Note: In preparing for a book I'm doing on the New McCarthyism, I've done some reporting on incidents from a few years back.
Mohamad Pharoan is a waiter at the Hyatt Regency at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. He’d worked there seven years when, on December 5, 2003, President Bush came to the hotel for a reelection fundraiser.
Pharoan, 58 at the time, was supposed to be serving tables at the banquet, but he wasn’t allowed to.
Because his name is Mohamad.
“When I reported to work,” Pharoan says, “the whole place was under Secret Service control. They checked my name at the door and I was standing in the hallway with my friends. My manager was talking to some Secret Service agents, and they were looking at me. Then he came up to me with worried eyes, and said, ‘Is your name Mohamad?’ He was my manager!”
Pharoan responded: “Of course, my name is Mohamad. You know that.”
The manager: “I’m sorry you have to go home. We cannot use you today.”
Pharoan says his manager, with the Secret Service following, escorted him all the way to his locker, where they watched him change his clothes.
“Then they showed me out the door, and I found myself in the snow,” he says.
Pharoan was born in Syria and “immigrated to the United States in 1992 and became a citizen in 1996,” according to The Washington Post. He was not happy with his treatment by the Secret Service.
“I did what they told me but I was extremely upset,” he says. “I never complained, I never asked questions, I just said OK. But I understood it; there was no need for big brains to understand what had happened. A cave man can understand what it was about.”
Pharoan then faced a dilemma: What to do?
This is how he puts it: “Do I eat that shit, or fight back?”
He decided to consult with his brother, Dr. Bash Pharoan, who is president of the Baltimore chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
“He said it’s up to you,” Pharoan recalls.
“I said, ‘I don’t eat shit. All my life I don’t eat shit.’
“So he said, ‘OK, let’s go to the press.’ ”
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee issued a press release saying it was “extremely concerned by the apparent discrimination against this individual, who is a United States citizen with no criminal record and a spotless employment history.”
The group also contacted the Secret Service and demanded an apology.
And it notified allies in Congress.
On December 10, four members of the House of Representatives—John Conyers, John Dingell, John Lewis, and Betty McCollum—circulated a letter to their colleagues.
The letter started by spoofing the MasterCard commercial:
”Price of Admission to Bush fundraiser in Baltimore: $2,000."
“Money Raised at Bush fundraiser in Baltimore: $1,000,000."
“Cost to an American citizen and seven-year hotel employee scheduled to work at the Bush fundraiser but sent home because his name was ‘Mohamad’: Humiliation, Discrimination, and Prejudice.”
The heart of the letter called the treatment of Pharoan a “monstrous form of discrimination” and a “gross violation of his civil liberties.”
It concluded by saying, “We cannot close our eyes to the blatant forms of discrimination that engulf the United States. We are better than this. At a minimum, we should expect our President to be as well.”
One day later, a spokesperson for Secret Service called Pharoan and said, “We would like to apologize to you.”
He accepted the apology.
The Secret Service also released a statement saying, “The Secret Service has apologized to Mr. Pharoan for any embarrassment or inconvenience caused last Friday when he was asked to leave the hotel.
We also assured Mr. Pharoan that his exclusion was in no way related to his ethnic and religious background.”
While Pharoan doesn’t buy that explanation, he let the matter rest.
“I made it clear that such things would not be eaten easily,” Pharoan says. “I just wanted to make a point: You cannot do that to people. My name is Mohamad. That doesn’t mean I’m a terrorist.”