SIGNAL BOOST: Racial Profiling and Harassment at WorldFest Film Festival in Houston

UPDATE (4/23): For more updates, please see this post. Thank you.

UPDATE (4/22): Houston Press wrote an online article covering this incident, including speaking with another student (who remained anonymous) who corroborated the story. They also attempted to contact WorldFest for a statement, which was initially ignored. However, after the story broke, Hunter Todd wrote in response to the Houston Press article, which has now been added to that article. Here is a link to the full article: “W[t]F? WorldFest Founder/CEO Hunter Todd Searches Fest Attendee’s Bag ‘Because She Is a Muslim’.”

EDIT (4/21): I have been informed (and by that I mean berated) that my use of the words “racism” and “racial profiling” in connection with this is “fraudulent” because Islam is not, in fact, a race. I am actually aware of this, however I wasn’t sure what other terms would work, and assumed that “racial profiling” at least got the main issue across. Furthermore, I do not know the Muslim student personally, but I believe that the harassment was motivated entirely on her physical appearance as Middle Eastern (I don’t know if she wore a hijab or any other visual markers as Muslim or not), which WOULD in fact place it in the realm of racial profiling. However, if anyone has a preferred term, and would like to inform me, I am all ears.

Original Post (4/20): I apologize for my long absence, but I am breaking radio silence in order to spread the word about a serious matter, and ask you all a favor.

I would like to ask you all to spread the word on an incident of racial profiling and harassment here in Houston.  My brother is a film student at the University of Houston, and was attending the WorldFest International Film Festival in Houston today – a Film Festival, I might add, that is supposed to be inclusive, and aimed toward fostering discussion between students and professionals in the film industry – when he witnessed the founder/director of the Festival demand to search the bag of the only Muslim student in attendance (and ONLY her bag).

As he does not have a blog, he has asked me to share the explanation he wrote on his facebook page.  Please read this and spread the word:

From Mike Rudd’s Facebook Page:

“I had a very revealing time at WorldFest Houston today with the founder and director Hunter Todd proving what an ignorant and aggressive person he really is.

Before the morning seminar at WorldFest this morning, everyone was gathered in the seminar room for the lectures start when the hotel’s fire alarm went off. The founder and director of WorldFest, Hunter Todd, told everyone to stay in the room before he went to a girl, a Muslim UH student and classmate of mine, and demanded to search her bag. She tried to show him her pass to prove she was supposed to be there, but he demanded to search every single pocket of her bag anyway. I’d like to add he did so with a great deal of rudeness and attitude. She complied and showed him the her bag, after this he walked off and didn’t ask to search any of the dozens of other bags in the room.

At this point I called a professor of mine and told him about the incident and asked if it would be appropriate for me to say something in her defense. I then went to Hunter Todd and asked him if he did in fact demand to search her bag and if so why. He told me, “because she is a Muslim and a suspicious character, now sit down.” I told him I would not sit down and that this was unacceptable and racial profiling. I offered to take it outside to discuss with him and he then said, “no you’re one of the people I despise the most and you’re an obnoxious little bastard, now sit down or I’ll have you thrown out. In response I said he should feel free to throw me out, at which point I pulled out my cell phone to call someone about the situation. At this point he lunged towards me grabbed me with both hands and tried to take my phone from me. I separated myself from him told him not to touch me and left the room to avoid further escalation.

Later, I called WorldFest to file an official complaint about a racial incident involving there founder and director. I was placed on hold for several minutes when a woman named Kathleen picked up. I told her I was calling to file a complaint about a racial incident involving their founder and director and asked her what her position was at WorldFest. Ignoring this, she asked my name. I told her I would not give my name until she told me what position she held. More rudely she said “you called us now tell me your name”. I told her that in this situation I would not give her my name or any info when I did not know who I was talking with. This is when she yells loudly in the the phone “TELL ME YOUR NAME RIGHT NOW!” Not willing to give into to this I told her that if that was going to be how it was I would go straight to the press and that I was hanging up. She began to yell something else at me as I hung up the phone.

All of this because at an INTERNATIONAL film festival, an ignorant and aggressive man, Hunter Todd, decided it was okay to target a student for being Muslim.  The saddest part of all is that the girl felt it was wrong, but that it was just the way it goes. Worse still, was that to her point not a single other person in the room of the dozens in attendance said or did anything in her defense.”

My brother has currently contacted several news stations who said they would look into it, though we do not know for certain that they will take any serious interest in the story.  His professor, who is known among local Houston television people, is also contacting people. My brother has TRIED to file a complaint with the police on account of Hunter Todd’s physical contact and attempt to literally take the phone from his hand, but the officer Mike spoke to said there was nothing to be done. My brother is planning to contact a different officer who may be more willing to take this seriously.

We are also considering the option of contacting the ACLU, though that would probably have to come more directly from the Muslim student, rather than from my brother who only witnessed the initial harassment.

In the meantime, we would appreciate it if you could spread the word about this atrocious behavior. Reblog this post. Link to it in other places. EMBARRASS THIS ORGANIZATION AND THIS MAN.  Remind people that there is NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for racial profiling, racism, or harassment.

Here is WorldFest’s Facebook Page and Twitter Profile. Tell them what you think about this unacceptable behavior.

Thank you.

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32 thoughts on “SIGNAL BOOST: Racial Profiling and Harassment at WorldFest Film Festival in Houston

  1. You are ridiculous. First of all, islam is not a race, so your complaint of “racial profiling” is fraudulent to begin with. Second, we just watched the upteenth occurrence of islamic jihad driven terror blow up an 8 year old boy and blow the legs off of 15 people, and yet you continue to believe in the fantasy that no one should ever suspect a muslim of anything ever and under any circumstances. Where was your outrage when CNN and other news outlets started to point the finger at right wing Christians being behind Boston bombing without having a hint of evidence nor reason for the suspicion? Were you outraged at that as well? Of course not. You don’t seek justice nor do you seek peace. The frauds who misseducated you taught you only to seek a feeling of moral superiority…by imagining racism whenever there is a conflict. To you, racism is the only evil, it can be found everywhere, and only people like you can save us all from this horror. Grow up. Worry about the missing limbs from the victims of islamic terrorism first, then maybe we can solve the slightly discomforting feelings you describe regarding your friend.

    • I am going to try to reply to this as reasonably as possible, despite the fact that your comments are extremely condescending and hostile and narrow-minded.

      A) I have edited my post to acknowledge your criticism that racism is the incorrect term. I did actually know that, and thought about it as I was publishing the post, but was not sure what other word would suffice. And as I have said in the edited comment, I do not know the Muslim student who was harassed personally, I have no idea if she visually identified as Muslim, and I suspect she was harassed for merely LOOKING Middle Eastern.

      B) I have not posted on this blog in at least a couple months, and I do not regularly post about political issues because this blog is mainly about writing and science fiction and film reviews, etc. So how would you know if I did or did not express outrage at any of the other things you mention. I HAVE, in fact, expressed outrage about all these things in conversations with friends, on Tumblr, with my family, and even on occasion with my students. But as I do not generally post about politics, and as I am a very busy PhD student and English teacher and therefore have not had time to post on this blog AT ALL, you would not know that. The only reason I posted THIS one was because my brother had already written the bulk of it in order to share his account, and did not have a blog and so asked me to spread the word.

      C) YES, I was just as outraged at the unfounded accusations of right-wing Christians as I am to Muslim “terrorists.” I have, in fact, asked several friends and family NOT to sling accusations around when there was no proof of anything either way. And to imply that because I am upset by this incident means that I do not care about the victims of the bombing is not only completely illogical, it is also narrow-minded and cruel. For one thing: the college student was not and is not a Islamic terrorist, and therefore feeling for her situation can have absolutely no bearing on my feelings for the bombing victims. And for another thing: despite the fact that the two Boston bomber suspects are Muslim, I am waiting for proof that they are in fact “jihadists.”

      D) I am not seeing racism where there is none. Nor do I think racism is the only source of conflict. I also believe in the serious problems of class warfare, religious contention, and just plain GREED to name a few. Nor am I saying that we must never suspect a Muslim of being involved in anything. However, in a context such a film festival (and not even a particularly large one) with a group of college students and film professionals, when NO ONE has any reason to suspect ANYONE of ANYTHING, when a single student who LOOKS Middle Eastern or Muslim is singled out to be searched and harassed, while absolutely every other single person in the room is left alone, THAT my friend is DEFINITELY racism (or, if you object to that term, Islamaphobia may better suit you, but it’s still the same problem).

      E) Finally, I object to many things. I am outraged and horrified by many things. Most of them I have little control over, except when it comes time to vote or sign a petition – which sadly, I know, doesn’t really help much. I don’t write about most of them, though I talk about all of them. But I posted this because, despite what you may think, it IS a problem, and it is a SERIOUS problem – because these kinds of underlying attitudes are what usually LEAD to the greater more violent conflicts – and because unlike all the large political and military issues I have no control over, this is something LOCAL. This is something that I might actually be able to influence just by spreading the word and being vocal. And that’s at least a good place to start.

      Now, I suggest you look at yourself and your own attitudes before you start attacking people who are only trying to help in what little ways we can.

  2. I was attending this master class and I saw a heated exchange and Hunter go for the phone/device in his hands, but I couldn’t hear what was being said. I am covering Worldfest for WhatCulture.com and would be interested in looking into this more.

  3. you, your brother or someone ANYONE should find the emails of all the staff of WorldFest as well as the contact info for their board of directors and send a SCATHING email COPY ALL and shame the crap out of them. i was recently involved in a dispute with a local art-based non-profit & when i copied everyone in the entire organization with a brutal email telling them that if they didn’t correct the situation to my satisfaction, i was going public with it in the art community of houston & i would rail against them to everyone who would listen. everything got solved 12 hours later.

    but definitely contact the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Houston chapter (CAIR-Houston): http://www.cairhouston.org/ i worked with them once & they are super amazing & super awesome. they would find this VERY interesting.

    • Thank you very much for the suggestion. That sounds like a good idea. But I think at this point, it would be more up to the Muslim student whether she wished to contact them or the ACLU, and she has decided that she wants to put it behind her and not take any legal action. So all my brother and I can do at this point is continue to spread the word (and it is spreading pretty far) in hopes of so thoroughly embarrassing this organization that they do something about it on their own.

  4. Good for you both, Amanda and Mike. I wish you all the snowballing power of the Internet!

    And to the bizarrely belligerent early anonymous commenter, I would also add that while Islam obviously isn’t a race (pretty sure Amanda knew that), unfortunately that doesn’t stop or even slow down people such as yourself (and apparently, Hunter Todd) who merely see a brown person and react in panic—who think it’s advisable and responsible to jump straight to “missing limbs” and “jihad-driven terror.” This is the same kind of deadly knee-jerk assumption that made it almost impossible for my mild-mannered, atheist/physicist ex-husband (London-born, parents both from Delhi, Sikh heritage) to go anywhere in public in the US after 9/11, even wearing his cap with an American flag sewn on it. Certainly no one stopped to ask him his religious affiliation before reacting. And, I doubt you’d call it “slight discomfort” if you had the continual experience of violated civil liberties. Strangers don’t get to go through YOUR belongings just because of your appearance, and I feel certain you’d protest strenuously if they did. Good luck, sir, with all that privilege, which is so much on display in your comment.

  5. Notice how irrational, spittle-flecked Islamophobe responses like the one at the top of the thread are always posted to comboxes and chatrooms with made-up names? These clowns rely on total anonymity because their nonsense cannot withstand scrutiny outside the self-confirming enclaves they inevitably inhabit. Their “arguments” are frayed; pull at any one string, and they unravel.

    • I completely agree. And I assumed the commenter was not actually interested in any real, civil discussion, but I decided to respond anyway so that I could make my position as clear and reasonable as possible – more for others who might read it than for him. Thank you.

  6. I’ve already retweeted and shared your brother’s facebook post – I also would like to let both you and your brother know that I recently worked at KUHF, and if you’re still interested in generating interest there I’m fairly sure I could make sure that story got covered. You’ve mentioned in comments since though that that may no longer be an issue as the student who was profiled is trying to protect her own privacy which I understand. If you’re still interested in pursuing it though, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

    • Thank you very much for sharing the post, and for your interest. I will tell my brother about your offer so that he can ask his classmate how she feels about it. I do suspect at this point, however, that it will just be up to social media to embarrass the organization enough.

  7. If that’s the case, please let me know anything further I can do to help on that account – and thank you for getting this out there as best you can.

  8. Manda, I think the ‘proper’ saying could be Ethnic Profiling. I’ve been thinking of it since reading yesterday, and this is what I came up with.

    • Thanks, Joey! We’ve been dealing with various comments and contacts all weekend. I’m glad it’s getting attention, but it’s difficult to keep up with all of this.

  9. Big fucking deal. I’ve had authorities search me many times, for various reasons, and I have been treated much worse, and i wasn’t even muslim! Boo fucking hoo. The sooner you educate yourself about islam and how morally perverted it is, and why that illiterate nut-job mohammed kept changing his so called quran so it could benefit him (and everything that entailed that), the better off you’ll be. Your brainwashed mind is making my dick itch.

    • Your comment does absolutely nothing but prove how ignorant, racist, and Islamaphobic you are. Your attitude is precisely the same attitude Hunter Todd portrayed. And you are precisely the problem.

    • “Jpm” –

      You have totally missed the point and proven how small minded and bigoted you are with your post.

      I’ve had authorities search me many times as well, all since 9/11. Do you know why? It’s because I have darker than standard Caucasian skin tone and facial features that most people can’t racially attribute, so most assume I’m either Mexican or Arabic, neither of which is the case. Post 9/11, I’ve yet to fly anywhere without being selected for a “random bag search”. I have no problem being searched by authorities, but I have a massive problem with WHY I’m being searched by authorities. No matter how well or badly dressed I am going through security checkpoints, I’m singled out because they assume I look suspicious because of my skin tone. I live near the largest small arms munitions plant in the United States and have, back in 2003 when I was 18 years old, was in a car that had inadvertently taken the wrong turn off the roundabout drive that connected two highways and the munitions plant when the driver got lost. When the driver attempted to turn around, we were stopped by military police who at first just asked the driver what we were doing until they saw me in the passenger seat. Do you know what it is like to have a M16 pointed in your face by a pissed off MP? I do. I was frisked, the car I was in was searched, I was honestly scared for my life because these redneck soldiers thought I was some “Ter’rist” trying to attack the ammo plant. We weren’t let go until one of them went through my wallet and found the military ID card.

      I’m not a Muslim, in fact I was raised in a Southern Baptist household as the grandson of a preacher, so I’ll just throw that out there in case you think I’m just some Muslim crying on this blog. I grew up as the child of a career military man, yet I harbor Muslims no ill will. The actions of the few do not justify condemning the many. People like to stress that Al’Qaeda is a MUSLIM terrorist organization and they use that to vilify all Muslims regardless of affiliation. Have you ever heard of the Army of God? It was a CHRISTIAN terrorist organization which bombed numerous abortion clinics in the 90s, but nobody started looking at Christians with suspicion. Here’s something else you probably don’t know – the KKK identifies itself as a Protestant Christian organization and it has been terrorizing minorities for over a century. Should we demonize white Christians as well because of these individuals? Of course not. So why have Muslims been targeted as the newest socially acceptably discriminated group when Christians weren’t? Simple – because they are a minority. It is hard to have widespread discrimination against a populace majority such as white Christians, but when you have a small segment of population that you can vilify, things become much easier. It has always been someone – it was the Chinese immigrant workers in the 1800s, the early 1900s it was the Irish and Italian immigrants who were “taking all the jobs”, during WW2 it was the Japanese Americans who were relocated into internment camps, and after that it was the Mexicans who were coming in and stealing all the work. Some minority group has always been the sanctioned pariahs and after 9/11, it became the Muslim Americans and people of Arabic heritage.

      You claim that the holy texts of Islam, the Qur’an, are full of evil and brainwashing, but the same can be said of holy texts of many religions.

      The Bible itself has many horribly violent directives in the Old Testament:
      — Leviticus 16:24 says to stone anyone who is blasphemous to death.
      — Deuteronomy 13:5-10 and 17:2-5 both talk about killing anyone who believes in a different deity or attempts conversion of a Christian.
      — Deuteronomy 21:18-21 is another lovely segment, which tells Christians to kill their children if their children refuse to obey them.
      — Numbers 15 has a lovely passage about killing anyone who works on Sunday (the Sabbath).
      — Deuteronomy also has a lovely passage about killing anyone who is unfaithful to their spouse.

      The New Testament has some unflattering passages as well:
      — 1 Timothy 6:1-21 states that slaves should not begrudge their masters, but if their masters are believers in God that those slaves should instead strive to work better for their masters and if anyone says otherwise, they know nothing and are not of God. Calling all African Americans – the Bible demands you go back to the plantations because you were serving the high-density Christian south. Yeah, we’ll get right on that one…
      — 1 Corinthians 11 has a couple passages about how women are inferior to men. One states that a man answers to Christ, women answer to a man, and that Christ is King. You know, so Christ is over Men, but Men are over Women. It’s in the Bible – start making the sandwiches ladies and bring me a beer while you’re at it. You know, because I’m a man and I said so. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget “men are not of women and are not for women, but women are of man and are for men”, the Bible’s way of saying “men came first, so women should know their place – as THINGS for men.” Seems we’ve progressed beyond that in the past few decades after centuries of treating women like little more than property.

      When the vast majority of Muslims tell you Islam is a religion of peace, they mean it, just as much as Christians who tell you the same of Christianity. Still, many people like to find the passages in the Qur’an that direct violence – the same can be done from the other side of the fence. Just because a holy text contains that directive does not mean everyone who believes that religion follows that directive. When was the last time you saw a church stone a rebellious teenager to death for disobeying their father? My guess is that you haven’t seen that happen ever, because we have grown beyond that and know it is wrong. As a rather devout Christian recently told me, it was the death of Christ that moved Christianity beyond the violence of the Old Testament. As a counterpoint, I’d like to note that it was social progress that moved us beyond slavery and treating women as property.

      Yes, countries under Islamic rule are somewhat behind “modern” countries in their social issues, but that is less to do with the religion itself and more to do with those in power using the religion to keep things how they are for their own reasons. After all, the Bible didn’t direct the abolishing of slavery in the United States, that was done by the people. The growing social equality of women (yes, I said growing, they are not yet truly socially equal) was not directed by the church, but rather by a society not ruled over by dictators. It is the dictatorships that keep the oppression going, not the religion. If it were just Islam that were responsible for violence and oppression, you wouldn’t see women treated as inferior and undesirable in China, India, Pakistan, etc. These are countries that have very low Muslim populations, yet women are killed and maimed every day in these countries simply because they are women. Look at Central and South America – a predominantly Christian region that is filled with grisly violence, not because the people are Christian, but because of the drug trafficking in those regions. People will be violent regardless of religions or lack thereof and people will or will not have religious beliefs without killing over them, regardless of religion.

      Judging an entire group based on the actions of the few is the true brainwashing here. You’ve been made so terrified by the media that you will believe that Muslims eat dead children if the news tells you it. Morality is a product of society and the prevalent religious beliefs of an area, it is not universal, we Americans like to ignore that fact and try to force everyone to be like us, that is part of why we are disliked by many of the malcontents that chose to wage their attacks against us. We push people, tell them what to do, how to do it, that they are wrong for ever doing it differently. We consider ourselves to be the ultimate authority and use our military might to get everyone we can in line. Attitudes like yours only spread the seed of hatred and only serves to put truth into the words of terrorists. The Islamic extremists who have claimed responsibility for attacks on America have said to others that it is because America wants to destroy them, that Americans hate them, that they fight to protect their faith. By hating them, you make those words true and you give justice to the cause of those who would spread terror and lies, those who would try to convince others that their way of thinking is right and that others should kill you because of it. The cycle of hatred only ends when one side offers an open hand instead of a clenched fist. That hand may be bitten and slapped, but eventually it will be embraced.

      The actions of Hunter Todd at Worldfest Houston were those of someone offering the clenched fist of fear and hatred. A false alarm triggered a reaction to search a Muslim woman’s bag without any sort of probable cause other than that she was a Muslim. This is no different from police responding to a crime scene arresting a black man among a crowd of while men when they have no description and only know there was a crime. It is the same as police asking everyone of Hispanic blood to present a green card, even though the majority are not illegal immigrants. This is pure and simple discrimination and it should not be tolerated, no matter who it is directed against.

      • Graciously, intelligently, and articulately put – I hope the commenter you responded to bothers to read it. This is the sort of extended, thoughtful response to gut-reaction bigotry that most of wish we could give on a regular basis – to everyone who practices hateful rhetoric thoughtlessly, throwing it out into the world because they can. I suspect this comment is in the end more for people who are tired of all of this, than for the man who wrote the comment – though I hope against hope that he reads it, and takes even a little of it in. But at least for the rest of us – it’s healing. Thank you for your comment.

  10. This account should be forwarded to all the sponsors listed on the worldfest website. That is probably the best way to make an impact.

  11. Pingback: Update About the WorldFest Incident, Including Recent News Articles | Amanda Rudd's Blog

  12. Also I would like to add, religious profiling is indeed considered a form of racial profiling. This is from the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) of 2004 (which did not pass):
    “The use by police officers of race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin in deciding which persons should be subject to traffic stops, stops and frisks, questioning, searches, and seizures is improper.” (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-108s2132is/html/BILLS-108s2132is.htm)
    Just so you know.

  13. It’s nice to see people willing to stand up for others. I don’t just say this because I’m a Muslim, but because people don’t stand up for others regardless of what groups they affiliate with. These days, there’s a lot of hate against Muslims, gays, Hispanics, Jews, and many other groups. And the people have become complacent to it to the point that they don’t speak up if they see something wrong. There’s a whole attitude of “Someone else will do something” with the more recent generations. To see someone stand up is refreshing.

  14. Pingback: (UPDATED) W[t]F? WorldFest Founder/CEO Hunter Todd Searches Fest Attendee’s Bag “Because She Is a Muslim.” | Islamophobia Today eNewspaper

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