Federal immigration officials have arrested a Saudi traveler in Detroit Metropolitan Airport who was transporting a pressure cooker for (*drum roll*) cooking traditional Middle Eastern cuisine. Hussain Al Khawahir was traveling to Detroit to visit his nephew who attends the nearby University of Toledo in Ohio. Al Khawahir is accused of using an altered passport when traveling due to missing pages and giving a false statement.
The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has a duty to investigate potentially dangerous situations, but one might question racial profiling as a motive in this matter. Previous investigations into TSA profiling at Logan Airport in Boston generated numerous complaints back in August 2012. Coupled with the sensationalism of the recent Boston Bombing, TSA agents across the country are likely on high-alert to identify and detain possible terrorist threats — but should that jeopardize civil liberties?
Defense Attorney, James Howarth and this to say about his client: "He doesn’t know about Boston," and "carrying a pressure cooker does not make you a criminal in the United States." Howarth explained that pressure cookers are now a "red-ticket" item because of the Boston Bombing.
Al Khawahir told officials at the airport that he brought the pressure cooker because we don't sell them in America. He later changed his story to say that his nephew had purchased a cheap one but it had since broken. Al Khawahir does not speak English, and it is likely that there was a misunderstanding.
According to Defense Attorney Howarth, it is common for Saudi Arabians to travel with pressure cookers because of the way their food is traditionally prepared. Airport officials should be well-aware that Detroit is a common travel destination for Middle-Easterners. Dearborn is a nearby suburb of Detroit and has a high concentration of Arab-Americans. The 2010 census indicated that 41.7% of the population identified as Arab ancestry.
Being fond of Middle Eastern cuisine, I wanted to learn more about traditional food preparation techniques using pressure cookers. In an interview with Kuhn Rikon Cookware, Egyptian chef and food television show “Bil Hanna Wa Shiffa" star Osama El-Sayed answered this question: "How does the pressure cooker lend itself to Middle Eastern Cooking?" His response: "Whether it's beans, or a stew simmered to perfection, a sauce or one pot meal eaten with traditional bread; all require a longer cooking process. The pressure cooker can reduce the time factor while maintaining the flavor."
Sounds delicious to me! Of course, as a white American female, it's probably unlikely that I will be detained or put on any watch list for purchasing a pressure cooker. TSA has made this a watch list item, so for those of you travelers who want to prepare traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, leave the potential explosives at home. I don't expect this to be the first watch list item added to an over-zealous agency looking to prove its existence is actually deterring safety threats. After all, snow globes are a prohibited item to carry on board if they carry more than 3.4 ounces of liquid.