Two Worlds MAG

May 28, 2008
By Omar Kattan, Culver, IN

I walked to U.S. Customs in Chicago with my Jordanian passport clutched in my hand and my backpack over my shoulder. The man at the Customs window was dressed in a sophisticated black suit with badges all over his top pocket and a .45 caliber pistol. When I handed him my passport, he began questioning me as if I were from another planet.

The first question made me feel unwelcome: “Why are you coming here?” Can’t I visit other countries? In Jordan they would say, “Welcome to Jordan.” He continued questioning me, almost to the point where I wanted to catch a return flight home. After a long conversation, he wrote a code on my Customs paper.

As I walked away, I felt relieved. However, after my third step, a security guard with a night stick and a gun approached me and asked for my passport. From this moment on, I knew I would be treated differently from other arrivals. He read my code and ordered me to follow him. Everyone else seemed to be having a great time, talking and laughing. How­ever, when they glanced at me they would get a funny look.

The security officers led me to an ­office where they emptied my bags, and, as before, questioned me about everything. They asked why I had nail clippers. I wondered if it was a joke. Why does anyone have nail clippers? But since I am from Jordan maybe he thought we had other uses for them. I gave the only answer that made sense: “To cut my nails.” Finally after a long time, I was released.

At last I saw the Culver sign and ­headed toward it. I boarded the bus and thought about home and how I was ­going to face big differences in culture and habits. I felt excited to come here, but ­realizing I would have to struggle made me less eager.

I worried that the airport would be an indicator of my entire experience. The Customs and security personnel treated me like a terrorist, as if I was the reason for their sons and daughters dying in Iraq or in the Twin Towers.

Although I grew up thousands of miles from New York City, after September 11th, my life changed. My brother told me that America no longer trusted Middle Easterners. The Middle East was in a state of chaos, ­hatred, and tyranny. Even though Jordan was the calmest country in the area, Jordanians were becoming frustrated with what was happening in their region. This is when events started to reel out of control. Numerous terrorist acts harmed the reputation of the country and the region.

As a Catholic in a predominantly ­Islamic state, I am familiar with Muslim beliefs. True Muslims do not believe in terrorism; in fact, they oppose it. Just ­because some terrorists are Muslims does not mean the majority supports this, yet anyone who is a Muslim is likely to be labeled a terrorist. As my father used to say, “Do not judge people by their looks – judge them by their actions.”

Coming to the U.S. for my high school education has been an experience of a lifetime, and although I struggled at first with some students calling me a terrorist, I stood up for myself and ­explained the nature of the conflict. Since most of my peers were not familiar with what was going on, I do not blame them.

Now, I feel I am a mature person, and I like to put myself in the position of a judge presiding over a trial between the U.S. and the Middle East. I have a clear advantage in this case because I have learned the beliefs of both cultures and would be able to resolve the conflict ­fairly. If more people from the Middle East were able to take the risk and do what I have done by coming to the U.S. to study, these issues would be much closer to resolution.

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This article has 7 comments.

love2run GOLD said...
on Jun. 16 2010 at 5:52 pm
love2run GOLD, Star Valley, Wyoming
12 articles 4 photos 64 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I failed my way to success." Thomas Edison
"What kind of crazy nut would spend two or three hours a day just running?" Pre
"A ship in harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are built for." John Shedd

This is GREAT. I love how honest you are about it all, not sugar coating anything and saying what you really mean. Nice job, keep it up!!!

on Jun. 16 2010 at 2:24 am
K9_Typical_Islander SILVER, Koror, Other
7 articles 0 photos 47 comments

Favorite Quote:
Hours of boredom followed by moments of excitement (and adrenaline)- that's fishing

I like this piece. It serves as an eye-opener. My parents have said something similar to what you wrote in it, that "Just because of their religion that it means that they're bad, in this case terrorist. Religion does not label a man 'good' or 'bad', it is what they do with it that determines their labeling." This piece gives a dual-perspective on customs- the visitor (who has the right to travel) and guard (who has a reason to question reason). Nicely written.

on May. 25 2010 at 8:57 am
TheStoryWeaver GOLD, Sofia, Other
12 articles 4 photos 40 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The Aenied is an Odyssey of epic proportions." - Caleb
"Eve was deceived and ate the fruit, Adam ate it out of stupidity." - Mr. M
"Begone ye map of woe!"
"I'm the map..." - Lydia and Caleb.

 Yes, but that is only a couple of people. Should I judge Americans based on three or four people?  Those aren't the customs anyways-- to discriminate. 

BTW, really good article. I can kinda relate to you because I live in a post-Communist country in Eastern Europe. 

anon said...
on May. 3 2010 at 10:27 am mentioned that americans should judge muslim people by ''action not the looks''you see after some one commits an action such as 9/11 its already too it so wrong of americans to judge before the action like that occures?Stop being so sensitive and accept the custums...i personally think its stupid to chek only people who dress as muslims or have muslim names(like its hard to disguise as american and be terrorist at the same time...)

310laura said...
on Jan. 26 2009 at 6:56 pm
good story lol

on Jan. 23 2009 at 10:35 pm
hey hey hey!!!

Senior Mom said...
on Dec. 18 2008 at 10:29 pm
I am a muslim myself that grew up in the US......and i feel that after 911 the non-muslim community looks at all muslims as terrorist. Maybe u can add and express more as to how u feel when people behave this way towards u.

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