
When passengers are interrogated in Dubai, the world’s busiest airport for international passengers, “it’s in the press and it’s a human rights catastrophe,” he said.
“I’m not saying it’s wrong to address that, but it’s wrong when it happens in the United States, too, and we’re doing it every day here,” he said.
The son of late boxing icon Muhammad Ali said he was detained twice this year at airports and has spoken of filing a class-action suit on behalf of Muslim travelers.