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In Pursuit of Happiness Against Capitulation to bin Laden

By Wasim Choudhury
July 25, 2003

Sharing the views of many aviation spotters, Wasim Choudhury vocalizes what we all need to hear about targeting the wrong people in the wake of tragedy.

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Photo © Joe Pries - A.T. TEAM


I am a plane spotter. As a hobby, I take photographs of commercial aircraft. These are not great days for plane spotters. It is especially difficult for a Bangladeshi-born Muslim US permanent resident such as myself. On March 30, I was questioned by the Ft. Lauderdale airport police about my plane spotting activity. Eventually, an agent from the FBI was also involved. He was extremely courteous, and with the minor inconvenience of missing an earlier flight, I continued my flight to New York. Hearing of this incident, my friends and family have asked me to reconsider my hobby. On the contrary, I am even more determined to continue this odd but personally gratifying pastime. This country, like many, is built on the ideals that as long as I cause no harm to the society at large, I can do what I please in pursuit of my happiness. It would be the wrong time to shy from that fundamental principle of this nation. If I give up, it would be almost tantamount to me leaving everything and moving to Iran.

I have been an avid fan of planes for as long as I can remember. While what I read in aviation magazines and show interest in is geeky to most, this is what I chose to do in my free time, and I am happy with it for myself. Few other countries in the world allow me the good fortune to hold a steady job and maintain a hobby without a second thought than these United States. Recently, with the help of my new digital camera, I have put a life-long passion on commercial aviation into a full blown hobby of a plane spotter. That means that whenever I travel, I click away taking photos of airplanes from every possible angle. I submit these photos – after some touchups - to websites for plane spotters, where enthusiasts like me exchange photos of planes from around the world. Sure, we're a bit different, but being different is part of any obsession.

September 11, 2001 was the darkest hour for all plane spotters, as it was, obviously, for millions of others. I was particularly shocked by the events of that day. The weapons were airplanes, the target was my beloved home city, the pretext was my religion. Not that I am a deeply religious person, but never have I heard that it is acceptable to take three thousand innocent lives in the name of Islam. My uncle had office in the twin towers. Thankfully, he and his employees are fine, but the psychological trauma still haunts us. For the longest while, I lost interest in aviation. I would actually feel anxious whenever I would see a jet over Manhattan. The world did not make sense any more, as aviation – an industry that bridges the world – seemed to be the very tool that tore it apart. And my interest in the field of aviation dimmed for a while.

Time is a healer, and over the next year or so, I found that alienating myself from my true love was more difficult than I had given myself credit for. A year later, I discovered one of the websites where I regularly submit photos of planes. Initially, I started off by taking photos at Newark Airport. I spent many hours riding the monorail and being on top of car-parks taking photos. It is not easy to click away at howling winds in below-freezing temperatures. In all honestly, my photographs are not even that good. But I love it for the thrill of it.

I am aware of the changing world and the changing realities. Thus, I make sure I call an airport and find out if there are any restrictions for taking photos. It is unfortunate but true that given my ethnic background, it would be foolhardy not to. I cooperate with any questions or inquiries people make. If someone needs to make a phone call to verify permission I have already obtained or know exists, I cooperate and wait patiently until the verification is completed. They are just doing their job.

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Photo © James Richard Covington, Jr
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Photo © Lawrence Feir


At times, however, I come across people who can be rather rude. Take the young lady who tends to Newark’s monorail riders; accosting me on a photo shoot, she told me I could not take photos. I knew I could, and asked her to call the Port Authority, which allows photos to be taken from public areas. She snarled back, “First someone takes a photograph, and then next thing you know planes are crashing into buildings”. I was both hurt and angered by that statement. I told her that I loved this country just as much as anyone else and that she was insinuating things that she herself may not be aware of. She called the PA offices, and was informed that I could indeed take photographs there. Alas, my words had no effect. She just looked blankly, no apologies, and said, “Go on, you can take photos.”

The Ft. Lauderdale incident was slightly different. A passenger had called in to say they thought I was involved in some suspicious activity. The patrol officer was very polite and apologized and said that they were just going to check my records. He was extremely courteous. I had to wait as it takes a fair amount of time to pull up records. Again, he apologized for the inconvenience. Later, a plain-clothed gentleman approached me and showed me his FBI ID. He, too, was very gracious, and apologized for the inconvenience. He also arranged for me to fly on the next, rather over-booked flight back to New York.

My family and friends seem a lot more concerned about this incident than I am. Their argument is that these are not the same times as before, and perhaps I should quit my hobby now. Given the hassle, that would be an easier thing to do. But there's no way that I'm going to do that. The reason why I love this country is that it allows me to follow any dream, work anywhere, and keep any hobby I want – provided I don’t do harm to others while keeping that hobby. Yes, thanks to Osama bin Laden, we have to take precautions. But to give up on what I do or how I live would be the same as admitting defeat – and I am not prepared to lose to the likes of bin Laden. This country was built on the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. There are many countries with similar principles. We just need to pursue them with minor modifications. As long as there are people like the vigilant passenger who called the police about my photo taking and courteous police officer and FBI agent exist as they did at Ft. Lauderdale, we can still pursue the same principles as our nations' founders, we just have to do it with a bit of prudence.

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Photo © Justin Cederholm

Written by
Wasim Choudhury

19 User Comments:
Username: Sllevin [User Info]
Posted 2003-07-29 15:34:17 and read 26843 times.

Excellent article!

I hope you continue to spot and take pictures and press forward your rights! I am honored just to read of your determination!

Steve

Username: Tguman [User Info]
Posted 2003-07-30 10:56:38 and read 26783 times.

Amen. If we quit, then bin Laden wins. Its as easy as that.
TGUman

Username: EGGD [User Info]
Posted 2003-07-31 20:03:36 and read 26687 times.

Very true, Spotters giving up is the worst thing we can do.....

Username: CcrlR [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-05 22:06:24 and read 26553 times.

great article, we have a quote from the Friends of Meigs Field that we use it's from Winston Churchill, it's Never Give up. We never for Meigs Field and we don't for Aviation photography.

Username: Phlphotog [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-05 23:24:13 and read 26549 times.

It appears that since 9/11/2002, aviation enthusiasts/spotters/photographers have been perceived by the authorities as "threats" across this great country of ours. The Constitution guarantees us many rights and freedoms, a few of which are free speech, right to assembly and the pursuit of happiness.........just so long as you DO NOT TAKE PICTURES OF AIRCRAFT!

Username: Phlphotog [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-05 23:29:02 and read 26546 times.

Sorry---I meant 9/11/2001!

Username: Mr.BA [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-08 08:47:37 and read 26474 times.

Great article... shows your love for aviation! Go on with it never give up!!!

Username: Lamyl_hhlco [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-08 09:13:11 and read 26471 times.

I share your thought and say never give up on your dream no matter what...We are true aviation lovers and no law no man can stop us from loving it!!

Lamyl

Username: Paulinbna [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-11 07:02:16 and read 26434 times.

This great article needs to be submitted to a national paper to get some regonition for yes.

Username: Tsully [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-11 10:17:45 and read 26430 times.

Well done, Wasim. Your words are very poignant, and as long as people realize that the FBI and other law enforcement officers are just doing their jobs, the flying public will be both safer and happier.

In the USA, you are innocent until proven guilty. That means no police officer, FBI agent or the like should treat you as a criminal. They must automatically perceive you (or me, or anyone) as a possible threat, but not as a criminal. And as soon as they discover you are not a threat to anyone, they should leave you alone.

It sounds like your two encounters with law enforcement in FL were conducted in a very professional way - as ought to be done.

Again, my highest compliments on your article. It is especially nice to see someone of Arab lineage who fully understands the way things must be in a post 9/11 USA, and is willing to cooperate. As long as this type of cooperation continues among Arabs and all races, we'll keep the bad guys from doing their cowardly acts and the good guys will be free to pursue hobbies like airplane photography.

Bin Laden may have won a battle, but he sure as hell lost the war. When he attacked our way of life on 9/11, he picked the wrong group of people to mess with. In his attempt to weaken our morale, he conversely strengthened our resolve.... he strengthened our resolve to live our lives as Americans, in the pursuit of happiness. And God help anyone who gets in the way of our pursuit of happiness, because I for one will mow ‘em down!


Tsully

Username: Jeffrey1970 [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-13 19:51:37 and read 26383 times.

Good for you Wasim,

I am glad to hear that you are not going to give up your enthusiasm in avaition. Eventhough you are Muslim, I still will say God bless you through Jesus Christ with lots of love. I do not mean to offend you by saying that.

Jeff

Username: Planemannyc [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-14 04:57:59 and read 26367 times.

Jeff,

Thank you. I am not offended at all. I think fanatics try to use religion to justify all the cowardly actions they carry out. Amidst all the chaos in this world we forget that most -- if not all -- religions ask people to do strive to do better themselves and have an open mind and they challenge us to alienate the darker side of humanity. Unfortunately, in reality we see very little respect for one another; instead, we witness only greed, jealousy, violence and mayhem. I hope for our own sake and the sake of the generations to come, we start showing more respect for all the different peoples of this small planet called earth, and learn to get along better.

May Allah bless you as well, and bless us all.

Wasim

Username: Canadian747 [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-18 16:42:07 and read 26287 times.

Great article.... And please continue your passion for aviation.

Username: L-188 [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-25 16:12:03 and read 26172 times.

You ought to go and declare that this article is public property and send it in to every newspaper editorial columm in the country.

And you should allow the public to send it to every airport security, local PD, and federal security office in the country.

Username: PIAforME [User Info]
Posted 2003-08-26 18:08:46 and read 26158 times.

Wasim Thankyou very much for writing this article. U have expressed many of the same feelings as I, being a Pakistani born Danish muslim have myself, about this aviation hobby and bin ladens wrong doings.

I will think of Ur article everytime I will be spotting from now on.

....and Tsully, Wasim, being a Bangladeshi born, he is not of Arab lineage (most probably) ;-) Remember only maybe 25% of the worlds mulim population is Arab.

Have a good day all of U

PIAforME
KAmran Sarwar

Username: Cicadajet [User Info]
Posted 2003-12-26 00:12:08 and read 25792 times.

Good for you Wasim.

I am glad you have not given up. It must be very difficult.. I have had many set backs in NYC/NJ and that without the added stigma of being profiled. Including being prevented from taking pictures from the EWR monorail.

- Also, I will say you have taken some very nice shots !!

- Tom

Username: Cpharris5514 [User Info]
Posted 2003-12-26 01:56:03 and read 25788 times.

Wasim --

This is, without a doubt, a beautiful article. I agree with other comments in that you should make certain it gets out there. Yes, we're plane spotters, of many different professional and personal persuasions. Maybe we are a little "different" (my wife tends to chuckle at my obsession). I'm okay with that. Hey, my grandfather, rest his soul, was infatuated with trains, which were the big public transportation mode of his day. He loved them. He lived long enough to watch my interest in aviation develop, and he did nothing but encourage it.

I, too, am deeply saddened by religious fanatics -- and I mean those from any religion. I am a Christian, and a Presbyterian minister at that. I also know that the terrorists who committed the attrocities of 9/11 were in no way representative of the true meaning of Islam.

I'll spare everyone from any history on the "Abraham" connection to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but I will say may our common God bless you for what you have written, and for your expression of the love that so many of us share.

Username: Vimanav [User Info]
Posted 2004-10-20 19:22:01 and read 25364 times.

Dear Wasim

I had the privilege of reading your article only today. It touched a very deep chord within me. More for your love for aviation and your determination to pursue your love despite all odds.

As you have very correctly stated, fundamentalism, irrespective of religion, race etc. is an evil that has to be eradicated. For the right thinking, they may be subject to various taunts and insinuations by ignorant folk purely on account of their racial origin. That I think is the greatest test for such people.

And you my friend have passed that test with flying colours. I salute you.

best regards

Vimanav

Username: HAWK21M [User Info]
Posted 2004-12-03 15:42:47 and read 25293 times.

Wasim.
An Article from the heart.I'm from Maintenance & I know how tough it would be not to be allowed see an Aircraft taxing by.
I feel you should continue your hobby.Let the Authorities do their job,you do yours.
Its when you guys click photos of Aircraft,We guys get to see them.And I just enjoy looking at Aircraft pictures.
And I know Im not alone.
Keep posting.
regds
MEL

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