Amjad Nasser, a leading Jordanian poet, novelist, and journalist, was denied entry to the United States earlier this week, the Arab Lit blog reported. Nasser was slated to speak yesterday at New York University’s Gallatin School, where he was to inaugurate a lecture series called “Gallatin Global Writers” alongside Sinan Antoon. The event proceeded as planned, with Nasser participating via Skype.
The writer, who holds British citizenship, was reportedly stopped at London’s Heathrow Airport, where Department of Homeland Security officials informed him that he could not travel to the United States due to his presence on an official blacklist. In an article on the incident in Jadaliyya, Nasser, who has been published in the US by Bloomsbury and Tavern Books (in a translation by the Palestinian-American poet and Guggenheim Fellow Fady Joudah), gave the following account of his interaction with American officials:
The Homeland Security person who was interrogating me on the phone knew somehow from inside the airport that I am a poet and a writer and that I have an invitation from New York University to give an inaugural reading for a new cultural program. But that did not matter to him. He knew that I was a journalist and that I have never had any other profession my whole life, but that did not matter to him. He knew that I was approaching sixty years of age, but that did not matter to him. He knew, of course, that I have British citizenship, which cannot be acquired, I imagine, by someone “suspicious,” but that did not matter to him since he was exercising his own American dominion on British soil. Despite knowing all this he said: I am sorry. You cannot board this departing plane (It had already taken off) to New York.
Artists and writers with backgrounds on the wrong side of geopolitical boundaries frequently find themselves unable to travel for their work. Earlier this summer, the Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar was barred from travel, without rationale, by Israeli authorities. Though the ban was later relaxed, Jarrar was unable to participate in programming connected to his work at the New Museum and White Box. In 2011, a plane carrying Bolivian activist and performer Raquel Gutierrez was even prevented from passing through US airspace due to her presence on the blacklist.
The “blacklist” is in fact two — the No Fly List, inaugurated by the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11, and the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, which predates it. The former contains over 20,000 names; the latter over 400,000 unique names (and 1 million entries) as of March 2009. There is no recourse available for those who believe themselves to be wrongly listed.
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