American Composer Detained at Border Because of His “Super Common Muslim Name”

American composer Mohammed Fairouz whose work has been performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center arrived off a London – New York JFK flight.

Agents “took away [his] luggage and [..] laptop” and told him he could not use his phone. He was told to “sit in a plastic chair without the ability to listen to music or read a book.” He was told this “could take hours.”

In those three and a half hours I could have written a short piano etude or edited a movement from my now overdue song cycle with string quartet. But instead of allowing me to quietly get on with something productive, I was barked at to “SIT DOWN” by officers who every so often would loudly remind the people going through screening that “NOBODY LEAVES THIS ROOM WITHOUT CLEARANCE”.

He was eventually allowed to leave after four hours. The only reason he was given for being detained was that “his name is ‘super common.'”

Of course the US government has his fingerprints which were scanned. He used “the Automated Passport Control machine and scanned [..] documents and fingerprints (all of which were recognised)” which should have satisfied his identity.

Fairouz does not see his treatment as a function of the Trump administration, he is ‘sure’ this happened under the Obama administration as well. He says, “I’m not making a racial argument. What I’m saying is that we have a f—– up system and they’re treating people very, very badly.”

I don’t know why this US citizen was detained on return to the U.S. Whether the real reason was legitimate or not, we can treat people with respect (even kindness), work to clear them expeditiously, and allow them to be as comfortable and productive as possible while they wait.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I wonder how many of the 9/11 terrorists were named Mohammed.

    And frankly I wouldn’t want trust a suspected national security risk with much of anything at an airport. They’ve caused enough problems at enough airports and enough planes.

  2. it’s unfortunate the damage the minority of bad/evil people that claim Islam as their faith, to the reputations of vast majority of good people that are Muslims.

    It begs the question why more Muslim nations don’t stand up against these criminals. More could follow in the steps of the Jordanians etc in their work to deter the criminal activity/organised crime of ISIL et al.

    It does worry me, when i read that they consider it OK to lie when spreading their faith, according to their Koran teachings.

    it must also be made clear when migrating to the US, that all must assimilate under the US Constitution, no room for Sharia Law here, if they want that, they should remain in their world in the Middle East.

    Paris is a classic example of the damage to a wonderful city, by putting all the Muslim immigrants in the one enclave. It’s been a disaster. 10,000 in France on the watch list, Police are endangered when they enter their enclave.

    Lot of issues in London coming to light now also.

    Maybe some consideration be given to the issues of peoples from ancient cultures wanting to reside in the west, when our values are far more liberal, the clash of civilisations.

    I believe people from the east should be educated, and tested at their own cost, in respect of how they will adapt, and whether they are capable of accepting western values, before being allowed to migrate.

  3. This can happen. I have a friend that has a common “american sounding name” is a common looking white American and has top security clearance due to his job and still has stuff like this happen to him even with trusted traveler documents, etc.

  4. The only rational explanation is that there is a different Mohammed Fairouz who is a suspected terrorist. If so, these sort of things happen all the time, but the holdup shouldn’t take four hours.

  5. Welcome to Trump’s America. It doesn’t matter if you are an American Citizen you are still subject to detention if you have a Middle Eastern name or look different. I’m all for proper vetting of individuals entering the US but this man is a US Citizen and there is no excuse for CBP treating him poorly or barking out orders to him. I also don’t see the need to detain a US citizen returning home for 4 hours without a full explanation and an apology especially since he was released. Trump thinks he is preventing terrorism but meanwhile all he is doing is creating even more enemies to the US. This is just stupidity.

  6. @ Mark: Does it hurt when you think?

    The man said it happened to him while Obama was president, too.

    You must be a charter member of the Whiny Little Bitch Club.

  7. Mark, it is going to be a long 8 years for you while Trump MAGAs.

    BTW, what evidence have you seen that this tempoarary delay was not completely justified? I’ll wait.

  8. @Pete — please look up ‘burden of proof.’

    At this moment I have zero evidence that you have never raped little kids.

  9. @ Jason: Was to your shrink appointment that kept you from class the day they taught that the rules are different at border crossings?

  10. @About Again

    Not sure where you got your information but the only sect in Islam to my knowledge, and it is a minority, who sees it as OK to lie about spreading their faith are the Shiit. The majority of Muslims who are of the Sunni sect are not allowed to lie about it and were indeed tortured for it.

    I urge you to read more about world religions before making claims in a public or private space.

  11. A., he wasn’t detained because his name was Mohammed. He was detained because his name was Mohammed Fairouz. Mohammed is the most common name given to baby boys in the U.K. today. If everyone named Mohammed was detained for 4 hours, their would be lots of crying babies in the room with him.

    J.C., he didn’t say it happened to him when Obama was president. He said he is “sure” it happened then as well. If it had happened to him, he certainly would have phrased it differently.

  12. Gerald, agreed. Actually, Mohammed is the most common given name in the world.

  13. Jason, better ask for a tuition refund from that internet law school class. It’s called reasonable cause.

    Also, D- effort on the ad hominem.

  14. Both my dad and I have very common names. Not close to Muslim. As a child I got used to getting to the airport very early to stand and wait while they checked his name and mine against various lists.

    Ironically this only got better AFTER 9/11 when the lists became more detailed.

    A few years back I was detained w/o explanation at the USA/Canada border near Vancouver for close to SIX hours – a wood bench! CANADA!! They strip searched, interrogated and behaved as if I was a serial murderer. When I was released w/o apology or explanation I discovered that they had torn through every item in my rental car – destroying items including religious items that Jewish men use during morning prayers and spreading their contents all over the floor.

    They could have planted anything they wanted in the car – stopped me five feet later and charged me with smuggling anything they wanted. When I turned around to return to the USA the border guy suggested I not file a complaint as I will “just be put on a list” and get harassed any time I tried to enter Canada. CANADA!!

    The whole world spends tens of billions and hours upon hours in long lines because of a few radical nutjobs – so he was delayed by four hours – so what?? Why is this news?? Just because he has a Muslim name???

  15. PS – To quote DaninMCI: I have a common “american sounding name” am a very common looking white American and have top security clearance due to my military past and every ‘trusted traveler’ document available to man and I still have stuff like this happen to me all the time!

  16. The issue here isn’t that a mistake was made (and, most assuredly, a mistake was made). The issue is that those making the mistake took FOUR HOURS to rectify the error and acted in a manner at odds with basic human decency.

    And if that’s the sort of behavior that’s supposed to “make America great again”, then apparently I don’t understand what “great” means, because that sounds like crap to me.

  17. You Trump MAGA people that
    were conned so easily, have no soul, no intelligence, no compasssion, and are just rednecks with low… very low IQs. You sicken me.

  18. Gary, keep up your blogging on all the affronts to personal liberties and human decency – in this case profiling – being done in the name now of “extreme vetting.” The courts won’t let the Administration enforce its travel bans, because there’s a pesky thing called the Constitution, but would-be leaders and minions of a security police state seem to feel themselves unleashed to do their thing in myriad ways.

  19. I have personal experience with this and while it is aggravating, this isn’t Trump’s fault, or the fault of Americans who are afraid of muslims, and not even the media’s fault for perpetuating the muslim as terrorist theme. This is the fault of the extremists who kill people. They ruin it for everyone. That is where our outrage needs to be directed and our efforts need to be focused on eliminating. We will overcome because we have to. The only alternative is to roll over and let the terrorists run rampant, like how Mexico is with Cartels. Journalists write articles cartel members don’t like and end up dead…police chief slots in Mexico go unfilled because the last 3 chiefs had been executed. That is not how America rolls…we handle our business.

  20. @gerald the most common boys name in the UK in 2016 is Oliver. Muhammad only comes at #13.

  21. Andy, you are of course so very wrong. But that’s OK with me. It is a big part of why Trump won. Why Trump is making America great again. Why this much winning never gets old. Why the effects of Trump Derangement Syndrome are so satisfying for true Americans. Why common sense is making a comeback.

  22. @MTC that story is also despicable, and I don’t think it should normalize this one. I’d love some accountability and for the US citizens to receive some kind of reimbursement for any items damaged due to false accusations. Probably won’t get it because anything can be done in the name of stopping “potential” terrorism.

  23. Faroiuz was not accused of anything, let alone falsely accused. And he suffered no damages.

  24. @About Again: ..they consider it OK to lie when spreading their faith, according to their Koran teachings.

    Not sure where or from what sect you are getting your information from. False. When you are learning about a people, place or religion you learn about the majority not the small minority. The miniority are not an actual true representation. If we love travel so much, shouldn’t we be realizing the world isnt what the media wants us to think it is? Ignorance is just not acceptable in this day and age. We have the means to educate ourselves.

  25. I am sure we all would be pissed if this has happened to any of us – but, after thinking about it, this is nothing but a small price to pay for living in such a great nation. At least he wasn’t burned alive, beheaded, shot, or maimed … or imprisoned for that matter because he is a Mohammed. A fate that would await any Tom, Dick, or Harry in ISILandia. This is just a phase the world is going through currently which pales in comparison to what happened around WWII (what happened to the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the intellectuals, or its aftermath when 3+ million German civilians murdered in cold blood and another 12 million dispossessed just because they were Germans).

    @About Again, Muslim nations and people are bearing the brunt of ISIL’s evil you talk about – an evil that was borne out of failed Western policies that destabilized the middle east including policies of the government of that “wonderful city” of Paris. If there wasn’t such destabilizing factor, no refugees would have been generated – so, basically, we reap what we sow, albeit on a smaller scale than they are getting it!

  26. The word from 2 guys I know that work in different border enforcement agencies is that the present administration has made it clear that people who work in those border situations can do whatever they want without repercussion from those above them.

    Full unquestionable support in law enforcement is the common thread of virtually every abuse of power like this.

  27. If indeed true, bravo to the Trump administration for taking the handcuffs off the border patrol and immigration agents and letting them do their jobs. Perhaps shocking given 8 years of BHO ignoring the law and prohibiting enforcement, but completely appropriate. If you don’t like the law, get it changed.

  28. Oh man, anyone else looking forward to Pete finding himself on the wrong end of an ICE agent having a bad day? Because that’s all it takes for you to get delayed for hours and miss your connection while they go through your phone. I doubt Pete travels internationally, but it’s a fun mental picture.

  29. Probability of US citizen dying from non US born terrorist action ranked at 1 in 46,000. More than three times more likely than dying in an air crash.

    Happy travels fellow frequent flyers!!!

    The terrorists have won when you cower in fear and subjugate to irrational fear and prejudice and apply illogical protocols.

    PS. Didn’t meet one single tRump supporter on my recent trip to HI, despite staying in very high end hotels on Oahu and Lana’i. Scratching my head at the nonsense espoused by some on this thread…

  30. Oh dear, a plastic chair. And one less etude for the world.

    Forget about being Muslim, this guy is just a schmuck. I’m not sympathetic.

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