A Malaysian celebration goes wrong
Malaysian-born and US permanent resident Munir Zanial is a senior engineer at Spirit Boeing Employees’ Association (SBEA) in Wichita, Kansas. Deciding to host a party on September 2 to celebrate Eid al-Adha with 45 guests, he rented a lakeside property from his company. The Malaysians, of whom some were dressed in a hijab, decided to fly their flag. However, an act of national patriotism unbeknownst to Munir, a Wichita resident since 2011, became the start of a nightmare. He became the suspect in an FBI terrorism investigation.
The Malaysian flag
The basis of the investigation was a group of Malaysian’s flew their own flag honouring the 60th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence, which took place few days earlier on August 31. The flag, or Jalur Gemilang in Bahasa Malaysia, features 14 alternating red and white stripes with a dark blue on the top left–hand corner. The Islamic half-moon crescent and a 14-pointed star representing each of Malaysia’s states sit inside this blue square.
This is where the situation began to take a bizarre twist. An American mistook Malaysia’s flag for that of the United States. The United States flag has 13 alternating red and white stripes and a blue left-hand corner but with 50 stars instead. The American mistook the Malaysians for terrorists holding a clandestine ISIS meeting. The party was reported as suspicious, which in turn led to an FBI investigation, as someone wrongly assumed the American flag had been superimposed with an ISIS flag.
The FBI investigation proceeded and quickly ended after it became apparent the suspicious flag in question was the national flag of Malaysia. Bemused Munir was inconvenienced and frustrated, but brushed it off. Or so he thought. A few months later in January 2018, Munir discovered his SBEA membership was suddenly restricted. It turns out, this was because the FBI wrongly investigated him on terrorism charges. Because of this, he is attempting to open a lawsuit against SBEA for racial, religious and ethnic discrimination. And apart from the distress and humiliation, he also fears this might somehow affect his permanent residence status in the United States.