Remember the various reports of "suspicious activity" on planes on the anniversary of 9/11? Here's the story of one of the people who was detained—apparently for being half-Arab and sitting next to two Indian men who got up to use the bathroom in succession. Very suspicious!
There are all these annoying things you're not supposed to do when you take a plane these days: Don't bring liquids. Don't crack jokes about being a terrorist. Oh, and don't be half-Arab—or Indian, or really any shade of brown—if you want to fly on 9/11. Self-described "half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife" Shoshana Hebshi learned that last tip the hard way, after being detained in Detroit on Sunday for several hours—seemingly because another passenger reported her, and her seatmates (whom she'd never met, and who didn't know each other), as being "suspicious."
Of course, when Hebshi's Denver-to-Detroit plane landed, she had no idea she was the target of the "[c]ops in uniform and plainclothes" who, she Tweeted at the time, were "huddle[d] in [the] rear of [the] plane." She quickly found out:
Before I knew it, about 10 cops, some in what looked like military fatigues, were running toward the plane carrying the biggest machine guns I have ever seen–bigger than what the guards carry at French train stations.
My last tweet: Majorly armed cops coming aboard
Someone shouted for us to place our hands on the seats in front of us, heads down. The cops ran down the aisle, stopped at my row and yelled at the three of us to get up. "Can I bring my phone?" I asked, of course. What a cliffhanger for my Twitter followers! No, one of the cops said, grabbing my arm a little harder than I would have liked. He slapped metal cuffs on my wrists and pushed me off the plane. The three of us, two Indian men living in the Detroit metro area, and me, a half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio, were being detained.
Hebshi—who goes out of her way to be nice about the people cuffing, searching and interviewing her—goes into detail about the process of being detained in a six-by-ten cell occupied only by a 'thin, green vinyl mattress,' strip-searched, and then eventually interrogated by two FBI agents:
They had done some background check on me already because they knew I had been to Venezuela in 2001. They asked about my brother and sister and asked about my foreign travel. They asked what I did during the flight. I told them I didn't get up at all, read, slept and played on my phone (in airplane mode, don't worry). They asked about my education and wanted my address, Social Security, phone number, Facebook, Twitter, pretty much my whole life story.
Again, I asked what was going on, and the man said judging from their line of questioning that I could probably guess, but that someone on the plane had reported that the three of us in row 12 were conducting suspicious activity. What is the likelihood that two Indian men who didn't know each other and a dark-skinned woman of Arab/Jewish heritage would be on the same flight from Denver to Detroit? Was that suspicion enough? Even considering that we didn't say a word to each other until it became clear there were cops following our plane? Perhaps it was two Indian man going to the bathroom in succession?
Hebshi was eventually released, needless to say—only to be confronted by a number of stories about her flight and the "suspicious" bathroom breaks she and her seat-mates allegedly took. (One report claimed that she and another passenger had joined the mile-high club.) She writes that she "probably won't be flying again on Sept. 11." We don't really blame her.