The personal is political. After a brief
respite from the gray doldrums of ice and boredom it was time to
return to the magic of Michigan. Upon the return to American soil,
everyone has to go through all the usual checks to make sure they
weren’t hanging out on farms, swapping viruses or plotting
with terrorist cells. Upon my reception at Immigration by an
angry-looking white woman, perhaps my spirits were still a bit high
for what I was about to encounter.

Hussain Rahim

I step up and hand her my passport, and she asks me to take off
my hat, as part of what I imagine is the turban-check portion of
re-entry. She inquires, “Is this you?” To be met with
an “I sure hope so,” which got the cold stare of her
already annoying face. Please don’t make jokes in airports;
they’re the new funeral homes. So I quickly amended that to
“Um, yes, that’s me.” As she reads through the
stamps she says, “You’ve been to some unusual
places.”

That was a little too dumb to even respond to.

”So why are you going to all these places?”

More silence.

I said “Are you serious? Is that a real question I’m
supposed to answer?”

With some indignation, she says “Well, yes, it
is.”

“Well, I like to travel. That’s still allowed,
isn’t it?”

With a name like Hussain Rahim, perhaps I should be a little
less sardonic with the airport lady, but as private as I am,
I’d rather not divulge what used to be my personal life and
activities, but like a deal-cutting junkie. So she put my passport
in the little terrorism baggie and said, “Go right on over to
C.C.A.”

Ok, well, what the fuck is C.C.A.? Capture Crazy Arabs or some
other inane acronym?

So I go off in this little room to the side of it all, and I
wait for my name to be called. I reach the front desk and inquire
to what it is exactly C.C.A. stands for. It’s hard to keep up
with all the new governmental agencies. He tells me that
“It’s just the name for who brought you
here.”

“So then what is this place?”

“Oh, this is airport security.”

Didn’t buy it. Now I didn’t even know what I was
being questioned by.

The paradox was undeniable, yet amusing. When I went away for my
vacation, I was sure to locate the U.S. embassy just in case. As I
sat there, I wondered whom I could call and what the embassy could
do. Then I realized, “Hot shit, I am in America.” This
is the country of my birth and citizenship. Ain’t no embassy
left to call.

Then, in good old TV courtroom fashion, he shot off a list of
questions about my biography that I didn’t even know the
answers to.

”Where do you live?”

“Where do you go to school?”

“What do you do there?”

“Do you work? Is that how you paid for your
trip?”

Next step was questioning about what I did at the stamped
locations on my passport.

With passport in hand he said, “When was the last time you
went to Grenada?”

“I don’t know, you have my passport in your hand,
look at the stamp.”

I was maybe one step away from the lawyer-free,
government-sponsored boat ride to Guantanamo Bay.

Although I don’t memorize passport stamps, I sure as hell
knew the last time I was in Grenada. The reason I can still recall
the date is because shortly after I came back, I remember getting
off the train at the stop before the World Trade Center and then
watching a trail of smoke come over the Brooklyn Bridge with great
confusion, only to later encounter the burnt flesh smell and rubble
that was downtown Manhattan.

I have seen terrorism. I know what it does and I know its
reality. I also know America. Or at least I know an America. A
retired man I met over the vacation shared with me his reasons for
permanently leaving the United States. I countered his reasoning
with what I liked about America and why I saw myself living there
and enjoying its remaining freedoms — all pre-shakedown of
course.

This tale is very anticlimactic because I’m clearly here
now, safe and sound, but now a little more experienced and
world-weary than before. Maybe for the next trip I can stay away
longer until my America comes back.

Rahim can be reached at
“mailto:hrahim@umich.edu”>hrahim@umich.edu.

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