Passing Strange II

by Franklin Graham, February 1, 2012

Last fall I wrote a short piece, ‘Passing Strange,’ about the detention of my son, Franklin, by Customs and Immigration officials at Heathrow Airport. Franklin had flown to the United Kingdom in early September to interview for a job in Africa with a representative of Oxfam International. For reasons still unknown, the Customs officials denied Franklin entry into the United Kingdom and turned him over to Geo-Global,a private, for-profit company that houses detainees pending resolution of their status. He was held in confinement for 21 days, with no reason given and limited access to U.S. Consular officials. In the end, still without reasons given for his detention, Franklin was placed on a one-way flight back to Seattle, where his ill-fated trip originated. One can be forgiven if he or she believed that this was the end of the affair. It is not.

Before discussing the event of January 27, 2012, a little background is in order for those who are unfamiliar with Oxfam. The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was formed in 1942 by a group of British Quakers and Oxford academics. Their sole purpose at the time was to try to persuade the British government to allow food relief to the starving population of occupied Greece, then under Nazi control. Since that time, Oxford International has grown to comprise 15 organizations in 90 countries whose mission is to promote “lasting solutions to poverty and related injustice.” They are, in short, on the front lines of the war against hunger. By any measure this humanitarian organization is apolitical,universally respected, and in no way viewed as a threat to anyone.

Franklin, however, was, as stated, viewed as a threat for reasons never explained.

Franklin flew to Britain for the purpose of interviewing with Oxfam. He also intended to meet with his editor at the journal Review of African Political Economy, which has published some of his articles on food security in Mali and Niger. His recent Ph.D. thesis was on just such a topic. The journal, by the way, is a subsidiary of Routledge, a respected and long established academic publisher in the UK.

So, you might wonder, once released from what at the very least was unwarranted detention for three weeks, you would have thought Franklin was owed an apology and some explanation. No so. Franklin did not look back. He decided, after visiting his mother in Aberdeen, Washington, to fly on to Bangkok. A friend of his from Peace Corps days in Mauritania had invited him to visit, and to offer him a job teaching English in Cambodia. At this writing, having decided not to remain in Asia, Franklin is somewhere between Malaysia and Turkey, slowly winding his way back to his research area, North Africa.

On the home front (his mother’s house in Aberdeen is his legal address) appear two men with questions to ask his mother. It turns out that the two men at the door are a local policeman and an FBI Special Agent Kyle McNeal out of the Olympia, Washington office. Of course, they are fully aware of Franklin’s detention by the UK Customs and Immigration officials. They know everything about all that. Poor mother.

What is she to do but invite them into her home (mistake 1), agree to answer questions (mistake 2), and show them e-mails from and to Franklin (mistake 3). Franklin’s mother is an innocent. Her life, and by inference the life of her son, is an open book. When asked, she volunteers her driver’s license number, social security number, and God knows what else. She assures them of Franklin’s love of country and that he was only in the UK (that is, tried to visit the UK) for the purpose of interviewing for the Oxfam job in Africa.

All of this boils down to yet one more slice of the idiocy practiced by our vaunted Homeland Security apparatus. They’ve come so far as to demand that you take your shoes off at airports, submit to x-ray screening and pat downs, and surrender three-ounce jars of pesto at security check points. Pesto? Don’t ask! In short, there are no limits to what indignities we must submit to. Homeland Security now proposes to extend TSA Security screening to railroads, buses, and ferries. Yes, before long, if they have it their way, you will have to take your shoes off and submit to pat downs to take a Greyhound Bus to Fresno. And, don’t even think of taking that 3-ounce jar of pesto to a friend as a present.

Stay tuned. Franklin is a part-time resident of Anderson Valley.  He will come. In the meantime, with silly questions in hand, the FBI may be coming to your community. You haven’t said anything to offend TSA, have you?  Or, did you leave a question unanswered on the customs form when you tried to sneak a jar of pesto home? Oh Pangloss, where is that “best of all possible worlds” you speak of so eloquently? As for me, I’m dusting off my copies of Farenheit-451 and 1984 for my private film festival tonight.

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