No-Fly List Escapee

Consider that face down in the lower-right.

Could someone like that ever hurt a fly? Clearly a Muslim female; actually, she’s Prof. Rahinah Ibrahim, 48 years old, an Engineering Ph.D. and no less than Dean of Faculty at her university in Malaysia. As this article from Die Zeit puts it, “[s]he travels to congresses in Rabat, Eindhoven, Beijing, Bangkok, Milan and Kassel. It is only within the USA that she has not been able to fly for years.”

That’s because she has been on the US No-Fly List for years, and that for no good reason. She is supposed to be finally off of it, but there are still lingering doubts about that (see below). This extended Die Zeit piece is all about how she – maybe, probably – managed to be one of the few who finally got themselves off of it. And as Die Zeit writer Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt puts it:

It is an example of the extent to which the USA after September 11, 2001 got carried away in its War on Terror – and how a security apparatus based on secrecy attempts to hide its mistakes, with their serious consequences, from the Public.

This is, after all, a blogpost, so I’ll get right to the essential point: Prof. Ibrahim was guilty of nothing, she was the victim of a Homeland Security bureaucrat checking the wrong box. The momentous result of that was not only a Christmastime visit from FBI officials while she was still studying at Stanford; being placed on the No-Fly List while she was still studying there so that she was briefly placed in detention while trying to fly back home out of San Francisco International Airport; once back in Malaysia, finding herself unable to return to the US to continue her studies; but also a nine-year campaign (costing $4 million in legal expenses) to clear her name and get her off that list.

It’s all scandalous, that someone could be treated this way – she was allowed to look at her rejected visa application at the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, only to see it stamped “TERRORIST” – but probably Weidmann-Schmidt’s most painful bit of text is where he describes how:

The [American] government did everything it could to block Rahinah Ibrahim’s process, with claims about state secrets and national security. For years it seemed as if they would succeed.

But they did not. She did get her trial, and after five years, last 15 April a federal judge ruled in Rahinah Ibrahim v. Department of Homeland Security that “Dr. Ibrahim is no threat to the national security of the USA” and that she should be removed from the No-Fly List.

That trial, by the way, was held in secret. Naturally, Prof. Ibrahim was not invited to testify at it personally – she could not enter the US! Rather, when it came time, her deposition (and cross-examination) was taken by video camera from a studio in London. What is more remarkable, though, is how obscure it still remains as an historical phenomenon: searching Google News for “Rahinah Ibrahim” right now yields only a reference to this Die Zeit piece about which I am writing and two others, in English, one from something called the Courthouse News Service, and the other from Al-Jazeera.

Weidmann-Schmidt’s piece does mention that Prof. Ibrahim does not like to speak with the press and was not particularly cooperative with Die Zeit’s inquiries. While perhaps understandable, that is surely not the way to help this case redound to the greater good – only by letting the outrage spread, one feels, will anything ever be done about this. For now, and for the question of why she felt it was worth nine years and $4 million to fight this, we have this from her video testimony:

I don’t want my children to hate America because of what has happened to me, without getting to know the America I have respected.

Well, I had to translate that last passage from the German – meaning that when it comes to that last verb in particular, it is ambiguous whether Prof. Ibrahim meant “the America I have respected [still]” or “the America I respected [but no more].” I’ll let you make your own guess as to her meaning.

(Oh, and Prof. Ibrahim still has not been granted a visa to return to the US. The reason is classified.)

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