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Indians Outraged, Burn U.S. Flags, After Homeland Security Detention of Country's Leading Star

Indian minister Ambika Soni suggested all Americans coming to India should be frisked.

Bollywood’s biggest star was detained for over an hour, maybe two, over the weekend at Newark International Airport. He says it’s because his name is Khan. The officials say it's because his baggage didn’t arrive.

India is outraged. American flags are burning. Indian minister Ambika Soni suggested all Americans coming to India should be frisked.

What America doesn’t understand is that Shah Rukh Khan is no ordinary Khan. He is “King Khan.” (He is not just an actor. He was the host of the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He’s been the face of Pepsi and Tag Heuer and Hyundai. He is the star of India, Inc.

As film critic Anupama Chopra, who wrote a biography of Shah Rukh Khan, said, “Shah Rukh Khan is part of our daily lives, on television constantly, plugging 20 products. He’s an omnipresent brand.”

Brand India showed up at Newark airport. And America didn’t wave it in. America didn’t even know who he was.

That is the real indignity. Bill Clinton was India’s special friend. George W. Bush made relations with India his special priority. Barack Obama sent Hillary Clinton there.

India got a special “for you only” nuclear deal. Its mangos now come to America.

But how special is this relationship if America can’t tell its good Khans from the bad ones? Even in this post-Slumdog Millionaire world, the Indian multimillionaire is just a TSA-official removed from being a mere slumdog.

Indians had better wise up.

American airports have always been a dangerous place in these days of color-coded security alerts.

Indian Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry canceled his U.S. book tour in 2002, worn out, he said, by “the 100 percent frequency of the so-called random checks at the airports.”

When Maher Arar, a telecommunications engineer with Canadian citizenship, was mistaken for an al Qaeda operative while in transit at JFK Airport en route to Canada he was whisked off to Syria and detained for over a year and tortured.

Mardin Amin, a 29-year-old Iraqi man, tried to downplay being pulled aside at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. He was traveling with his mother and two small children and was a little embarrassed when the immigration official pulled out a penis pump from his luggage. “Pump,” he apparently whispered to the official. The guard heard, “Bomb.” Amin was threatened with three years jail on felony disorderly conduct.

Shah Rukh Khan was two hours late for his concert in Atlantic City. He showed up in ripped jeans because his bags still hadn’t arrived. He created a fuss and the Indian consulate intervened.

Most people who show up at American borders and trip over the machinery of Homeland Security don’t have the full weight of their home country’s cabinet and a billion fans behind them. As Deepa Iyer, executive director of SAALT points out in her blog, “Mr. Khan’s incident might be gaining international attention because he is a celebrity, but the truth is that ordinary American citizens and immigrants here in the United States grapple with racial and religious profiling routinely at airports.”

What Shah Rukh Khan, who is used to traveling first class, didn’t realize is that there are many reasons you can get stopped at airports and thrown off airplanes. You could be wearing a Meet the Fockers t-shirt with the faces of George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney. You could be an imam praying at an airport terminal. Or you could be a royal princess of Qatar and not want to sit next to a strange man.

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