Are we still the United States?

Is The United States Still The United States?

My 10-hour detention at the Houston airport suggests otherwise.

02/27/2017 09:57 am ET | Updated 5 hours ago

A Continental Airlines Inc. Boeing plane lands at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, U.S..

On February 22, I was arrested at 2:30 p.m. at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston landing from Paris. I had to attend a symposium at Texas A&M University. I was interrogated for several hours following a random check of Customs and Borders Protection. Because I was in possession of a simple tourist visa, the policeman who was in charge of my case explained that I wasn’t allowed to give a lecture and receive an honorarium. I replied that it was the university that did all the formalities and that I have been doing this for 30 years without any trouble. Examining my passport, the policeman noted that I recently received a “J1” visa, granted to academics, having been a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York from September 2016 to January 2017. He concluded that I was returning to work “illegally” in the U.S. with an expired visa. I was therefore in breach, a decision confirmed by his hierarchical superior who I didn’t have a chance to meet.

This was followed by an extensive interrogation, the recording of my fingerprints, a search of the body in order. I protested, but “this is the procedure.” The policeman then informed me that I would be deported back to Paris on the next plane. He added that I will never be able to enter the country again without a specific visa. I couldn’t do anything but call my colleague from the university. The policeman called the consulate of France, but after several hours and with an inappropriate number, so I couldn’t benefit from this assistance.

During my detention, which lasted a total of ten hours, I mostly sat in a chair, without a telephone, but with the possibility to drink or eat. Most policemen had a regulatory tone, but some sneered discreetly as they watched the population under their control. A female police officer bawled at a woman whose three-year-old was running in all directions. A man suddenly had to sit down after getting up to inquire about his case because three police officers immediately reacted.

I cannot stop thinking of all those who suffer these humiliations and legal violence without the protections I was able to benefit from.

By 9:00 p.m., there were only half a dozen people left. I was the only European, the only “Caucasian.” Two police officers arrived and headed for the gentleman seated in front of me, maybe a Mexican. They were coming to take him to the boarding gate. Then they handcuffed him, chained him at the waist, and shackled him. I couldn’t believe it and I wondered if I would have to endure the same fate. As far as I have understood from what an officer told me later, this was indeed the procedure for all the people to be deported, a shameful practice apparently required by the airline companies.

At 1:30 a.m. ― I had left Paris over 26 hours earlier ― a policeman summons me, gives me back my phone and my passport, and declares me eligible to enter the United States. The restrictions imposed on me are lifted – but I don’t know what will remain in the files. He explains that the officer who examined my case was “inexperienced” and didn’t know that some activities, including those related to education, enjoyed an exceptional regime and could be carried out with a simple tourist visa. He lets me know that, having a lot of experience, he saw the problem when he took his post earlier in the night. He is kind enough to drive me out of the airport, a totally deserted place, telling me the address of a hotel nearby. At no time did he or his colleagues apologize. I will later learn that my release was not fortuitous. It is the result of my colleague’s call to the president of Texas A&M, who immediately alerted a law professor in charge of immigration issues. Without them, I would have probably been handcuffed, chained, and shackled back to Paris.

This incident has caused me some discomfort, but I cannot stop thinking of all those who suffer these humiliations and legal violence without the protections I was able to benefit from. A professional historian, I am aware of hasty interpretations. Meanwhile, I can raise some questions. Why did the random check fall on me? My “case” visibly presented a problem before even thorough examination. Maybe it’s my birthplace, Egypt, maybe my academic status, maybe my recent work visa expired, maybe my French citizenship too. Perhaps also, the current context. Even if I had made a mistake, which was not the case, did I deserve such treatment? How can one explain this zeal if not by the concern to fulfill quotas and justify increased controls? That is the situation today in this country. We must now face arbitrariness and incompetence at all levels. I heard recently that “Paris isn’t Paris anymore.” The United States seems no longer quite the United States.


This is one story amid many of immigrant stories of the encounters with border officers which need to be told. The humiliation and anxiety that is inflicted on travelers coming into our country is totally unnecessary. It is not the American way to shame and mistreat people. I don’t care what color, religion or economic status they are in.


In the course of my career, I have worked with many so called minorities, and people of color, people of other religions and economic status. I have really enjoyed these relationships and found that I have grown immensely. The terrorists arrested for terroristic acts here in America, were born here. The radicalization took place here in America. It did not happen in Muslim countries. The reports have been released and there is no reason for a new travel ban.


There is no reason to humiliate or shame people for coming to America. They come for education, jobs, to join other family members, and to make their dreams come true. This is the reason both sets of my grandparents immigrated here from England and Croatia. They were hard working, wonderful role models, and proud Americans. This is the time to encourage immigrants who have been detained or harassed when coming to America. The Senate needs to hear these stories. The media needs to hear these stories, and we all need to tell them.




No Box For Me


You go where you are free.

Our society likes us all to be conformist in how we live, what we do, ;and what we think. Even as a child I wasn’t able to do this, I couldn’t even fake it. My soul would just rebel at things like hypocrisy and injustice.

Society in every country makes demands upon its citizens that they be uniform in actions and thinking. I am not talking about good behavior versus criminal  behavior. It is as Ghandi said when he was encouraging Indian citizens to use passive resistance to obtain their freedom from the English.

My hackles go up when someone is telling a person what to think or say. I will not be put into a box all neat and orderly. This has been true since I was a child and often I paid dearly for having my own thoughts. Human beings don’t all think alike or act alike, for which I am grateful. How boring it would be if we were all the same in our actions and thinking. It is true that sometimes people just know how to push our buttons, but you are in control of how you are going to react.

Women, for instance, are treated as inferior or as second class citizens. As I have mentioned before, we still are the only American citizens who are not legally equal. Minorities continue to suffer discrimination. It is a sad fact that often a person has a bad experience, and forms a distrust of all people of that race, culture or religion.


Living in a world of terror is frightening. However, I remember the Cold War and the drills at school where we would be told to get under our desks when the siren went off. I asked, one day, how the desks would protect us. The teacher was not pleased at all with me because the other kids heard and wanted an answer too. She didn’t have an answer.

I have Muslim friends. They are not jihadists yet every day people look at them with distrust. I was with one of my friends and we went to dinner. When the server came to our table, she was visibly uncomfortable. I started to talk to the server and to relieve the tension. It ended up fine but my friend was uncomfortable. It was shortly after 9-11 and we both understood but my heart hurt that this situation happened.

Sometimes, you can see both sides, but you must choose the ethical and morally right behaviorAs a society, we need to remember that the Divine is within all of us and to try to correct what is hypocritical and unjust.

Yes, there are evil people in the world. But they often come from severely dysfunctional families. Sometimes they are so damaged they cannot heal or are not given the opportunity. My rule for measuring this life is hypocrisy and injustice. I cannot tolerate either in my life. So there are times I have walked away from people because they were an offense to my soul.

WWII and the holocaust are examples of people who ignored their inner guidance and some even assisted the Nazis. One person whose name you are probably familiar with is Coco Chanel. She began the designer line of the House of Chanel. She collaborated with the Germans when they took Paris. People died because of her actions. But she took care of herself and her Chanel line thrives to this day.

I encourage everyone to be true to who you are and what is true in your life. If you do not betray your own soul and heart, then you will be able to trust your inner guidance to lead you to your higher good.


If you are being your true self, you will then be the person that the Divine, The One, Adonai intended you to be in this lifetime.