Somali-American professors angered over repeated searches

Two Somali-American scholars at the University of Minnesota say they’re outraged by what they consider invasive questioning and searches while traveling abroad this summer.

Abdi Samatar chairs the U’s geography department. He’s married to Cawo Abdi, a sociology professor. Since June, the husband and wife say they’ve been pulled aside a total of six times at airports for lengthy interviews that have lasted up to two and a half hours. They believe customs officials targeted them for being Muslim and ethnic Somalis.

Earlier this month, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan – the “Brad Pitt of India” – made headlines around the globe when he was stopped at a New Jersey airport. Khan said, at the time, that he believed he was questioned because his Muslim name raised red flags in a post-Sept. 11 world.

But countless Somali-Americans who don’t enjoy Khan’s level of celebrity say they’ve been subjected to similar searches, called secondary inspections, upon re-entering the U.S.

Samatar and his wife are both U.S citizens with American passports. In August, they were returning from South Africa on separate flights and were steered into a waiting room at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. “We looked at each other, and we smiled, and we said, ‘OK, let’s see where this takes us,” recalled Cawo Abdi, Samatar’s wife.

But now, Abdi said, she feels indignation. “It’s a very unpleasant experience to be interrogated for two or three hours when you have never committed a crime, when you are doing your job, and you of course care about the security of every American,” she said. “Being a citizen, I expect, and I have a right, for a certain level of protection, and I don’t feel like I’m treated like an American.”

MPR News, 24 August 2009