Tuesday, October 23, 2007

2007 AFF--Lotfi Abdelli Detained At San Francisco International Airport

Opening night for the Arab Film Festival was marred by the news that Lotfi Abdelli, the actor in the opening night feature Making Of, had been detained upon arrival at the San Francisco International Airport and questioned for nearly five hours by airport authorities regarding his possible terrorist leanings. They asked him, "What are you doing here?" He answered that he had been invited by the Arab Film Festival to accompany the opening night feature. He provided all his proper documentation. They waited a few minutes and began again, "What are you really doing here?" This went on for four and a half hours without the assistance of a translator or without word to his traveling companion and Kathy Kenny, chair of the festival's Board of Directors, who had arrived to pick him up.

This so outraged me that I negotiated a one-on-one interview with Lotfi to discuss the incident and that will be up on The Evening Class within the next few days. I further encouraged Kathy Kenny to contact the local media to report the incident. Michael Hawley, contributing writer here at The Evening Class took it upon himself to contact Leah Garchik at the San Francisco Chronicle to inform her as well. Garchik's column for today's Chronicle revealed the official explanation as being: "Artist or not, you are Arabic, you are young, you have potential."

I cannot express how sad and ashamed this makes me to be both a San Franciscan and an American citizen when the very tenor of a festival intended to promote communication and tolerance is met with thuggish law enforcement that prides itself on a misguided notion of how it is "protecting" its citizens. I do not believe that such harassment protects American citizens. I believe it breeds ill will and broadens the fissure between the people of the United States and the Mideast. It is not enough to say, "We are just doing our job." That rationalization has been used by henchmen throughout the ages, proving regretfully that the banality of evil continues to lie at our very doorstep.

The Evening Class profoundly regrets and condemns Abdelli's detainment at the airport and the official disregard of the festival's mission statement for further understanding and tolerance through the art of cinema. Michael Hawley and I both hope that the people of San Francisco themselves, the audiences at the festival, have helped to counter Abdelli's negative experience so that he can return to Tunisia with a clear perception that he was welcomed by San Francisco.

5 comments:

Brian said...

I had not heard this. Totally outrageous. My blood is boiling as I type this. And here we tend to think that San Francisco is somehow a progressive bubble, isolated from the effects of the Bush regime that depends on the demonizing of Arabs and Muslims. It's anguishing to realize that governmental officials hold the same policies. I too am very, very ashamed for my city today.

Brian said...

Oops. Left out a couple words. That meant to say "our local governmental officials"

The dangers of commenting angry...

Paul Martin said...

When I woke up on September 12, 2001 to learn of what had transpired a few hours earlier (911 occurred about 11pm our time), aside from the shock, I felt a profound sense of gloom. I knew that we were going to be bombarded for years with all kinds of propaganda, alienation of specific ethnicities, war and the like. I'm saddened, but not surprised, that an incident like this should happen in a supposedly free and modern society.

Adam said...

This news infuriates me. He had all the appropriate papers. Pelosi even assisted with the Visa, and this crap happens because he's 'Arabic'?. (No one is 'Arabic'! It's a language, not a people! Aaaaargh!!!) (And because FOX and the other Pravda-wannabees depict anyone who disagrees with their fearmongering as 'traitors', makes me wonder if the fact that Pelosi assisted with the Visa was part of the reason they stopped him. With this administration such is believable.) This is part of the reason why international friends of mine are now flying to Canada for connections rather than the U.S. because they are sick of dealing with these unsubstantiated, unnecessary, and, in the end because they distract from what really needs to be done, harmful procedures. We have to come back to a government that applies policy and procedures based on evidence and study rather than fear, anxiety, 'gut-feeling', and 'looking into his eyes to see his soul' BS.

Maya said...

Brian, Paul, Adam: Thank you for voicing your concerns. This is, at least, what we have left of the democratic process.