I have previously written about the unique challenges of flying as a Muslim. This week, I heard a fantastic interview with the musician “The Narcicyst” aka Yassin Alsalman, a Canadian hip hop artist whose family is originally from Iraq. Alsalman was recently detained for 5 hours US border patrol at the airport in Toronto. You may be thinking – ‘ok, so what, lots of people are stopped at the border?’ But this particular Canadian is a popular musician who wrote a song called “Phatwa” and made a music video ABOUT being stopped at the US border.
Here is the video – which offers a tremendous statement about stereotypes and the challenges of flying while Muslim:
Alsalman was on his way to a film festival in Washington DC when he was pulled aside and questioned. The border patrol took him to a holding area and he sat for hours. They looked at his prayer mat and asked him if it was strange that he was an artist but he still prayed a lot. Alsalman was not sure of what to make of that comment. He simply felt that his faith was being questioned. His pendant from Iraq was scrutinized and he was fingerprinted and photographed, not once but twice. When he questioned why this took place a second time, he was told that the technology was acting up.
While at the airport, he was told not to look at his cell phone or to text anyone. It turns out that his grandmother passed away while he was being detained, and his family was trying to reach him, but he did not dare take a chance looking at his phone during this time.
During his 5 hour wait, he said that another man was pulled aside for a review of his belongings. This man carried in a large bag, it was opened and Alsalman saw a huge hunting rifle in the bag. This person was allowed through within minutes, and all Alsalman could think about was the irony. He wondered what would have happened to him had he transported a gun, even with a permit.
Alsalman describes the feeling of losing his identity during this process. From the minute he was pulled aside, he felt that his Canadian identity was lost. His passport was taken from him and he did not even have the option to simply return home because he had no ID.
Alsalman stated that he made the music video (BEFORE he was stopped in Toronto) because he sensed that an Arab/Muslim life feels less valued than that of a Western’s life.
He said that many people laugh at some of the imagery in the video, but then stop themselves, realizing it is not at all funny. He believes that it reflects the paranoia that many Muslims feel at the airport. Alsalman described the paranoia as, “Oh My God! I’m going to end up in Guantanamo!”
This video is an excellent educational tool. It can be used:
1) As a vehicle to create dialogue about the challenges of being different or stereotyped when entering, and while in, the US. It is also an excellent tool for examining slang using the lyrics of the song.
2) In an ESL class – as there is plenty of slang to dissect in the lyrics.
3) To discuss the politics of Guantanamo.
4) In an exercise where students can create a video about stereotypes about other cultures, using an airport scene. For example, what stereotypes might surface when an American enters a Muslim country’s airport? Or a Canadian airport?
5) To relay the power of music as a cultural informant. How does music convey information about values, tolerance, roles of men/women, what we see above the surface vs. what is underlying?