last thursday i saw theresa thanjan’s “whose children are these?” at the u of r. it is a documentary about how post 9/11 domestic national security measures have affected the lives of three muslim teenagers. the film focuses on one such program, special registration, which required male non-citizens (as young as 16) from 25 countries, to register with the department of justice. under this program, 83,000 muslim men got registered, 14,000 were deported, yet not one terrorist was found. the deportations were on account of immigration status violations, even if these constituted minor snafus.
the film follows the trials and tribulations of 3 teenagers. as we become better acquainted with them we are moved by their experiences. navila’s father is kept in a detention center for almost a year, then deported to bangladesh. all of a sudden, she becomes the father figure in her family. “i am tired”, she says later in the film, “i just want my dad back”. sarfaraz, a basketball-crazed new yorker who has already lost both his parents, is on the point of being deported to pakistan. at the last minute media attention and activism save him from being sent to a country he knows absolutely nothing about. hager, who wears the hijab, is confronted by strangers on the subway. a man calls her an arab bastard before making a quick exit. she responds to this racism by becoming an activist and educating people.
the film sheds some light on a subject that has been completely ignored by mainstream media and tells the stories of people who are lost in the deafening noise surrounding terrorism and fear. it is an admirable effort to delve into that which is not kosher by today’s standards – muslim communities in america.
what was even more heart-breaking was what many young muslim students had to tell theresa after the screening. they thanked her for making the film and for telling a small part of their stories. they talked about being held up at jfk airport every time they enter the u.s. for 6-8 hours and being harrassed in sadistic ways. they talked about being sent to a detention center in upstate ny, where they were kept for 3 weeks in spite of legal representation and without any accusation of being linked to terrorism. i found it difficult to hold back my tears. it is one thing to look at statistics and read stories in the paper. it is another to hear first hand accounts of racial profiling and the open-ended (and totally legal) persecution of communities across america. it is all the more painful and terrifying if the people being persecuted look like you and pray like you…