NY TIMES: “Shah Rukh Khan, ‘King of Bollywood,’ Was Detained at a U.S. Airport for the Third Time”

by Joseph McKeown

Shah Rukh Khan, the “King of Bollywood” and one of the most popular actors in the world, was detained and questioned at Los Angeles International Airport last week, making it at least the third time he has had difficulty entering the US. While it is not clear exactly why he was held—Customs and Border Protection (CBP) say they cannot comment on specific cases—Khan has expressed that it is most likely because his name is the same or similar to a known or suspected terrorist.      

Khan announced his detention at LAX to his 20.8 million Twitter audience: “I fully understand & respect security with the way the world is, but to be detained at US immigration every damn time really really sucks.” He added: “The brighter side is while waiting caught some really nice Pokemons.” Previously, Khan was detained in 2009 in Newark while in the United States to promote his film My Name is Khan, which deals with racial profiling of Muslims after the 9/11 attacks, and in 2012, when he was detained in White Plains, New York, on his way to address students at Yale. “Whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself, I always take a trip to America,” he later told the students. “They always ask me how tall I am and I always lie and get away with it and say 5 feet 10 inches. Next time I am getting more adventurous. ‘What color are you?’ I am going to say white.”

Khan’s many fans as well as Indian officials have condemned the stops and accused officials at American airports of racial profiling. In response, Rich Verma, the American ambassador to India, apologized to Khan on Twitter, saying that they are “working to ensure it doesn’t happen again.” Nisha Biswal, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, tweeted: “Sorry for the hassle at the airport, @iamsrk — even American diplomats get pulled for extra screening!”

Khan, who is estimated to have a net worth of $600 million in 2014, making him one of the richest actors in the world after Jerry Seinfeld, wrote in 2013 of being profiled and stopped at airports because of his name:  

I became so sick of being mistaken for some crazed terrorist who coincidentally carries the same last name as mine that I made a film, subtly titled My name is Khan (and I am not a terrorist) to prove a point. Ironically, I was interrogated at the airport for hours about my last name when I was going to present the film in America for the first time. I wonder, at times, whether the same treatment is given to everyone whose last name just happens to be McVeigh (as in Timothy)??

Many innocent individuals have mistakenly ended up on the terror watch list and no fly lists or faced travel problems because of similar names on the lists, including the late Senator Ted Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, and more than one minor, such as six-year-old Ohio girl Alyssa Thomas.

According to an investigation by The Intercept, federal government guidelines allow individuals to be “designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place entire ‘categories’ of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists.” Curiously, it also allows for dead people to be watchlisted. Political activists as well as Muslims who have refused to become confidential informants have been placed on the lists, leading critics to accuse the federal government of using the no fly list as retaliation. The Guardian reports that Washington had previously denied allegations that Khan was singled out because his name denotes him as a Muslim instead simply stating that someone with the same name is reportedly on the US no-fly list, causing him repeated problems when traveling to the US.