I just read this in the NY Times and if this isn’t anti-terror fever run amok I don’t know what is:
Nalini Ghuman, an up-and-coming musicologist and expert on the British composer Edward Elgar, was stopped at the San Francisco airport in August last year and, without explanation, told that she was no longer allowed to enter the United States.
Her case has become a cause célèbre among musicologists and the subject of a protest campaign by the American Musicological Society and by academic leaders like Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College at Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where Ms. Ghuman was to have participated last month in the Bard Music Festival, showcasing Elgar’s music.
But the door has remained closed to Ms. Ghuman, an assistant professor at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., who is British and who had lived, studied and worked in this country for 10 years before her abrupt exclusion.
The mystery of her case shows how difficult, if not impossible, it is to defend against such a decision once the secretive government process has been set in motion.
After a year of letters and inquiries, Ms. Ghuman and her Mills College lawyer have been unable to find out why her residency visa was suddenly revoked, or whether she was on some security watch list. Nor does she know whether her application for a new visa, pending since last October, is being stymied by the shadow of the same unspecified problem or mistake.
In a tearful telephone interview from her parents’ home in western Wales, Ms. Ghuman, 34, an Oxford graduate who earned her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, said she felt like a character in Kafka.
“I don’t know why it’s happened, what I’m accused of,” she said. “There’s no opportunity to defend myself. One is just completely powerless.”
So what could possibly have placed her on a watch list? I guess it must be her expertise in Elgar, writer of Pomp and Circumstance:
But Ms. Ghuman’s case does not seem to fit such a pattern. Few believe that her book in progress, “India in the English Musical Imagination, 1890-1940,” or her work on Elgar, best known by Americans for “Pomp and Circumstance,” could have raised red flags in Washington. And if it were a question of security profiling, nothing in her background fits.
She was born in Wales. Her mother is a British homemaker, and her father, an emeritus professor of educational psychology at the University of Wales, was born in India to a Sikh family and moved to Britain in the 1960s.
I never knew there was some pro-terror secret message hidden in that particular piece of music. Condi must know something we don’t.
Here’s the story of what actually happened to her at the San Francisco airport that day:
Ms. Ghuman’s descent into the bureaucratic netherworld began on Aug. 8, 2006, when she and Mr. Flight returned to San Francisco from a research trip to Britain. Armed immigration officers met them at the airplane door and escorted Ms. Ghuman away.
In a written account of the next eight hours that she prepared for her lawyer, Ms. Ghuman said that officers tore up her H-1B visa, which was valid through May 2008, defaced her British passport, and seemed suspicious of everything from her music cassettes to the fact that she had listed Welsh as a language she speaks. A redacted government report about the episode obtained by her lawyer under the Freedom of Information Act erroneously described her as “Hispanic.”
Held incommunicado in a room in the airport, she was groped during a body search, she said, and was warned that if she moved, she would be considered to be attacking her armed female searcher. After questioning her for hours, the officers told her that she had been ruled inadmissible, she said, and threatened to transfer her to a detention center in Santa Clara, Calif., unless she left on a flight to London that night.
Outside, Mr. Flight made frantic calls for help. He said the British Consulate tried to get through to the immigration officials in charge, to no avail. And Ms. Ghuman said her demands to speak to the British consul were rebuffed.
“They told me I was nobody, I was nowhere and I had no rights,” she said. “For the first time, I understood what the deprivation of liberty means.”
As Ms. Ghuman tells it, the officers said they did not know why she was being excluded. They suggested that perhaps a jilted lover or envious colleague might have written a poison pen letter about her to immigration authorities, she said, or that Mills College might have terminated her employment without telling her. The notions are unfounded, she said.
One officer eventually told her that her exclusion was probably a mistake, and advised her to reapply for a visa in London after a 10-day wait. But it took more than eight weeks for her file to be transferred to the United States Embassy in London, in part because of routine anthrax screening at the State Department.
As for the possibility that she has been deemed a security threat, Ms. Ghuman said: “It’s not only insulting and heartbreaking, but how? In what way? Musicians, dangerous people? Is it my piano playing?
“I have no indication at all,” she added, “and it has been 13 ½ months.”
This is an outrage beyond words. And the fact that the State Department has allowed it to continue for so long without rectifying what is clearly a idiotic, incompentent mistake is beyond belief. It makes this country look like the absolute buffoons we sometimes are to the rest of the world, not to mention that it makes democracy as practiced (or not) by the Bush Administration into the laughingstock of the civilized world.
I have seen this lady at Mills College concerts – in the 2005-06 school year, clearly. THis story horrifies me. Good God. Makes me grateful I haven’t been flying recently. SFO is my local airport.
I totally agree. This absurdist outrage makes us look like utter lobotomized buffoons. It is this sort of crazy through-the-looking-glass behavior that prompts Western Europeans particularly, and people throughout the world, to understandably conclude we’re a bunch of paranoid yahoos. As a big fan of Elgar, and British classical music generally, I can attest with fair certainty that there are no jihadist sentiments buried in the music (or the libretto in the choral stuff).
I think I’ll double-check though. Ya know, there is something in Elgar’s expression, from old portraits I’ve seen in those CD filler sleeves of his music, that might remind me just slightly (just a tiny tad) of Bin Laden. So, when it comes to an Elgar expert like this British musicologist. You can never be too careful!
If the government gives “Third Reichs” rights to security officers they eventuially begin to behave like Nazis.
Well Americans should not be wining in future of the few tourists and more importantly of the lack of talented people coming to study to USA. Good thing for European universities and industry. 🙂
Zhu Bajie says
“They suggested that perhaps a jilted lover or envious colleague might have written a poison pen letter about her to immigration authorities….”
Keep this in mind. Anonymous denunciations, for the most trivial of reasons, can harm anyone.
Zhu Bajie, alive in the bitter sea
DHS is trying to prevent violins against Americans ?
I’m starting to wonder if the underlying purpose of this sort of thing is to dissuade people from travelling at all?