After passing through regular security checks at Newark Liberty International Airport on her way to a holiday in Istanbul, Kameelah Rasheed was called for further questioning by customs officers.
She was later allowed on the United Airlines flight, but eventually forced to leave the aircraft ahead of take-off to be interrogated by an FBI agent.
The 30-year-old Muslim American told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the two-and-a-half-hour ordeal a day earlier has left her traumatised and unable to consider flying anymore.
“It was an attempt to humiliate and ostracise me,” she said.
“I think this happened because I’m Muslim, because I’m travelling to Istanbul, because they have power with no checks and balances, because security means violating people’s rights, because there’s a general lack about what safety means, because people don’t understand basic geopolitical situations.”
She said that she was the only passenger of about 200 who was asked to leave the flight on Tuesday, as the customs officers confiscated her passport and phone.
“I was the only visibly Muslim person,” said the New York resident, who wears a headscarf.
“I don’t think there is a resurgence of Islamophobia after the Paris attacks. I think it never went away. It’s becoming more legitimised.
“Right after 9/11, you could do it [commit hate crimes towards Muslims] for a couple of years and no one would blame you … And now after Paris, it’s like, ‘look at what they did, I can treat them how I want’. We didn’t make any progress.”
The customs officers asked her several of the same questions repeatedly, she said, including: “Why are you flying? Where are you going in Istanbul? How can you afford to go on holiday? How much was the ticket price?”
“The questions were circular and nonsensical,” she said. “I wasn’t going to the border with Syria. I was going to the tourist locations, to see the Hagia Sophia and take a ferry across the Bosphorus.”
Rasheed was accused of having booked a one-way ticket, even after showing evidence of return flight tickets to the officers on her phone.
“I honestly feel very traumatised and shaken. I don’t feel comfortable flying at all,” she said. “I’m still very angry and hurt, but I have to temper that with not having expectations for being treated better. I shouldn’t expect any better. This is the militarised state that we have decided to live in.
“These are the consequences of me being Muslim and black and American – everything at the moment is organised around me being checked. This is what it is.”
Rasheed, an artist, educator, Stanford University graduate, Fulbright scholar and contributing editor at The New Inquiry, added that while another ticket had been booked for her, she was scared of being targeted again on her onward journey.
“It’s frustrating to me that I can’t fly like a normal human being,” she said, adding that she has been stopped for extra security several times before.
“My mum was saying to tie my scarf another way. I can’t be out in the world like other people without having to rearrange my entire life because someone else fears me for something I had nothing to do with?”