Bollywood superstar held at New Jersey airport, claims racial profiling

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Sharukh Khan (or Shah Rukh Khan, as he signs his name) may be relatively unknown in America, but he’s one of the biggest superstars in the world. He is like the George Clooney of Bollywood, the Indian film industry. He has won dozens of acting awards for his starring roles in more than 70 films and television programs, almost exclusively in India. He’s also a powerful Bollywood producer, and has been named one of the most powerful entertainers in the world by many international publications. He has received honorary awards and titles all over the world too – conferred the Darjah Mulia Seri Melaka in Maylasia (it’s like a knighthood), and the French government gave him an Order of the Arts and Literature award.

There’s actually some debate about whether Khan is “the George Clooney of Bollywood” – that’s just how I think of him. People have called him “the Tom Cruise” or “the Brad Pitt” of Bollywood too. Any and all of them kind of fit – he’s the number one star of Bollywood films, and millions of Indians and Asians follow his comings and goings religiously. Speaking of religion, Khan is practicing Muslim. He’s also outspoken about his own faith, and the Hindu faith of his wife. His fans include Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians, and Khan is respectful of them all.

So, here’s what we know: international superstar Khan flew into New Jersey’s Liberty International Airport on Saturday. He was on his way to Chicago to promote his film My Name Is Khan, which is about racial profiling in America. He was also slated to attend an event to celebrate India’s Independence Day. But it was in Jersey when customs officers stopped Khan and held him for a disputed length of time. Also under dispute is Khan’s general treatment while being held, and if the whole incident should be called a “detention”. Here’s a good example of how the Indian media is handling the incident:

”My name is Khan.” ”Oh it is, is it? Step aside, please.”

The way it was related, that might well have been the opening exchange between Shahrukh Khan and an unnamed, uniformed, super-empowered US immigration official who had no idea (and didn’t care) that the man in front of him is the star of a film by the same name (My Name is Khan), much less that he is a universal Bollywood icon.

SRK, as the actor star is known by his popular acronym, was asked to indeed step aside for a ”secondary inspection” at Newark’s ironically named (in this context) Liberty International airport on Friday en route to an event to celebrate India’s Independence Day in Chicago, President Barack Obama’s hometown. But that was only after a ”primary inspection.”

A ”secondary inspection” is when the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer manning the immigration counter asks a visitor (or even a US citizen) to move to a separate area for questioning if he cannot initially verify the visitor’s information or does not have all of the required documentation, so as to not hold up the rest of the queue.

It is not clear why Khan, who is a frequent visitor to the US, and only recently spent a month here shooting for “My Name is Khan,” was subjected to a ”secondary inspection,” which in itself does not constitute detention.

But the actor surmises that it was because of his last name; in other words, his Muslim identity. He was questioned for nearly two hours, asked what he thought were irrelevant questions, denied the use of his cell phone (which isn’t unusual; visitors cannot use mobile phones before clearing immigration) and was finally allowed to make just one phone call under the rules.

”I told them I was a movie star and had recently visited the country for the shooting of my film. Nothing seemed to convince the immigration officer. There were other immigration officers who even vouched for me but this particular officer did not listen to anyone. I even told them I had an invitation from the South Asian community and was there to attend an event.” Khan told ToI.

Indian and US officials rushed into damage control mode after word came in from Khan’s family that that the actor had been ”detained” and Khan’s vast fan base went ballistic. Timothy Roemer, the new US ambassador in New Delhi whose first week on the job it is, said he was trying to ascertain what exactly had happened at Liberty, and that Shahrukh Khan was a global icon whose film were much loved even by Americans and he was always welcome in the US.

But Khan, from all accounts, doesn’t feel so welcome and says he will review his plans to visit the US again. In a slew of media interviews after the incident, he said his papers were in order, it seemed to be a case of religious profiling, and the incident was a ”little embarrassing” for an entertainer of his stature. Khan’s upcoming film ”My Name is Khan,” a movie about an Indian Muslim setting out on a journey across the United States, is certain to get a boost after the incident.

It is not the first time that an Indian entertainer with a Muslim identity has been asked to step aside for additional scrutiny. Actors Aamir Khan and Irrfan Khan have had similar experience. So has the Canadian-Indian writer Rohinton Mistry, a Parsi, who once cancelled a book tour of the US soon after 9/11 because he felt he was being needlessly profiled. Other Indian visitors, not necessarily Muslims, have felt singled out.

But there is an American side to the story too. US officials who have spoken to this correspondent on the subject in the past feel that some Indian visitors are needlessly huffy about routine security procedures, and there is a broad cultural mismatch or misunderstanding between the two countries in their view of rules and authority. India, one official said, has too much of a ”VIP culture” that gives some people a false sense of privilege and entitlement that does not sit well in a world of ever increasing security threats. Even minor delays and inconveniences are exaggerated and conflated into major protocol breaches by some Indians.

For now though, the cry has already gone up in India for ”pay back” and subjecting US VIPs visiting India to the same treatment as the Khans say they get in US. Even senior government ministers have jumped into the fray. ”I am of the opinion that the way we are frisked, for example I too was frisked, we should also do the same to them,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told a news agency. Others have suggested the ”Brazilian model,” where Brazilia adopted similar security protocol as Washington, including photographing and fingerprinting visitors. Khan himself is said to have joked that Angelina Jolie must be subjected to the same treatment.

Of course, if Jolie or Clooney or Pitt (or Congressmen and Senators) are subjected to such treatment, it is unlikely we would ever hear about it — since they seldom make a to-do about such things. But then it is even less likely that they would be subjected to such a welcome, given the Indian mix of VIP culture and Athithi Devo Bhava – even at the risk of imperiling security.

[From Times of India]

The article also has more information on the tit-for-tat between India and America as far as security measures go, and there’s some international bickering that’s a little funny. I’m actually surprised that an Indian publication would go so far as to insinuate that Americans stars are more likely to roll with the punches, security-wise, while Indian stars are more demanding of special treatment. Fox News is reporting that the customs officials claim that Khan was only detained for 66 minutes, and that everything was done according to standard procedure, and Khan was absolutely “not detained”. According to the boys in Jersey, the real holdup was Khan’s lost baggage. Awesome – blame the whole incident on the baggage people and be done with it.


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41 Responses to “Bollywood superstar held at New Jersey airport, claims racial profiling”

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  1. Hieronymus Grex says:

    Bollywood movies are very odd. It’s like watching Half-Quentin Tarentino half-Dance video.

  2. meow says:

    I would love to detain him!

  3. Kaboom says:

    Just goes to show that TSA screeners are frequently power-crazed mall cops.

  4. maddie says:

    Ok I live in New Jersey and just this pass weekend the Police detained Bob Dylan because he was wandering around a low-income neighborhood, in Long Branch,
    the two finest did not recognized him or his name Hello!!

    But I have to say as much as I hate profiling because of race I would rather be safe than sorry after 911, because before that we were pretty loose with security.

    There has to be a better way but until then we all have to suffer.

    India should place the blame where is should be on terrorist who changed how we Americans do things.

  5. V says:

    I don’t know about this safe than sorry business. That’s easy to say when you don’t fall into any of the racially profiled groups. It’s not a nice feeling. I live here and pay taxes just like anyone else and I don’t understand why an entire race of people should tolerate being inconvenienced and harassed because that makes some others feel better. Brown people make up a sizable chunk of the world’s population, and are always being racially profiled for one reason or another. From a numerical standpoint, racial profiling isn’t very practical either.

  6. Dorothy says:

    9/11 was a tragedy but it is nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands of innocent people who were killed in the “war against terror” and I am shamed that people are still subjected to racial profiling in America the land of opportunity and freedom.

  7. J says:

    People like Maddie who can’t even tell the difference between India and Pakistan and their separate relationships with America including their roles in the 911, shouldn’t be commenting on this news.

    To defend Brangelina for their collection of international babies…I mean, “international charity act” at this site is one thing; to defend racial profiling is another thing in a total different game. The former might be amusing while the latter just makes one want to vomit.

    Remember your own Harvard professor? The rejection of racial-profiling is not for foreigners like us because we can always choose NOT to come to America. As for your own American citizens, they have NO choices but stay inside your border, putting up your systematic prejudice.

  8. gimmeabreak says:

    Tough shit

  9. Anonymous says:

    As an immigration attorney, I can tell you that all of the noise coming from the U.S. immigration side is more likely than not untrue. I represent many people who are treated the way described by SRK. Customs and Border Protection can’t even lie consistently – he was detained for only 66 minutes, but was absolutely not detained? Give me a break!

  10. gg says:

    Wowzie he is cute!!

    lol at Hieronymous Grex. I was sitting in Heathrow next to a young gentleman watching a bollywood movie on his laptop, and the caterwauling and odd posturing (to my western eyes, anyway) seemed kind of like an eastern version of Lawrence Welk, for lack of a better comparison. Not much acting or dialogue did I see. Interesting in its own way, though.

  11. javelin says:

    Saying “Don’t you know who I am?! Racist!” is so tacky, whether it involves airport security or a Hermes store.

  12. fizXgirl314 says:

    I wish people would stop whining about trivial things like this. I mean, people are scared… just humor us and have your cavities searched and shut up about it…

    he is hot though i have to admit tee hee…

  13. fizXgirl314 says:

    the whole VIP treatment comment may actually be true… i know for a fact that someone with an average job like in IT or something in India has several servants and maids to tend to his needs… there is quite a bit of hierarchy there..

    and I’ve been asked to step aside at an airport several times and i’m about as white as they come… and a woman to boot!

  14. Taradash says:

    it happens now because we live in a very scary world. My brothers are stopped all the time because of our spanish hertitage. I was stopped in Glasgow followed again to at the entrance of my boarding. I f*king got over it.
    I even asked for an interpreter because I couldnt understand that thick brogue

    maybe the lady had a bug up her ** about me but she’s in charge

  15. Trey says:

    Oh yeah meow! I’d like to detain him in my pants too! Looks like a gorgeous seksi version of Jeff Golblum, which I am totally happy with.

  16. wow says:

    I feel ya, bro. Racial profiling, or any kind of profiling is ugly. It just gives a$$holes more of a “reason” to feel they can be even bigger a$$holes.

  17. Laura says:

    Racial profiling is not going to rid the world of foreign terrorist, (responsible macro policies will) instead its just going to perpetuate racism and make it an acceptable form of discrimination.

    A LOT of things could have prevented 9/11, but the policies and attitude we enacted as a reaction only created more terrorist group than before.

    Sure Khan was use to a VIP treatment so he might have been more upset than the usual person in his detainment, but it does help bring to light more of this BS.

  18. MeowBea says:


  19. kris says:

    blame the tarnished international relations and lack of education for terrorism. dont blame on the skin color.

    also if youre in the airport, dont assume everybody knows you. there are people who dont watch tv and dont care how much you got on your miles card. if they ask you questions, just answer them honestly and politely.

  20. maddie says:

    @ J
    People like Maddie who can’t even tell the difference between India and Pakistan and their separate relationships with America including their roles in the 911

    What the hell are you talking about? I never said India had anything to do with 911,

    I said the outcome of 911 is why Shah Rukh Khan,was stopped, as I stated before 911, he would have walked right on by with no problem.
    His name was on a list HELLO they are going to stop him, yes it sucks, but until fanatics stop taking innocent lives in their hatred of those who disagree with them, what else do you guys think will work.

    This is the world we live in now even if we don’t like it.

  21. Hieronymus Grexx says:

    Little known fact: Every time to say something stupid and signify it by attaching it to September 11th, you get a breast tumor.

  22. Kdiggs says:

    9/11…. We managed to turn a tragedy into our greatest scapegoat

  23. maddie says:

    How did we turn it into a scapegoat?

    It seems that as the years roll by, people have put Sept 11th out of their minds as a one off.

    They the terrorist still hate America and Americans and other nations that do not agree with them.

  24. Laura says:

    maddie, do some research, and no FOX News is not a legitimate source.

  25. fizXgirl314 says:

    ok let’s not all use maddie as a skapegoat and pile on her… there are problems in this country and in other countries that cannot be so easily solved… unfortunate as it may be, nothing is really black and white…

  26. Annie says:

    Right. But hi, since when did Indians look like Afghanis or Pakistanis? Or what have you?

    There is never an excuse for racial profiling. I’m sick of this “since 9/11″ crap.

    That’s the same excuse people used to justify TORTURING HUMAN BEINGS.

    Pfft. BTW: More than just terrorists hate America. And it’s because we’ve got so many ignorant fools running around.

  27. Aspie says:

    Everyone knows that people of color tend to be detained more often than whites, if you don’t know that and think it’s all fair and balanced, then that’s pretty scary!

  28. maddie says:

    Pfft. BTW: More than just terrorists hate America.
    Yeah true but when has the “MORE THAN” bomb American embassies, Hotels and American ships and Flew Planes into building.

  29. boomchakaboom says:

    I think it was staged. Ya-de-ya-de-ya about America and 9/11, blahblahblah…

    He now has more attention for himself and his documentary, or whatever it is he’s here promoting, than he could have paid for, frankly.

  30. Anj says:

    To all People out here

    showed ur idiocy by giving “super intelligent comments”…why thank you

    racial discrimination is terrible and that’s the truth and as for u weeping willows go have a nap.

  31. fizXgirl314 says:

    can we cut all this political BS and talk about how hot this guy is?

    or, we could just continue blaming maddie for all the ills of this world lol…

  32. N says:

    Racial profiling is a terrible thing that I doubt will be stopping anytime soon, unfortunately. I have never travelled to the US or been on an airplane before, but it’s stories like these that scare me away from it.

    Even in Canada, a so-called “multicultural” country, there’s prevalent racism and prejudice that gets swept under the rug. It’s the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Despite the fact that I’m a small, harmless, 23 year old girl who wouldn’t even THINK about stealing merchandise, I am always followed in stores because of my dark skin color.

    Sad as it is to say, people will continue to turn a blind eye to this unfair treatment because 1) it doesn’t affect them, and 2) out of sight, out of mind. A lot of people will also excuse racial profiling and other unjust behaviors because of the 9/11 attacks, though this has been going on LONG before 9/11 ever happened.

  33. Shanny says:

    Well waaa waa waa, The country has to be tough and I appriaciate their caution in letting people in the country very very much, if his name was on the list they were doing their jobs.
    If he doesn’t like he doesn’t have to come back to America, fine with me,I don’t even know who the guy is.

  34. leah says:

    I have a hard time believing the “his name is on a list” excuse for his detainment because he’s filmed several films in the US (mostly NYC) since 9/11 and hasn’t been stopped before, so why now? And yeah, I know they update the lists all the time, but still, it seems like a relatively clear case of racial profiling. Which doesn’t work at all.

    Also, he’s adorable!

  35. Janae says:

    Oh well. Indians racially discriminate against others, so they shouldn’t complain when it happens to them.

  36. mojoman says:

    @Janae: you hit the nail in the head with that one!

  37. Brad says:

    “He was on his way to Chicago to promote his film My Name Is Khan, which is about racial profiling in America.”

    What a coincidence. That’s a publicity stunt if I ever heard of one. This guy seriously needs to grow up. Smearing the USA just to promote his movie? That’s LOW.

  38. Janae says:

    @ mojoman


  39. jd says:

    Meh. He’s okay. The REAL hottie of Bollywood is Ajay Devgan.

  40. i wish that no problems attend ahead them and present then power give them to solve them i wan meet them i am astrologer in phfgr4tb7

  41. Tinker says:

    2004: The singer formerly known as Cat Stevens was making his way back to London Wednesday after being taken off a diverted trans-Atlantic flight by U.S. officials.

    But U.S. Muslim leaders say they want the government to explain why the singer was on a “watch list” meant to keep terrorists out of the country.

    Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge accused Yusuf Islam, the singer’s Muslim name, of having some unspecified relationship with terrorist activity.

    “Celebrity or unknown, our job is to act on information that others have given us,” Ridge said. “And in this instance, there was some relationship between the name and the terrorists’ activity with this individual’s name being on that no-fly list, and appropriate action was taken.”

    United Airlines Flight 919 from London to Washington was diverted to Maine after Islam’s name turned up on a list designed to keep terrorists or their supporters from boarding flights, U.S. officials said.

    Islam, 56, took that name when he became a Muslim in the 1970s.

    Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his organization wants a better explanation for why the singer was denied entry into the country.

    “We are getting a little tired of this kind of Kafkaesque treatment of people, where vague allegations are made and actions are taken against individuals and organizations,” Hooper said.

    He said American Muslim leaders “need to know where the allegations are coming from.”

    “I don’t think we want to be in a situation where people are denounced by anonymous government officials and labeled as terrorists and that’s it — everybody says ‘OK, we don’t need any more information.’ We need more information,” he said.

    Other officials said Islam was on the watch list because of reported associations and financial support for Muslim charities with terrorist connections.

    But they would not disclose the names of those charities. Homeland Security spokesman Garrison Courtney would only say “the intelligence community has come into possession of additional information that further heightens our concerns of Yusuf Islam.”

    According to Islam’s Web site, he is associated with three charities: Small Kindness for humanitarian relief; Islamia Schools’ Trust for education; and Waqf al Birr Educational Trust for educational research and development and scientific and medical research.

    Ridge said the intelligence that put the singer’s name on the list came from outside the United States, but he would not reveal the source.

    He questioned why United allowed him onto the flight at all. Government sources said Islam’s name was added to the watch list only recently and had been misspelled — which could explain why airline employees overlooked it.

    While the plane was in flight, the Advanced Passenger Information System flagged Islam’s name, a Department of Homeland Security official said.

    Customs agents alerted the Transportation Security Administration, which then ordered the plane diverted to Bangor, Maine, and away from the northeast corridor of New York and Washington.

    Islam, a British citizen, was held in Bangor before being taken Wednesday morning to Boston, where the Massachusetts Port Authority said he would be put aboard an afternoon flight to Washington. From there he will be sent back to London.

    On his official Web site, Islam has posted numerous statements in opposition to terrorist attacks, most recently the school seizure in Beslan, Russia that ended with more than 300 people dead — about half of them children.

    Islam also criticized the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States and donated a portion of the royalties from a four-disc set of his music to the families of the September 11th Fund.

    Muslim groups in Britain also reacted with anger and surprise at Islam’s detention.

    In Bangor, the rest of the passengers were screened and continued on to Washington’s Dulles International Airport after Islam was taken off the flight.

    The Boeing 747 had about 280 passengers and crew onboard when it took off from London’s Heathrow Airport, United spokesman Jeff Green said.

    As Cat Stevens, Islam had a string of folk-rock hits in the 1960s and early 1970s, including “Peace Train,” “Morning Has Broken” and “Wild World.”

    He dropped out of the music business for more than a decade after converting to Islam but returned to the recording studio periodically during the 1990s.

    Seriously. Does any more need to be said? He sang about loving your brother & sister back in the day, & we go & pull some sh*t like this on him? & I really feel for Sharukh Khan too.