CAIR-CAN: MACKAY WANTS APOLOGY FROM U.S. FOR BORDER DELAY
As a respected scholar on Islamic matters, Munir El-Kassem travels frequently to the United States to give lectures to fellow Muslims. For years after Sept. 11, 2001, he did so without any hitches. But early last month, things took a turn.
Flying from Quebec City, he made a stop in Detroit, Michigan to change planes for his flight to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the site of an interfaith conference he had been invited to attend.
As he stood before U.S. immigration officials to be cleared for boarding, he was asked the usual question regarding the purpose of his visit. Then the immigration official asked him what faith he was. On replying that he was a Muslim, Mr. El-Kassem said he was asked, in a commanding voice, to follow the officer to another room. There, he was asked to sit down on a chair. After about 10 minutes, another official, whom he says was a supervisor, entered the room.
"The first question was: 'Have you ever met Osama Bin Laden?'" Mr. Kassem recalled in an interview earlier this month.
Mr. Kassem said he couldn't believe his ears and ventured to ask, "Are you serious?" upon which he was commanded to answer the question. When he replied that he hadn't, he was asked whether he had ever met Saddam Hussein. The officer also wanted to know what he thought of Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, and also what he thought of the United States. He was also asked whether he worshipped God or Allah. The officer then left the room, but came back later and asked why Mr. El-Kassem had travelled to Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria, destinations that Mr. El-Kasseem had visited either for pilgrimage-in the case of Saudi Arabia-or family visits. He was also asked whether he had visited Iran and Iraq recently, countries that he hadn't been to.
"All through this interview, I felt so uncomfortable," said Mr. El-Kassem, who is also a professor of dentistry at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. He immigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 1976. . .
The harassment of Muslims at the U.S. border occurs regularly and no clear reason is given, said Sameer Zuberi, a spokesman for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations. While he welcomed Mr. MacKay's efforts, Mr. Zuberi said the issue has to be treated broadly.
"There are hundreds of other average Canadian Muslims who face the same [ordeal] and it's really the most tragic cases," said Mr. Zuberi.