American Muslim composer detained for hours at New York airport after trip to UK

Charlotte England
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport to demonstrate against US President Donald Trump's executive order: AFP/Getty Images

An American Muslim composer has said he was detained for hours at a New York airport when he returned home from a recent trip to London.

Mohammed Fairouz, who has been described as one of the most frequently performed composers of his generation, had travelled from Heathrow to John F Kennedy airport after visiting the UK to record with a British string orchestra.

He says he was pulled aside for “additional screening” by an immigration officer with no explanation except that his name is “super common”.

The 31-year-old said he had already scanned his documents and fingerprints, which should have distinguished him from anyone else with the same name.

Mr Fairouz, who was born in the US, described how his luggage and laptop were taken away and he was told that he could not use his mobile phone, in a comment piece penned for The Independent.

“Clueless and aggressive officers escorted me to a room and had me sit in a plastic chair without the ability to listen to music or read a book,” he said.

He was detained for almost four hours – long enough, he said, to have written a short piano etude, had he been allowed to keep his belongings with him.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on”.

One of the new president’s first acts was to issue a ban on travel from mainly Muslim countries, leading to many travellers being denied boarding flights to the US. The ban has faced repeated legal challenges.

In addition to being condemned as Islamophobic, critics have said the ban and other orders issued by the White House have given border police far more power to behave as they wish without consequences.

Mr Fairouz said he encountered bullying behaviour by officers who treated him like a criminal.

“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 said.

“We were all, without arrest or charge, being treated like criminals: guilty until proven innocent.”

Earlier this month the American Muslim CEO of a leading travel media brand told The Independent that he had not brought his phone and laptop with him on a trip to London, because of concerns about searches when he returned to the US.

​Mr Ali said since the start of President Trump’s administration, Muslim travellers had faced difficulties with US Customs and Border Protection — with officials sometimes detaining new arrivals for hours while they trawl through phone and laptop data.

“I’m an American Muslim guy,” said Mr Ali. “Citizens are being stopped on their way back. For this trip I bought a ‘burner’ phone and a ‘burner’ laptop.”

“I left my laptop, I left my phone, and bought a new phone line, a new iTunes account, a new laptop."

He added: “Anxiousness has just risen 10x in the last two months, three months.”

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