On Friday morning we woke up to Shah Rukh Khan’s disturbing tweet on being detained at the Los Angeles airport. This is not the first occasion when Shah Rukh has been harassed at an American airport because …well…his name is Khan .And never mind if he is not a terrorist.
Shah Rukh Khan whom Kamal Haasan is very fond of, would be pleased to know he has undivided support from the senior actor.
However Kamal cautions, “We don’t need to over-react just because this Khan is a Shah Rukh. I don’t think Shah Rukh himself minded the detention. I know the gentlemen. He would never say, ‘I am Shah Rukh Khan, so I should be treated differently from other Khans’.I think he said, each time he wants to feel normal he visits the US . His fans might feel injured on his behalf. But it can’t be helped. The Americans are an injured nation.They’re being just be careful. It happened to me and I had to miss my flight.There was no great apology or anything.It’s rules they’re following.”
Kamal Haasan doesn’t recommend a separate treatment by the US immigration to Shah Rukh. “I’d recommend that they be kind to all Khans. They can’t generalize about all Khans. It’s as awful as saying all Americans are stupid.”
As for Irrfan dropping his Khan surname(he calls himself just “Irrfan”) Kamal Haasan is willing to go the opposite way. “I’m ready to change my name from Kamal to Qamal.I’m often mistaken for a Muslim and I don’t correct the misconception. My brothers Charu Haasan and Chandra Haasan don’t have to face this. Please remember the fabric of our nation is woven with saffron, white and green. We can’t pull out any of the colours.We have to co-exist. The crusades are over.”
Irrfan Khan has gone through the ordeal on two occasions on American airports.
Speaking about it to me he said, “More than the physical torture, it’s the wounds of humiliation that never heal after you undergo such a horrific experience. It happened to me on two occasions. I was detained in New York and Los Angeles airport for secondary interrogation. I was outraged. I was told to quietly come into a room for questioning and identification verification. I wasn’t allowed to talk. When I tried to ask why I was being treated this way, I was told to keep quiet. I wasn’t allowed to use my phone. They said, ‘No, you just sit down.’ All because my name was Irrfan Khan. You can’t argue or rationalise.”
Kabir Khan had to face the brunt of Islamophobia in the US. “I was accompanying my wife in the US along with the Morani Brothers. It was a flight from LA to Washington just 15 days after 9/11. So the fear and paranoia were not totally unjustified. We were waiting for the flight to take off talking to each other in Hindi when some passengers complained that we were talking in a ‘strange’ language. Within no time two burly FBI agents came on board and took me and my co-passengers to the front of the plane. When they got to know my name, they questioned me for more than two hours, googled my name for terrorist links and then finally allowed me to fly. They asked me if I had been to Pakistan. I told them no. If I had told them that I had been to Afghanistan, they’d have freaked out. Two other passengers on board refused to fly with us. So they were asked to deboard. So you see post 9/11 persecution comes with its inbuilt safety measures. But I honestly think a part of the global fear is justified. We can’t blame people for being paranoid after what had happened.”
However when Kabir was questioned again at an American airport he refused to take it lying down.
“On a second occasion this time in New York, when I was detained I blew my top. I told this big Black American guy, ‘Please clear the confusion about my identity once and for all. Or don’t provide me with a visa. I don’t want to come back to the US.’ The guy wanted to know if it was a threat. I was taken aback. Mira Nair had to intervene. She advised me to never counter-question them. This is the free spirit of America. This 90-minute detention changed me completely. Can you imagine what a 90-day detention can do to an innocent man thrown into jail”
Kamal Hassan who is often mistaken for a Muslim in America is in a seriously defiant mood. He at one time thought of changing his distinctly Muslim-sounding name to a more pronounced Islamic-sounding ‘Qamal Haasan’.
“Just to show a sense of solidarity with my Muslim brothers,including Shah Rukh whom I am very fond of.It doesn’t matter whether I am really Muslim or not. If I have to suffer for my name I’m willing to do so,” says Kamal.
It’s not just Shah Rukh with his ‘Khan’ surname that gets him special treatment at the American treatment. You could get the US immigration guys into a budge over a Hindi name simply because it sounds Muslim.This, Kamal Haasan disc
Says Kamal Haasan, “My father did a very mischievous thing, maybe because I was born when he was 50, and by then he had developed a sense of humour about human quirks and contradictions. He gave me a Muslim-sounding name.And the ambiguity of my name does confuse the Americans. I enjoy that. My father too enjoyed the the ambivalence. In fact he was keen that I spell my name ‘Kamal’ with ‘Q’ in a very Islamic way.I had almost listened to him. Then I backtracked. But I feel I should go for it.While he was alive he would often ask me if I was mistaken me for a Muslim.”
Kamal Haasan frequently gets into the ‘suspicious’ segment of the US immigration department. “Sometimes they take me aside and ask me questions.Just because we do business with America they think we are questionable. If we’re so touchy about immigration rules in American, we shouldn’t be doing business with them.”
Kamal Haasan feels racial and cultural suspicion exist in every society. “Talk to an Afghani who comes to visit India . Afghani students can’t get rooms to stay in India .There’s resistance to Afghani passports in India.And why are we so touchy about American treatment? They’ve a 9/11 to caution them. With 9/11 Australia is hostile to Indians. India should stop acting paranoid about racial profiling.”
However not every Khan is unhappy with the treatment in American airports.
Foreign travel is no longer a hassle for television actor Iqbal Khan. Till recently he was denied a visa to the US because of his surname.
Says Iqbal, “My foreign trips specially the trips to the US are no longer hassle. After the media took up the issue of my visa, I received a call from the American consulate.Now I’ve a ten-year visa to the US.”
Iqbal who was deeply embittered by the religious cultural and racial segregation that he witnessed while applying for a visa to the US is happy to report that the airports in the US actually have a prayer room for the devotees.
Says Iqbal, “I pray five times a day.And I’m happy to say there’s prayer room on the American airports. It makes travel to America all the more pleasant and welcome.”