When the headline appears,“Terror Plot Foiled!”, most readers have mixed emotions: relief, pride in the police work, anxiety. My friend Mo’s first thought is, “Please don’t be named Mohammed!”
And unfortunately for him, the most recent alleged plot was done by none other than Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis . Now granted, when someone has five names, it does increase the chances of one of them being a match. Tack on Islam’s lingua franca Arabic and some converts adopting Islamic names and you get the joys and the pains of having one of the most popular names in the world.
My friend Mo is from Jordan. Quazi Mo is from Bangladesh. But they share a similar name so that means my buddy, who manages an online e-commerce site and enjoys tennis, gets lumped in with a 21-year-old Al-Qaeda sympathizer who enjoys watching videos of his ‘beloved Sheikh Osama bin Laden.’ In reality, all they have in common is a name and a penchant for wearing too much cologne.
To make matters more difficult, another Al-Qaeda extremist shares Jordanian Mo’s entire name. For years he has grown accustomed to going to the airport, checking in, and then being interrogated for an hour. Last time Mo had a business trip, instead of going to the counter, he just made a B-line for the security office.
The problems aren’t just for the Mo's. In May of this year, an 18-month-old, cute as a button little girl was pulled from an airplane because her Arabic name was shared with someone on the no-fly list. We can all sleep well knowing this pint-sized threat was removed from the friendly skies.
I have another buddy, an accountant and big time Will Farrell fan named Jihad. Yes, he gets around fine in the streets of Dubai, but going through the border at JFK shortly after 9/11 proved to be a challenge.
As if carrying the name most Americans associate with OBL and TNT wasn’t suspicious enough, when border agents asked why he was there, Jihad boldly declared ‘I'm a tourist!’. With his heavy accent, it sounds exactly like 'terrorist’. He probably should have lost the beard as well.
Needless to say, Jihad got picked for questioning faster than, well, a bearded guy named Jihad trying to get into America right after 9/11. I won’t go into detail about his ordeal but let’s just say he went ahead and cancelled his trip to the proctologist—it wouldn’t be necessary.
But all is not lost. I think the fact that we Americans voted in a president who almost shares a name with Osama bin Laden is a good sign that most Westerners can separate the name from the character of a person. We don’t expect every guy named Arnold to have massive biceps or be able to sink a putt from 50 feet so why expect every Mo to be a cut boxer or a Jihadist with box cutters.
So to all the Mohammeds and Jihads and Osamas out there --- feel free to cross our borders; keep your beards and your proctologist appointment. One bit of advice; when they query your reason for entering the states, just say sight-seeing. Ask Jihad-- tourism just doesn’t come out right.