The Shahrukh Khan Affair – The Aftermath

Following up on the brief detention of Shahrukh Khan, one of India’s most famous actors, at a US airport, the star of the upcoming “My Name Is Khan,” which explores the treatment of people with Muslim surnames in the United States, says that he will never again visit the US.

His detention, which has created something of an international incident and a major headline story in India, stems from his surname allegedly matching one on one of the assorted US watchlists. Khan says he has never been treated so shabbily, and that the airport officials refused to let him contact anyone for over an hour despite several Indian and Pakistani travelers on the scene vouching for his identity as one of the most famous men on the subcontinent.

His mistreatment may in the long-run be good for him in the US, as it will no doubt draw attention to the American release of his next movie, which is expected sometime next year. The outcry from the Indian population will no doubt fade over time as well, because Khan’s detention lasted only a couple of hours.

But ultimately this isn’t about Khan or his movie, or about Newark Airport employees not recognizing an international celebrity who, among the non-Indian population of the US, is lets face it, relatively unknown.

Rather it draws attention to something that is happening to hundreds, perhaps thousands of people on a daily basis across the US. People get hauled out of line, on the basis of a name, or a nationality, or a religion, and subjected to God-knows-what behind closed doors. Khan’s detention was no doubt considerably shortened by the Indian embassy springing into action the moment it discovered one of the nation’s favorite sons was in custody. Suppose this didn’t happen to Shahrukh Khan the actor, but Shahrukh Khan the small business owner, or Shahrukh Khan the dentist. Would we even be talking about it? Would he still be in custody?

We don’t know the full details of what happened to this fellow yesterday, and maybe we never will. But his story is common enough that it seems unlikely the airport officials broke any serious rules with what they did. It’s business as usual in the US these days, and instead of chastising these people for not treating an international celebrity with due decorum, shouldn’t we be asking whether or not these rules need a major rethink?