Opinion Islamophobia: I wrote a sketch about Muslims at airport security. Guess what happened next

by Aatif Nawaz

Being stopped in airports happens all too often to people like me. Why must we pay the price for widespread prejudice?

I know it’s coming – the double-take at my face, the auxiliary taps on the keyboard, the indiscreet scribble on my boarding pass. I find myself thinking a familiar thought: thank God I came early.

On what seemed like a packed flight from London to Los Angeles – I was the only person pulled aside for “random additional security screening”.

Pushed and prodded, it can be difficult to remain patient and go the extra mile to be compliant

A cursory glance around me tries to identify what it was about me that made me different. Was it the fact I was travelling alone? Nope, definitely some other lonely faces in the queue. Was is my tracksuit bottoms and snapback? Nope, plenty of other people who opted for comfort over aesthetics on this flight. I sighed. I know what it is. I’ve known all along. It’s the same thing it always is:

My name, Aatif Nawaz.

I smile politely as I’m told to raise my hands as a security officer wipes over them with a device that resembles a service station toothbrush. I wonder how many hands those bristles have touched. Mental note: wash hands at earliest opportunity.
Without looking up, the security officer asks, “What’s the purpose of your visit to LA?”
“Holiday,” I reply.
“Why LA?”
“Working on my tan,” I smile.
“Tan?” he smirks.
I know what the smirk was about. I don’t take the bait.
“Yes. It’s 40 degrees out there.”

He goes through my laptop bag, inspecting each item carefully. My laptop, my book, sequence of chargers, some chewing gum and stationery. The only moment that made me tense was when he flicked through the pages of my notebook.

You see, somewhere near the middle was the outline of a comedy sketch about a Muslim man who gets stopped by airport security. This outline became the basis for a comedy sketch that featured in Muzlamic, a comedy show written by and starring myself and my good friend Ali Shahalom. Approximately 12 hours before this security official was messing with my pristine bag organisation structure, our show was broadcast on BBC Three.

Eventually, I was allowed the rejoin the queue to board. I put my earphones in and let the soothing sounds of Tupac Shakur get me back into a California Love state of mind. I tried my best to avoid letting the irony of what just happened consume my thoughts. And then I feel another tap on my shoulder.

“Excuse me … I saw you on TV yesterday. You were really funny.”

I smiled and thanked my fellow traveller for their kind words. I’m still at the entry point of fame, where such encounters are exhilarating rather than irritating.

“Oh my God, did you just get stopped by airport security? Like in your show?”
“I did.”
“So it really does happen?”
“It does.”


‘I open my notebook and make a list of how many times I could remember having been stopped at airport security. After nine, I decide it’s a fruitless endeavour.’ Photograph: David Pearson/Alamy Stock Photo



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