‘JFK Customs destroyed 11 of my instruments’

‘JFK Customs destroyed 11 of my instruments’


norman lebrecht

December 31, 2013

A few minutes ago, we reached the flute virtuoso Boujemaa Razgui by phone to discuss the assault on his instruments by US Customs at JFK airport.

A Canadian citizen, based in New York and with a green card employment permit, Boujemaa was flying home from Marrakech, Morocco, when his baggage was opened by Customs at JFK.

‘I told them I had these instruments for many years and flew with them in and out,’ he said. ‘There were 11 instruments in all. They told me they were agricultural products and they had to be destroyed. There was nothing I could do. The ney flute can be made with bamboo. Is that agricultural?’

Boujemaa was both upset and unwilling to risk a confrontation with the US authorities.  We did not press him for further particulars. He does not know what to do next. But he does appear to be the victim of state injustice. What do the lawyers among our readers think he should do?

Here’s a further communication from Boujemaa.

Boujemaa’s contact details have been sent to journalists on the New York Times and the Boston Globe. Let’s see if they take up the story.



  • A concerned and sympathetic musician says:

    This is unbelievable. I have crossed the border many times, and have been fortunate to always have been dealt with respectfully. Agricultural products? I am a single reed player and cross with cane reeds (made in France) all the time. Can you imagine what would happen if a wind soloist was coming to America to play solo with the New York Philharmonic and had all his reeds destroyed??

    The ignorance of a few loose Homeland Security officers has tainted the good work that the officers must do. The US Government should show a sign of good faith and assist Mr. Razgui in his efforts to replace the instruments, or cover his time and expense in his re-making of the instruments.

    • Thugs at the borders don’t target white people such as yourself. What happened had nothing to do with ignorance and everything to do with racism and police brutality. They were saying “Welcome, Boujemaa, to OUR U.S.A. Don’t be comfortable here. This is NOT your home.”

      • Kora Zinger says:

        Stop bringing race into everything. I am white and I have been harassed at the border. I am so tired of this racist nonsense from people like yourself.

        • Jackie Luke says:

          Me too. Coming back home can be brutal.

          • Eb says:

            The issue is the problem of arbitrary authoritarian abuse, regardless of whatever the particular biases of these specific customs agents were–which we cannot know. ANYBODY can be the target of authoritarian abuse when regulatory authorities are given sanction to devolve into a police state mentality.

        • John Dotson says:

          I too am white and I have been hassled by customs reentering the country

        • Josh K says:

          I agree with Kora, stop pulling the race card. That has nothing to do with it. That’s ignorant in itself

          • Roseweave says:

            I think it’s incredibly ignorant to think that race never has anything to do with it. Just because you’ve been hassled as a white person does not mean you are treated the same way. That is incredibly sheltered and ignorant to say, institutionalised racism is a thing and I don’t care how “sick” you are of it when you are not affected by it.

          • ShaneK says:

            @Roseweave Just a question – Do you even know the RACE the TSA agents were?? What if they were black? You assume that there was a bunch of Duck Dynasty types sitting there in customs when this happened.

          • Institutionalized racism is a myth. I grew up in the ghetto and was harassed just as much as any black man. It was because the way I dressed, I attempted to assimilate into black culture and it got me harassed. One thing I do notice, black men who are dressed properly are almost never pulled over….

        • Marianne says:

          Racist or not, this is total bullshit!!! We, the USA, need to watch who we employ as customs agents.

          And honestly, he was coming from a very muslim part of the middle east. You don’t think that played a part in this???!!!

          • Joe Schmo says:

            Morrocco has been moved to the Middle East now? I was always under the impression it was part of Africa…….. U-S-A, U-S-A we r so smrt!!!!!

          • leila says:

            Morocco is considered part of the Middle East & North Africa. Technically the middle & near east are in Asia, but do we call them Asian?

        • I notice none of you state exactly how you were “harassed.” I drive back and forth between Buffalo and Toronto, fairly often, and normally it’s an easy experience. But once I was questioned for nearly ten minutes by one border patrolman when I was retuning to the US, who even made me pop my trunk so he could see what was in it. By the time he was done, I was ready to file a complaint. Did he have any reason to do that or be so obnoxious with me? No. And his actions could be seen as harassment, even though I’m as white as they come (Norwegian stock).

          Would I even begin to equate my problem with that officer as being the same as what happened to Razqui? No. Because not once have I ever had myself taken aside or have any of my belongings confiscated or destroyed. Is that what happened to any of you – the ones who are complaining about race being part of this? And to those who claim they’ve been harassed — was it despite you doing nothing wrong or argumentative? Or did you get caught trying to sneak something into the country without declaring it, or just behave like a jerk to the office? I’ve seen that happen when passing through customs, usually when someone white feels they have the right to be nasty to anyone they choose.

          Context matters when you’re denigrating people who point out racism might be part of why this man’s life’s work was ruined.

          • summitflyer says:

            Kyle,I also live close to the US border and often go to get parcels in the US ,in a small town close to the Canadian border.(Often no shipping charges for articles shipped to US address)

            I have been mildly harassed also a few times ,or at least felt like it by both border services,going into the US or coming back into Canada. It is their job to check closely,once in a while,and they pick at random.I am not sure what triggers it ,but racial profiling is probably often the cause of such ignorant treatment ,but there is no way of knowing for sure in this case.

            What happened to Mr.Boujemaa Razgui is indeed a travesty.I have written to the US consulate in Ottawa to voice my indignation of such action on the part of US customs officers towards a Canadian citizen .I would urge all to do the same.

        • daniburgess says:

          You are white, therefore you CANNOT possibly know how prevalent racism is, because it doesn’t happen to YOU. “Getting harrassed” in customs and culture-wide, systemic forms of oppression are not equivalent, and you’re just displaying your own ignorance by saying that they are. Seriously, do some f***ing research, and read about this shit, you owe it to yourself and humanity.

          • D says:

            Unless of course you are white and live in a non-white country.

            I’ve lived in China for a decade and in that time have actually been denied admittance to a hospital when critically ill due to my skin color. I was flat out told, “We don’t treat your kind here.”

            So yeah, I’m pretty sure I have a handle on this racism thing.

          • daniburgess says:

            Sorry for generalizing, and thank you for sharing your experience. I can’t speak to that, and only intended to comment on the state of affairs within the United States.

        • lordairgtar says:

          The musician looks like a lot of other people in the US. I don’t think race played a part in this….just ignoramuses who work for customs.

        • diamonion says:

          having to go through customs is a hassle, but how many of you equally harassed white people have to go through cavity searches and have your belongings destroyed every time you go through? you know nothing of harassment.

        • So because white men have been lynched, the lynching of black men in the South wasn’t racist??? Interesting… Actually, of course, we have no idea whether this was more racism or more stupidity. There will be an investigation, and we probably STILL won’t know.

      • dougom says:

        I hate to say it but: Yeah, they actually do target “people such as [my]self”. Not as often, there is no question, and there also is no question that brown people are targeted much more unfairly. My point being: The customs and TSA folks are often assholes no matter what. It’s a systemic problem.

      • Elizabeth, how do you even know the person you are replying to is white? You’re making pretty big assumptions and have nothing to back them up with. How childish.

      • John Knoefler says:

        I am regarded as a white person what ever that means. I’ve been stopped and harassed over three hundred times by border patrol in a two year period. Going through customs was not better. I got interrogated for an hour for having a pound of Russian cheese I forgot to declare. . So you can leave off with the racism.

      • Chuck Swope says:

        bull shit! quit playing race and maybe you’ll begin to understand the reality of fascio – communist – totatlitarien government! look beyond what you think you see!

      • robpatersonIV says:

        i am white and have been targeted at the border many times due to the fact that i stutter. i am deemed “nervous” and apparently hiding something. you give up ALL your rights when you cross the U.S. border.

      • Ivan says:

        He is a Canadian citizen flying home….not staying there. Just saying.

      • Diego says:

        See what you did there, Lizzie? You made an obvious case of harassment into something no one cares about with your race baiting. Way to go.

        • Ellen Lyons says:

          Actually, I think quite a number of people care about racism, race based harassment and its implications for this case. Were it otherwise, the thread would have gone nowhere. Furthermore, unless you’re a personal friend of Ms. Faraone, addressing her as “Lizzy” is contemptuous, misogynistic and not even a particularly subtle way of communicating that women should keep their opinions within their knitting circles. Reality must be challenging on so many levels.

      • Spirea says:

        We really need a new word other than “racism”.

        It’s not race, it’s nationality and ethnicity and general foreign-ness that gets people tagged for harassment. Someone is from a place the TSA/Customs guy couldn’t find on a map (that covers a lot of ground these days); has an unfamiliar name the TSA/Customs guy can’t pronounce and possibly an accent; and has taken up citizenship in Canada and not the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave – he’s obviously a suspicious character.

        The most basic form of profiling is to look for anyone “out of the ordinary” – that way they’re guaranteed to never lack for targets.

        The part I don’t get is why there was no higher level of recourse for Mr Razgui to appeal to. One guy says “burn em”, and that’s all it takes? America’s favorite counter-argument is “I want to speak to a supervisor” – that should have been enough to put the brakes on the actual destruction.


        • saijanai says:

          I’m betting that all the higher-ups were home for the holidays, so there was no-one to consult. Some lower-level person had to make a snap decision and likely got it wrong.

      • I am white and I seem to get stopped every time.

      • Race you say. No doubt you are an Obama voter, both times. Congrats, when you constantly look for racism you are sure to see it – perhaps you will start to look for signs of totalitarian govt, even if that means you acknowledge some unpleasant reality about our Glorious Leader.

      • Dean says:

        This is in reply to those people who think profiling does not exist. For the record I’m white. My two nephews, who are mixed (Indian and white), both told me that they have been pulled out of the line EVERY SINGLE TIME they fly. They were born and raised in the USA, but they have right shade of skin, facial features, and are in their 20’s. They obviously fit the profile of a “terrorist threat”. I will repeat it…they have been pulled out of line EVERY SINGLE TIME they fly. This was obviously based on appearance alone. And what is with all of you angry white people saying that “racism’ (or whatever you want to call it) doesn’t exist just because you’ve been harassed on occasion as well? That is ridiculous. Everyone knows that there is profiling based on race- it’s the world we live in right now. I don’t know what the solution is, but pretending that it doesn’t happen because your white and happened to get harassed once is OFFENSIVE.

        • Of course there is racial profiling (though of course, it’s more complicated than merely skin color. The age, as Dean points out, is part of the profile, as is the stated religion, family status, and other factors). I am an international touring musician (Watermelon Slim), and I have a much larger, more outrageous history of harassment by border personnel of other countries than I do of harassment by my own.I have twice had a 13/16″ sparkplug socket– just the socket, I use one as my guitar slide– taken from me by Canadian officials who said it was “kind of a tool” and that any tools were prohibited in my carry-on luggage, i.e. my guitar case.

          The scariest time was when I was pulled out of line in Moscow, on my only visit to Russia. I had told the Turkish tour guide that she should just watch. I was going to get taken aside, and she pooh-poohed that. But it happened.

          Eventually it turned out that there was some sort of disconnect between the electronic whatchamacallits in the modern US Passport and the Russian passport-scanners– my passport, though valid, was out of date in the system! Other things that you wouldn’t suspect may cause a traveler trouble.

          But the only difference I can see between the racial profiling that goes on in the US and that which occurs in virtually every country of the world is that America has the two most well-known administrations of racial profiling in the last three hundred years of history, and we (at least Americans of good will are repelled by the Trail of Tears and the history of the African immigrant against his will.

          So we are supposed to be different, a better synthesis, superior to the “older” nations from which we sprung. We’re not, we just make more noise and breast-beating about it.

          This is a terrible case. The loss is irreparable. I know how it is. I leave my most personal instruments at home, and take cheap instruments that tune up well. But the delicate nuance of Mr. Razgui’s work needs JUST those instruments that he HAD. I think the right lawyer could make this a lucrative tort-plus-emotional trauma case, if Mr. Razgui is anything like angry to go along with shocked.

          That he has traveled with the instruments extensively and never been harassed about them over a long history to a myriad of destinations can be proven by the publicity in his travels. It can probably be proven conclusively that he has passed through American Customs at various and numerous specific times without this ever being an issue.

          He made these instruments did he, and they are what he plays to make his living? They just destroyed his ability to work for a period of time to be determined. He must be compensated for the loss of income during that time. I am not a lawyer, but I do know some ol’ boys that are.

      • Nigel Q Manchowder says:

        I bet none of those TSA agents spoke very good English.

    • Perhaps some prominent orchestra members could be contacted to weigh in on this.

    • An oboist says:

      I was told about an oboist, whom, crossing the border one time, was asked to take out and play every single one of her 100+ reeds. Of course, this isn’t as bad as having them all destroyed, but how strict is too strict?

      • LadyA says:

        I used to play the oboe in school. It’s impossible to immediately play with a new dry oboe reed…they must be soaked for about ten minutes before they’re pliable enough to play anything. I wonder how this worked.

    • Michael green says:

      You’re next. Didn’t you see? He was able to travel safely many times before. This is why my wife won’t fly any more. She has medical equipment that the TSA website says can be taken through security without being xrayed. However there are many news articles aboutTSA agents ignoring the rules and destroying equipment.

      This is the new world. Our government is out of control and we have no voice and no power to fix it.

      • SingingCurls says:

        We DO have a VOICE yet & we DO have Power to fix these things – but we can’t continue to elect the same people w/ the same ideas over and over again. No Dems. No RINOS.

        As a musician, I am outraged at what happened to Mr. Bouzemaa. This is pure thuggery by ignorants drunk on power.

        • sighthndman says:

          BS. These are Republican laws. Signed by George W. Bush. With pretty much full Democratic support. Two wings of the “keep the oligarchy” party.

          • PoliceState says:

            “Republican” has nothing to do with it. Both parties are owned authoritarians. Vote for liberty candidates like Rand Paul or we are all slaves and fools.

          • M.A. Steinberger says:

            Rand Paul is rabidly anti-choice. So much for the idea that electing Paul would give us the freedom to run our own lives.

          • “would give us the freedom to run our own lives.”

            Bail on the “Great Man” myth. You have the freedom to run your own life. You, like all statists, suffer under the delusional superstition that some people have the legitimate right and authority to rule you. Once you abandon that belief, you see the “government” for what it is: A violent gang of parasitic thugs.

          • This is a Democratic Administration and has been for 5 years. If there was a spit of difference between the parties you should have noticed an improvement. There hasn’t been so please stop deluding yourself.

        • Both sides are doing it, so don’t make out like the GOP is lesser of the two evils. They’re worse, in many ways. I’m a liberal and can’t stand how many Democrats fall in line with the new world order, but not all do. I support those and have begun to vote for Green Party candidates. I refuse to vote Libertarian because half of them are really GOP stooges and the other half just want to turn us into Somalia.

        • Neville Ross says:

          @SingingCurls: Please stop trying to bash the Obama administration for an event it had nothing to do with-your emotarian whining isn’t helping matters any.

          @Kyle Michel Sullivan: your voting Green in 2016 is only going to get the GOP back in power by splitting the vote, thereby making things worse. Don’t like what happened to this man? Write to DHS and demand that something eb done.

  • what about string players? is wood ‘agricultural’?

    • asdasdffasd says:

      The clothing you wear is agricultural. 🙂

    • Reg Hacquer says:

      Yes, wood is an agricultural product; just ask the Gibson Guitar manufacturers, who were raided like criminals on allegations that they were using wood from “endangered species”.

      The gov’t is put of control. We citizens shpuld noy continue to put up with this idiocy.

      • mory says:

        Gibson was guilty on many counts of both smuggling and deception not sure there is a link.

        • John Knoefler says:

          There is no proof that Gibson did anything wrong. They brought all products through customs.

        • Cheryl Thomson says:

          You are so wrong. Gibson was 100% in the right in everything they did. I can’t believe anyone would write such a complete smear. You have no grounds for this whatsoever. “Smuggling”? “Deception”? You must work for the government.

          • Juanita says:

            More from Bob Taylor, President, Taylor Guitar Company, Inc.:

            “What we heard was the international community has come to the conclusion that the coup created an illegitimate government. That’s when we said, ‘Okay, we can not buy any more of this wood.’”

            Following a 2009 military coup which saw the overthrow of the environmentally progressive President Marc Ravalomanana, huge quantities of rosewood and ebony were stripped from Madagascar’s rapidly shrinking National Parks.

            While Gibson guitars is claiming that they have legal export papers for the rosewood seized under the Lacey Act, there is little doubt that the most of the precious hardwood exported from Madagacar, post-coup, originated from protected areas and hence was illegally logged.

          • I got wood! says:

            Dear Cheryl… As a Guitarist/Mandolinist I am a great fan of Gibson.

            There’s a bit of confusion here about what laws govern the import/export of lumber from trees considered endangered. Many of the commenters here think that wood, or woody plants ie Bamboo are not agricultural products; they are quite mistaken.

            Raw untreated lumber of any type is prohibited from entering the US without some sort of treatment ie fumigation, heat treatment, debarking. This is to prevent the entry of pathogens and insects that may attack trees, case in point, Emerald Ash Borer (Buprestidae) and the infamous Asian Long Horn Beetle (Cerambycidae). Raw Lumber is covered under the USDA 7CFR, feel free to look it up.

            Now let’s talk about Endangered Species/CITES Laws covered under 50CFR, which falls under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service but is regulated and co-enforced by the USDA Plant Protection and Inspection Service.

            Unfortunately, due to poaching, overharvesting, pollution, and destruction of natural environments, many exotic woods, ie Brazilian Rosewood, Indian Rosewood, Koa, Zebra, Teak….to name a few have come under the protection of CITES/ESA.

            Hence, the government are giving those companies who produce instruments from exotic ESA woods an extreme pain in the ass. It’s not only Gibson who was put through the wringer, but Martin and foreign guitar/mandolin makers too!

            I’m sure that Gibson did everything correctly, it is quite disturbing that overzealous regulation can adversely effect great American Cultural Institutions like Gibson and Martin. Ah, “the road to Hell is paved with great intentions!”

        • musibiz says:

          Disagree – Gibson was a politically targeted company – they didn’t contribute financially to the “winning” side. The regulatory agencies changed the rules re: exotic woods in the middle of the game, and made Gibson an example in regulatory hell. Many music companies used “exotic” wood, but they “danced the dance” or at least stayed neutral.

          • Eric Jarvis says:

            Nonsense. Gibson were not targeted politically, they were targeted because they use a lot of rosewood and other guitar makers don’t. They played fast and loose with the rules on endangered species exports and got caught. They then tried to make out it’s a political issue.

            The simple fact is they cut corners and came a cropper as a result. Much as I adore many of their guitars (especially the SG and those early electric basses) I have no sympathy at all. Especially as Gibson keep demanding answers as to why manufacturers ho don’t use anywhere near as much rosewood haven’t been hit in the same way, as if everyone should be punished equally for one person breaking the rules.

      • Because using wood from endangered species is acceptable in your mind, Hacquer? They were raided, and what were the results? Did they get the products back? Were they guilty?

        • sighthndman says:

          As in almost all cases, the defendants admitted no guilt or liability and said that they were settling only because of the enormous costs of continuing litigation.

          Here’s an article about why they took the deal. This woman also claims to have been innocent (although in her case, a crime was committed) (note that Gibson has also admitted that they were the unknowing recipient of illegally harvested wood, but that the paperwork appeared to be in order and that the wood appeared to be legal, so in both cases the crime was only discovered by the people we are talking about when the government accused them [according to them]).


          Castillo will be fighting for her name until her death — from prison (unless the law is changed). People will be maligning Gibson — and defending them — and buying Gibson guitars for a long time to come.

          As a further point of reference, Javier Calle Serna, arrested in May, 2012 and accused of shipping an estimated 30 tons of cocaine to the US (and presumably guilty), is expected to be released around 2025. The message is clear. Whether you’re guilty or innocent, you’re better off to make a deal than to fight.

          This is especially true if you’re a corporation. Then you don’t have any civil rights to lose. If criminal sanctions would hurt you (say, SEC sanctions that prohibit you from securities activities), then you can reorganize (and release any employees that would hinder you in those activities) and become a different organization (say, Gibbons Guitars if the name is important, or Ace if not, but you’ve still got the organizational skills and knowledge and connections).

          The bottom line is, we truly don’t know if Gibson Guitars is an innocent victim or actually guilty. We also don’t know if their competitors are getting a free pass because of their political contributions (and if Gibson did in the past). That’s all got a courtroom name, and it’s “hearsay”, and it means “gossip”, and it’s not allowed for a reason. The reason (of course) is that you believe it if it suits your convictions and disbelieve it if it doesn’t. (As opposed to real evidence, where the people who behave like that are called stupid.)

          By the way, this lack of knowledge probably extends to at least half of the people involved in the case itself, and almost everyone else at the offices of Gibson and the government. There’s a lot more smoke than flame coming from this fire.

      • Juanita says:

        Gibson was caught, TWICE, trying to import wood from endangered or illegally harvested wood.

        “The Lacey Act requires more due diligence on the part of the receiver of the wood than there was in the past. We can’t just take someone’s word that the wood we’re buying is legit. Even if your act was already clean, you’re going to have to clean it up even more.” – Bob Taylor, President, Taylor Guitar Company, Inc.

        • It is a stupid law as it covers wood that is NOT endangered. No one should have to “clean it up even more” in order to comply with a law. But apparently you don’t mind a police state.

          • anyone says:

            Who cares what the “President” of Taylor Guitar says! Why to people above keep quoting him? He benefited, from the Gov take down of Gibson. When the Gov. normally has an issue with the way a company works, there is paper work and threats of fines, etc. This was ARMED RAID, and everything was taken while the empolyees where looking down the barrel of a gun.

  • ed says:

    Well, if aged bamboo flutes are agricultural, what’s next, a string player’s bows? What is pernambuco if not a similar ‘agricultural product’? Then, say goodbye to your ‘Strad’.

    This agricultural product argument just doesn’t fly unless those bozos thought the flutes were edible or raw, uncut and insect carriers. (Oh, I forgot, pandas eat bamboo though probably not the aged stuff.)

    It looks to me like the Customs agents blatantly ignored their own guidelines for bamboo.

    (See, for example: https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/1359/~/importing-bamboo-into-the-us )

    • T M says:

      The customs agents should be held PERSONALLY responsible for what amounts to ‘malpractice’. We taxpayers should not be soaked for this.

  • Fed Up says:

    OMG. This HAS to stop. I am not an attorney, so I can’t offer any legal advice, but I sure hope that this man’s attorneys can find some way to prosecute these ignorant customs officers, even if only in a civil suit. The only advice I can give is to contact the newsroom at CNN or FOX, and let them report on it. Politicians hate dealing with negative press, especially with regard to the idiocy of its own Homeland Security, and political pressure may be the only way anything can be done about this injustice. If it’s any consequence, I’m really sorry this happened to one of my fellow musicians.

  • Fritz Curzon says:

    blinkered bureaucracy !….surely they could have been fumigated (not sure I’d want to blow into them thereafter though)…. and where is the line between such bamboo/ wooden items and antiques to which the USA was not averse.

  • Jimmy says:

    I’m a guitar player and can’t legally fly internationally with an instrument made of Brazillian Rosewood, or one with an old tortoise grained pick guard. Even if the instrument was manufactured before the law went into effect.

    • Trentt says:

      You can get exemptions for your guitar Jimmy. Some old instruments have Ivory inlays that are vintage and if you get the proper documents verifying the age of the instrument you are OK. It can be scary and risky though, especially with idiots like those that destroyed this man’s flutes in the way between you and your destination. So while you should be able to travel with those, it’s best not to if you can avoid it.

      • David Beard says:

        It’s not his fault in any degree at all. Travel authorities around the world have gone overboard in various ways. Frankfurt for example has repeatedly hassled traveling violinists over bogus tax issues. US officials have damaged fine cellos, destroyed various instruments.

        It’s just tragic. And it isn’t the musicians fault. Various people respond to these events by suggesting the musician should get carnets or follow other red tape solutions. But this misses the point. Ignorant, arrogant, and otherwise overzealous official will still say you should have something other than what you have. It;s too complicated and expensive to expect individual traveling artists to jump through all these hoops.

        We need a worldwide movement and petition to generally exempt historic and artistic items from any rapid destruction FOR ANY REASON. There needs to be a large public cry for this. And severe consequences for destructively zealous agents.

        Some objects that people need to travel with are precious treasures of humanity. We can not allow them to keep getting randomly destroy. This is a new trend only arising in recent years. IT MUST END AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

        Some objects we don’t really own. We are just custodians of them during our lifetime. Such treasures truly belong to the world and to the future.

        How to you make amends if for example one of the irreplaceable old Italian violins gets destroyed???

        • Even if there is some valid reason to seize an item, immediate destruction is just thuggish and allows no legal recourse. These items should be held and verified as a threat, with the owner having the opportunity to appeal the action in some way or hire an attorney if need be.

          I also agree that there should be documentation for antiques involving materials that are currently illegal. You have to understand that it is necessary in order to prevent smugglers from selling new products made from the illegal trade of endangered species whether plant or animal. A full exemption on the basis of ‘artistic merit’ is nonsense, as ivory carvings and instruments made from endangered old growth would be disastrous. Heck, one could easily apply such an exemption to fashion, even, as the designing of clothing and accessories is an art form as well. Art absolutely does not justify destructive behavior such as the harvesting of endangered species. Though this realistically has nothing to do with what happened in the article.

          This man’s instruments were misclassified as agricultural, and agricultural items are banned in order to stop the accidental introduction of pests and pathogens such as the Emerald Ash Borer and that fungus that wiped out all our native Chestnut trees. Granted, I think commercial shipments are far far more likely to cause these problems than a single person transporting a handful of items. There should be a quarantine and testing process if anything. The status quo is outrageous when applied to items of actual value.

      • Eric Jarvis says:


        The scare story that musicians would be unable to take vintage guitars abroad was largely put about by Gibson. There’s never been any evidence of it being a genuine risk.

        The problems with taking instruments abroad remains careless baggage handlers and out of control customs officials, not the regulations.

  • Abu Nudnik says:

    He just didn’t like the look of his face and did it out of sheer vicious meanness. I have no way of proving that but that’s my guess.

  • Alan Wallach says:

    I’m horrified. This society becomes more authoritarian by the day. Boujemaa Razgui has all my sympathy.

  • Pat Mac Swyney says:

    Neys are made from arundo donax (looks sort of like bamboo), a common reed that grows in rivers all over Eurasia and the southern United States. Not saying we are a nation of hypocrite xenophobes but when my Irish-complexioned wife and brought a dozen or more neys and kavals back from Turkey/Bulgaria/Macedonia, customs waved us right through. Let’s call this what it is: pure, unadulterated bigotry.

  • Jennifer Baker says:

    That is so horrible. What idiots! I hope this man can remake more instruments to keep up his performances. I feel so bad for him and hope this never happens again. Yes, this story needs to be told abroad to protect such individuals and let people know what the government is doing at airports. Instruments should not be considered agricultural biproducts—how rediculous their reasoning. I agree, this issue must be addressed!

  • …the government of the USA = organized crime (in an unorganized way)!…

  • kate says:

    Uh-oh, my banjo has a skin head.

  • Pity the guy with a wooden leg. And how about those wooden rosary beads? These officials were bozos of the first order.

    • Tony Fletcher says:

      I am a puppeteer who carves his puppets from jelatong- an imported timber I live in Sout Africa and have passed through customs in SanFrancisco without any problem. After reading this I dare not risk the loss of my livelihood.

  • Craig says:

    So, using US logic, a priceless Stradivarius violin would have to be destroyed because it is made of wood, clearly agricultural.

  • Johan Åkervall says:

    Acricultural products?!

    The acts of these officials shows that THEY are indeed agricultural, as they are the menure of customs officials!

  • Conrad says:

    Has this been posted to reddit or Facebook? Twitter? It will go viral, and it needs to.

    For the record, I came to this link via meteor blades front page article on Daily Kos. So the process has already started. Does Mr. Razgui have a Face Book Page? perhaps one could be started for him, for this incident specifically?

    I am so sorry. I wish I could be surprised.

  • Rick Dreyer says:

    Seems like the jig is up, TSA…PAY THE PIPER !!!

  • Seppo O. Valjakka says:

    Retired Luthier

    I am a Canadian luthier retired to the Dominican Republic where I continue instrument making on strictly a hobby basis. Recently two custom guitars I sent to friends, one in Texas and another in Missouri were completely and maliciously destroyed during the customs “inspection”. Both instruments were crudely taken apart, holes drilled into their solid wood bodies and the necks broken. Then the pieces were tossed into their packages with parts missing (stolen?) and forwarded to the receivers. The mind boggles; in what world is this sane behaviour? What purpose is there in sending scrap to the new owners?

    Apparently customs agents answer to nobody and have complete power to wantonly destroy whatever they choose without consequence. The courier company is handling the insurance claims and advises me not to ship anything to the USA. Anywhere else in the world is okay.

    The terrorists and criminals have won!

    • That is so very sad. I feel ashamed that my country is probably the only one to which handmade, one of a kind musical instruments can not be sent. I could accept temporarily seizing the instruments but certainly not destroying them.

    • Tak Li says:

      Unfortunately you are essentially correct about customs agents having unchecked, unsupervised power. Certain agents in certain positions can do whatever they want even if it makes no sense at all, and there is basically no appeal. It’s built into the way US Customs is organised and staffed, and it would require a thorough reorganisation of the service to change it.

    • Juanita says:

      Then you didn’t follow proper guidelines. What wood was used in their manufacture? Did it come from a banned source? Can you prove origin? If your answer is no, then you had no business shipping them internationally. These are international guidelines, not US guidelines.

      • Laird Popkin says:

        Juanita, there’s no indication that the wood was banned, so your comment doesn’t make any sense. They ripped the guitars apart and drilled holes in them, obviously to see if there was anything hidden in them. If they suspected that the guitars had been made from banned wood, which is what you speculate and then blame the poster for doing, they would have asked for documentation, and of course could have identified the wood simply by looking at it, either of which involves disassembly or drilling holes into solid wood.

        Unfortunately customs officials have to be given strong powers in order to effectively do their jobs, and clearly some lack the judgement required to be trusted with those powers. Ideally they’d be financially responsible for the damage that they do in any cases where they were wrong, but of course they’d never agree to that.

      • Seppo O. Valjakka says:

        Pray tell, why is it only instruments shipped to the USA get destroyed? During the same time frame I sent three instruments to Australia and one to Canada; all these were inspected and arrived safely. If you are at all familiar with woods of the world, you can identify them easily without a note from your mother! You are disillusioned and missing the point of destroyed instruments entirely.

    • John Acor says:

      The terrorists and criminals have been in charge in the USA for a very long time. They have stacked the deck and change/ignore the rules however it suits them.

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    I’m an orchestral player, not a soloist, so my solution for the last 14 years is a Luis and Clark carbon fiber cello & a pair of good carbon fiber bows. The cello is quite a respectable instrument & a pleasure to play. Especially in Japan people love it. Even US Customs lets it pass.

    That said, the whole thing makes me ill. Maybe they hate musicians because we love what we do.

  • Michael Barar says:

    This is a travesty that needs to be addressed, but it is likely a terrible misjudgment by reckless customs employees against whom action must be taken rather than an indictment against the entire system (which is NOT to say that constant public scrutiny is unnecessary). For example, the last time I traveled abroad, after clearing the initial security checkpoint, I was flagged for additional screening during which a TSA agent wanted to inspect my viola. After opening the case the agent reached for it and I gently informed him of its value, after which he gladly allowed me to handle it while he looked it over. While there are always bad apples it is also important to remember that there are reasonable people who represent these agencies as well.

  • James C. says:

    Before we go any further in calling America the Third Reich, this was a lone employee’s error. There are no reports that this is happening to other musicians. Orders did not come down from Der Führer to destroy all the flutes. We have always had customs workers, there have always been errors. This is not the totalitarian takeover.

    • Lisa says:

      It was not error they cited regulations at him and it has happened to other players you just haven’t noticed.

      • ed says:

        It’s fine that they cited a regulation, but not so fine that they misapplied the regulation.

        Read the guidelines and the manual.

    • DPP says:

      Explain Krystian Zimerman’s pianos then. It is not a lone employee’s error, it is an ongoing crime.

    • Chris says:

      Assaults on musical instruments could be stopped by simply asking the musician to play the instrument. Before being allowed to have anything destroyed supervisors should be involved and traveling musicians must not just let this be ignored any longer. The level of some people hired by TSA is just not acceptable and does not represent the USA well. Racial discrimination toward any nationality leaves us the fool on the international stage!!

    • Terry says:

      Actually, James C., it is most certainly not an isolated incident and is happening to other musicians. Even without doing the most basic of searches on the Internet and just reading the comments in re this story you should be aware that this is not something that is uncommon. I’m pretty sure this story has legs. Pay attention as it goes viral; you will see many more innocent victims step forward with their own story.

  • I would like to contact Mr. Razgui for an interview on my talk radio show. Can you send him my email address?


  • mr nothing says:

    Sorry sir, the clothes on your back are made from cotton….

  • Jonathan says:

    I’m not saying this didn’t happen, but I would like to hear CBP’s version of what happened before I form an opinion. And yes, it’s CBP, Customs and Border Patrol, the TSA has nothing to do with this. I’m also kind of sick of people calling CBP agents “terrorists” and “criminals.” If this really happened in the way it’s been related, it’s terrible and it has to be addressed and taken care of, financial retribution etc., but that doesn’t make our border agents terrorists or criminals. Thanks to Republicans in Congress, they are doing the best they can with extremely limited resources and they are hopelessly understaffed. Under those circumstances, things like this possibly can happen, but I still want to hear their side of this story.

    • Edgar Brenn says:

      You forgot to mention the politics of continuous fearmongering pursued by the US Government, irrespective of the fact whether it is a Democrat or Republican one. In my opinion, whether reason and judgment was employed or not, the US CBP certainly terrorized in this case, thus collaborating in government sponsored instilling of fear and paranioa into not only those who enter the US, but also those who live in that country. And, yes, it does make a difference when the person entering the US is white or not. That said, I agree that the folks of CBP are poorly paid and grossly understaffed – thanks to Congress, Democrat and Republican. Which makes the circle a vicious one, without possibility of escape.

      • CPB is within their rights to question and they do a fabulous job. They use many tools to find the *bad* entries. They find food stuff in luggage,drugs,and many people from around the world think that we have loose morale investigators.Mules are continually being caught, unsuspecting women having no idea what is in luggage given to them. Drug sniffer dogs can pick the scent on clothes of people who have just walked through an area where drugs were smoked etc.

    • DPP says:

      Unbelievable, you defend the criminals. Where in this story is the need to hear the other side?

    • JD says:

      You’re a complete and utter moron.

    • I have had to deal with customs and TSA many times in the past and I would have to say that I certainly feel terrorized. I have had to provide a valid passport to the FBI during a 2 1/2 hour phone interview in 2005 before they would release my package of pneumatic cylinders at the border (Canada). On another event pre 9/11 I had my epinephrine auto injector taken during a short stop over at Huston International airport. Now that I as a musician and entertainer want to start touring, I dread crossing the border with anything that has any sort of meaning to me, especially my 1920s accordion and some of the custom built pieces I have built from scratch and/or modified.

  • Bluesman says:

    Simply another legitimate justification to avoid travelling to the USA.

    Having trashed the nation’s reputation internationally, isn’t it now time to stop these morons?

  • David says:

    These flutes were priceless; not just organic, but works of art. This was apparently a hate crime based on racism with a sprinkle of religious profiling. Our business is old flutes; never in thirty years have we been treated with so much as discourtesy by customs, but we are white. I hope, but doubt, that the offending agents will be deeply disciplined. We also grieve in sympathy with maestro Razgui.

  • feldyviol says:

    I doubt this is an “agricultural products” issue. Customs are under the Department of Homeland Security, and they have been harassing citizens with the wrong sort of name with impunity. See http://www.onthemedia.org/story/shed-light-dhs

    (While in those cases the complaint was unlawful detention and search & seizure rather than destruction of property, I’m guessing it’s the same problem, and it will be equally hard to get DHS to respond).

    I hope the mainstream media do pick up on this, and we get enough pressure on congress to reign in these thugs. (Not to mention some redress for the poor guy. It makes me sick to my stomach…)

  • R says:

    It’s not “the government.” It’s an over-entitled individual who is too dumb to understand the rules, or too full of themselves to admit they are wrong. But you can probably blame Obama if you want.

    • Edgar Brenn says:

      Sorry, this time it really is the government. If not, then CBP acts as a state within a state, like the NSA.

    • Laird Popkin says:

      Clearly it was the act of an individual, but as an employee and agent of the government, the government is responsible for the actions of its agents. That’s why they should make sure that they hire only qualified people with sound judgement and train them properly, and enforce penalties when they break the rules. As it sounds like was done in this case – the laws prohibiting the import of raw agricultural products clearly don’t apply to finished goods, such as these musical instruments.

      So if they individual who illegally destroyed the flutes is punished, and the individual whose property was illegally destroyed is compensated for his loss, then the system can’t be blamed.

      If they protect the individual who illegally destroyed the flutes and don’t compensate the individual whose property was illegally destroyed, then the system is at fault, and needs to be fixed.

  • Van Gogh says:

    IANAL, but I don’t see what he could possibly do. The Federal government has repeatedly shown that they are above the law, especially if you’re not an American citizen.

    Do a Kickstarter to raise money to buy new flutes. I’m sure he’ll get plenty of support.

  • ken says:

    Ignorance is no excuse for stupidity… but wait, we’re talking about the folks at Homeland Absurdity who couldn’t even get a Taco Bell job. Oh, well… in that case… let the lunatics run the assylum! Idiots!

  • When will it stop says:

    Your guitars were destroyed because of the country of origin. THERE JUST HAD TO BE DRUGS HIDDEN IN THEM. Another victim of the the senseless war on drugs

  • Haven’t checked the New York Times website, but RT just ran the story:


    • Michael in Lansing says:

      unfortunately, the fact that RT ran it pretty much guarantees that “mainstream” US outlets will either ignore it or bury it deep on their website (not a “headline” link) or else in the bottom left corner of Page 22 of Section D of the Sunday edition

  • mark levine says:

    I hope everyone commenting will consider contributing to their replacement. Count me in for $100 if such a fund exists

    Mark LeVine

    UC Irvine Dept of History


  • Amadi Azikiwe says:

    Boujemaa, I just sent notes on your behalf to the US Customs and Border Patrol, under the heading of “Illegal activity” (their own), as well as to WABC, WCBS and WNBC, and the legal advisor to the Musicians Union local 802. Reading about this made me sick to my stomach. I hope the agents who did this are fired and brought up on charges. Your plight is our plight.

  • Suze says:

    Perhaps no one should ever be allowed to enter or leave the United States again. That would certainly solve the problem.

  • Dan Lewis says:

    NO, I don’t understand.

    From report #2, it seems the musician was squirrely, wasn’t willing to communicate well or with the people he should have. He helped cause the problem. Does he have his full faculties?

    He lives in New York City…but he can’t talk to police/authorities?? Something’s wrong with this picture.

    I hope the musician has learned a painful lesson – ‘TALK to the Authorities until it gets worked out!’ Sheesh! I have to wonder how good a musician he was, if he couldn’t talk himself and his instruments out of this stupid situation. Phooey on the lot of ’em. ;(

    • Kate says:

      People don’t seem to realize that the musician’s “Resident Alien” status (green card) renders him pretty powerless when Customs or Homeland Security decides they have an issue with him. He has a life and home in New York and could lose that in the blink of an eye.

      • Kate says:

        Also, Dan Lewis, I am guessing that you have not dealt much with crossing the border into the U.S. You are NOT allowed to argue with the officers. Period.

  • dan says:

    that’s just stupid.They are dumb gestapo.They hate white people just as much.

  • Aaron Alter says:

    The Customs Dept. has to enroll every agent in a Common Sense 101 class.

  • Rick McDaniel says:

    The idiots in America’s dictatorial regime, are everywhere. As one flute person to another, I feel for your loss, and sympathize greatly.

    I do not fly anymore, nor do I leave the country, anymore, because of the idiots in charge of the U.S. and the policies they have.

  • We weep for you, Neyzen Boujemaa. And, we weep for the brutal ignorance of the bureaucrats who destroyed your reeds.

  • Trundworth says:

    By the way the Obumma party works these days, these Customs Agents will surely get a Job Promotion

  • Roger says:

    I’d rather contribute $10 toward having someone break the knees of the goons who did this.

  • timwalton3 says:

    Here we go again

    Yet another example of the apparent stupidity of so called ‘Officials’ in the USA.

    Time and time again we hear these dreadful stories. Why are so many people in the USA employed in official positions – Government, Forces & others when they seem to have no common sense whatsoever.

    Don’t they teach this in schools in the USA or have they given up trying to find any teachers capable of teaching the subject.

    Officials, at whatever level, in the USA seem to react/shoot/shout first before putting their brains into action.

    I hope this poor man screws the USA for millions, it will serve them right.

  • Edgar Brenn says:

    The usual uneducated and lousily paid folks who are innately incapable of sound judgment welcomimg the traveler to the US (Marocco=Islam=Terrorist). Even entering Communist East Germany was not that bad. Ah, idiot America….

  • International supporter says:

    This makes me sick to my stomach. My husband is also a ney player. This should never have happened. There is no redress for the loss of his instruments and the damage to his pride in his given profession:music!!! Hoping this gets a lot of publicity so the issue can be addressed.

  • Binti says:

    They do it because they can. Because they are uneducated, low level lackeys and it makes them feel powerful. They know they are over loosely interpreting regulations but do it because it gives them pleasure to sadistically brutalize people who have more intelligence, creativity, skills (especially fine, artistic skills), or money than they have.

  • Dave says:

    “what would happen if a wind soloist was coming to America to play solo with the New York Philharmonic and had all his reeds destroyed?” They’d go to Manny’s or Sam Ash and buy new ones.

    All due respect, not the best analogy. Apparently, “Bourjemaa carries a variety of flutes of varying ethnicity, each MADE BY HIMSELF over years for specific types of ancient and modern performance.” The fact that he actually made these instruments, renders them irreplaceable. As such, there’s no excuse for having destroyed them. The instruments should have been quarantined, at MOST, IF there was any question as to their origin or other problematic situation (wood from Liberia is prohibited in many places, for example). It may have helped in this case, had Mr. Razgui been more assertive, insisted upon quarantine, and/or asked to consult legal council, given the nature of the instruments.

    The officials in question should be forced to make full remuneration for the loss and should incur some punitive action. Shame on them! They’re an embarrassment to intelligent, responsible customs officers and Americans everywhere.

  • This is nothing new. More than 40 years ago, when I was 15, I was separated from my parents because our small plane from Bermuda (where we had vacationed) to Miami was full. I was put on the next flight. When I reached Miami, customs officials broke my vintage Martin guitar (worth hundreds of dollars) apart looking for smuggled drugs. My parents, waiting for me, were told that I was being detained on suspicion of drug smuggling. I am white, and American. The customs officials were absolutely gleeful about frightening a teenage girl with threats of years in jail if anything was found. When I got out, I was too scared to tell my parents about what happened, or my ruined guitar.

  • no name says:

    Had it been shipped from China to Target or Walmart it would have never been touched. America should be boycotted by everyone, including Americans.

  • Ali Babba says:

    These Homeland Insecurity agents are agricultural products – they should be smashed and destroyed on sight.

  • Ed says:

    It would be best to hear if this story has another side before jumping to conclusions. It seems Mr. Razgui did not ask many questions or make much of an objection. As he said, he did not want to be confrontational. Of course, he has no obligation to make a scene to protect his rights. If the official acted improperly, Mr. Razgui should be compensated.

    • ed says:

      It would have been easier for an American to be bold or confrontational, though, face it, these days that could cause even a U.S. citizen to be manhandled by a government border agent. So, visualize what, in this time of oft manufactured terrorism and anti-Islamic bigotry what someone of Middle Eastern or North African background would feel constrained to do or not do. The agents made a big error of judgment and obviously lacked the education to understand or inquire further about what it was they were inspecting.

  • Fortis says:

    In the UK, Australia and New Zealand, you are given the choice of having “agricultural products” irradiated to kill off insects, mites and other pests OR having the items destroyed.

    Surely any person with a gram of common sense would have offered the same with something they were unsure of?

    I can’t say for sure if it was racially motivated, or if the customs official took a personal dislike to Mr. Razgui. What I can say with complete certainty is that the official was completely out of order, and as with all border control they should have consulted a superior before committing such an atrocity.

    • And in fact, Fortis, I have brought driftwood from New Zealand home in my checked baggage and no one made a peep. I just washed the sand off it before packing, lol. And an outright kilo of parmesan cheese home from Parma back in 2006, surely they knew that was there, lol. Funny what they’ll stop.

      The people who do this at the lower interpersonal level are CHOSEN by the authorities to be the kind of people they are: zealous to nitpick about the letter of the law, the spirit of it be damned if necessary; and possessed of a real personal need to be GIVEN orders and a mission.

  • People around the world need to start heeding this: Do not come to the US. The United States government and its subcontractors are out of control. The US has constructed vast for-profit security and surveillance industries that are largely unregulated and unpunished for unjust behavior. Unfortunately, the best way for citizens of the world to avoid mistreatment by low level employees of US security corporations now is to avoid travel here. 🙁

    • Neville Ross says:

      Although I don’t blame the Obama administration for this, I’m not planning to travel to the USA (I’m from Canada) anytime soon myself. I would love to visit my cousin in New York, and also go to some sci-fi conventions there too, but I have no intention of putting up with security bullshit just to enjoy the heaven of a three-day event.

  • phil noir says:

    I’m sick and tired of this government running roughshod over anything and everything they do not understand, and calling it “security.”

    When are the so-called citizens of this country going to get really angry about what is done in their name?

  • Disgusting abuse of power. I’m not a lawyer and have no official standing, but…it makes me ashamed.

  • Geo. McCalip says:

    I hope he got the identities of the thugs who did this.

    Let’s start with suing them for 42 USC 1983 deprivation of due process. While he is conveniently in front of the federal magistrate for that he can had the judge sworn complaints against the thugs for 18 USC 241, conspiracy to deprive him of his rights. That is good for a fine and or up to ten years in federal prison, each. Let them plead out with no prison time; they will still lose their jobs because of the felonies on their records.

  • Donald Sosin says:

    This is really devastating news. I pray that in 2014 there will be an end to these kinds of ridiculous overstepping of the boundaries of Customs and Border Patrol activities.

  • Sam says:

    The generosity people are showing here is wonderful. I will donate too, but CBP destroyed those instruments, and they must be made to pay for it. They can’t be allowed to do this sort of thing with impunity.

  • Sarah says:

    First, my heartfelt sympathy. My oboe and I have had a few run ins before, but no damage, emotional or physical, to the extent of your suffering. Your fans and fellow musicians are here to stand beside you and support you during your time of loss. You are a member of the union? Reach out to your local rep. Reach out to flute organizations, too. If they were insured this could be grounds for a lawsuit and your insurance company could assist in getting a lawyer. It won’t bring them back, but could at least protect your livelihood. Solidarity among your musician family the world over. And May justice be served in the murder of your flutes.

  • Mark Horning says:

    This is a result of the CITES treaty and the LACEY ACT. Anything made of wood is subject to the act. Basically the owner has to prove that the wood is legal. Yeah. The folks on the Guitar forums know all about it.

  • You’ve allowed your government to go completely to hell, via your voteing. No one can complain.

    • Galdon says:

      Not entirely true, unfortunately. We can vote for who we want on the ballet, but those of us without money and influence have no true influence over who is put on those ballets, and the number of voters is too high for a write-in candidate to ever win.

    • Ron Smyth says:

      Unfortunately, no matter who you vote for, a politician gets elected.

  • Bottom line. Homeland Security is totally out of control. This has dripped-flowed-trickled to ALL other agencies. Stupid Fed employees doing such damage can’t be easily fired. Thanks in part to EEO. Most culpable is head of agency & who appointed her. Nuff said.

  • annelark says:

    I would not be too quick to claim ethnicity for the targeting of the flautist. Of two people detained for pat down and careful scrutiny at the time of my last flight, were two white-haired, white skinned ladies over 60 years of age. Various other people including a bearded, dark-eyed, dark-haired, dark skinned male were waved through with hardly any notice. Can’t be racism or ethnicity or common sense either. (How many little old ladies have blown up or hijacked airplanes lately?) Merely harassment of people who were not expected to have clout? Or possibly targeting of people who were deemed to have too much culture? MY deepest sympathy – and outrage.

  • Randy Buist says:

    I fly to Kenya regularly and fly through England, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. As a white American male, I have the most difficulty coming into my own country. It usually goes without incident, but it always goes without incident in all of these other countries. We should be ashamed how we treat people arriving in our country.

  • Lady Thanatolia says:

    It is appalling that these officials destroyed instruments, many of them hand-made. Perhaps someone, perhaps the wronged party himself, can get on to Change.org and start a petition, one that calls for the dismissal of the idiots who destroyed his livelihood, and also a petition seeking a formal apology from DHS. Those bozos should be penalized.

  • Karen says:

    Race is not the issue. I am white, and the worst treatment I ever received at a border was travelling into Manchester, United Kingdom, the land my great, great grandparents came from! My instruments have also been mishandled at different airports, including in my hometown Brisbane, Australia, by customs officials. (They opened the case of an expensive professional hand-made silver flute, lifted it up, and walked with it, clearly with no idea of how to handle a musical instrument. They caused no damage on that occasion, but very easily could have. It was quite obvious to me that they had no idea of the value of the instrument.) I have also travelled to the USA many times, and have had some very public security checks that I found embarrassing. The treatment of this musician was unacceptable, and customs staff need to be trained better all around the world, I think.

  • MarkJ says:

    I don’t like to criticise other countries, goodness knows mine isn’t without faults. So please excuse this comment, I mean no disrespect to America, or Americans generally. I am an Australian and have entered the US only three times, and while that is a very, very small sample, each time I have been absolutely appalled at the behaviour and attitude of your border security officials. When I have spokne to frinds and other travellers, their experiences are similar. It is very, very difficult to find anyone with a kind word to say about US border officials. The terms uneducated, thugs and bullies are often used in these types of discussions. What happened to Razgui was one more example, albeit a very serious one, of the very deep, very serious systemic cultural problems in your border protection departments.

  • Martin says:

    The United States of Arbitrariness

    It’s very simple, if it clearly is an agricultural product unaltered for a different use… then destroy. But if it has been made into something like an insturment i.e., then get a professional to decide, if the product can be let into the country.

    In case documentation and approvals would have been required, then offer the traveller to eighter pay a fine or have his goods destroyed.

    But just destroying insturments is stupid – especially when it would be quiet easy to obtain information, that the person has travelled in and out of the country many times and is a professional musician.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Of course, Mr. Lebrecht could have done what I did, spend five minutes to find the CBP public contact for New York and inquire about the facts of the matter:

    Anthony Bucci

    (646) 733-3275


    I am speculating but my guess is that Mr. Razgui ran afoul of the Lacey Act of 1900, controlling the import of agricultural products, as expanded by the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. It’s the same statute under which Gibson Guitars was raided, had a supply of wood confiscated and ended up paying a $300,000 fine [http://tinyurl.com/kqsmkt3].

    As the article says, “If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent – not to mention face fines and prosecution.” Mr. Razgui, far from being eligible for restitution by the government, should feel himself lucky if he isn’t indicted for his actions.

    An EPA official was recorded discussing the approach to enforcing environmental laws, ““It is kind of like how the Romans used to conquer villages in the Mediterranean – they’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere and they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them. Then that little town was really easy to manage for the next few years… And so, you make examples out of people who are, in this case, not complying with the law. You find people who are not complying with the law and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them. There’s a deterrent effect there.” [http://tinyurl.com/mtc8jfb]

    I am told by my progressive betters that extremism in protection of the environment is no vice. If there’s something grimly amusing about this, it’s watching the surprise among progressive types that laws they think only apply to mean, nasty corporations apply to them as well and that they too – instead of just their enemies – can be smitten by the hammer of the Administrative State. A government that thinks it can do anything it wants to eventually will end up doing anything it wants to.

    • Excuse me: these are facts? The spokesman begins by saying ‘I am speculating…’ We await a response from CBP.

      • Stephen Owades says:

        If you read Mr. Hlatky’s comment carefully, I think it’s clear that he has not been in contact with anyone from US Customs. He cites the name and number of a representative of that agency, but all the words in the comment are Mr. Hlatky’s own.

    • David H. says:

      Interesting you mention the Romans. We all know how that Empire ended…

      I wonder how such legislation can be legal, when there can be no “due process” and a single customs nitwit is given the authority to destroy cultural treasures at the spot.

      Smells like totalitarian legislation to me, not like the rule of law.

    • Concerned Citizen says:

      Mr. Lebrecht; [redacted]. You and your leftist bleeding heart liberal hordes are so swift to attack government officials and hurl defamatory remarks at them without knowing what actually transpired with Mr. Razgui’s “Flutes”.

      I have it from the most reliable source of all, that one, Mr. Razgui was not present during the inspection of his baggage. Two, Mr Razgui was not importing Flutes, but raw, Green Bamboo Sticks that were capable of being propagated. Why don’t you check your facts before you print inflammatory, anti- government tripe.

      Again, I say shame on you sir. Shame on all the “know it all” pseudo intellectual artists that were so quick to condemn and besmirch the name of those dedicated to the defense of this country’s natural and agricultural resources. Incidentally, oh omniscient one, my friends that work for CBP all have degrees in Biology, with specializations in Botany, Plant Pathology, and Entomology.

      [redacted: persistent abuse]

      Incidentally, to those miscreants that claim that CBP Officers are Racists: Demographically,

      JFK CBP Officers are the most culturally diverse group of Law Enforcement Officers imaginable.

      I can assure you, that these people that so doggedly protect our borders are not in the least racist; and for the most part, are dedicated professionals!

    • ed says:

      Mr. Hlatky, Who’s indictable? Have you read Custom’s own guidelines and manual covering bamboo?

      Concerned citizen, it is incontrovertible that valuable (aged) flutes were destroyed, not just raw bamboo. I don’t think there would have been any stink if the raw bamboo was all that had been confiscated and destroyed- that would have been covered by the regs. You don’t have to be leftist or bleeding heart liberal to be moved or outraged by the lack of judgment of these few Customs Officers, whether or not they had a degree from Harvard, Yale, Princeton or the Roosevelt School of Air Conditioning (or, since you have introduced the national security argument, to be moved by the horror caused by our invasion and destruction of countries and peoples that never attacked us).

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        Actually, yes I have (http://tinyurl.com/lbfrwnj):

        “In general, bamboo that is not thoroughly dried and is therefore still capable of propagation is prohibited entry into the United States… Unsplit dried bamboo canes/stakes/poles also are allowed entry into the United States after inspection.”

        So we’re at something of an impasse. You say it’s incontrovertible that aged flutes were destroyed. The CBP says that fresh, green bamboo canes and no instruments were destroyed. Now the CBP Agricultural Specialists who did the inspection may not know a lot about the Darmstadt School and may not have taken conducting classes with Lenny or Jimmy but if you asked me whether they can tell the difference between fresh, green bamboo canes and dried bamboo, I’d have to give them the benefit of the doubt. I mean, that’s their job.

        Furthermore, the CBP’s statement was that whatever was confiscated was from unclaimed baggage and that Razgui wasn’t present when the bags were inspected (http://tinyurl.com/l8qhcyv). So can we put paid to these hysterical cries of “racism”?

        A one-sided account of this incident was used as chum to excite the usual America-bashing feeding frenzy among the precious aesthetes hereabouts. One would have thought that the responsible thing to do would have been to inquire of the New York CBP office what their side of the story was, in which case we would have learned that what happened may not have been as quite so clear-cut. But that would have upset the narrative.

        • ed says:

          Mr. Hlatky- Customs’ original story was that no instruments were destroyed. In fact, instruments that Razgui had been using for more than a few years were destroyed and it was only after that fact was made widely known that Customs changed its story. I ‘speculate’, to use your word, that Customs would have held to its original line if pictures of the flutes had not been circulated. Furthermore, Customs knows a lot more these days about the identity of passengers, who they really are and who owns what baggage-so, even with the ‘benefit of the doubt’, it dropped the ball on this one. Finally, I’m a bit amused about this sensitivity to ‘hysterical cries of racism’, when over the past decade we’ve seem so much of it directed at Muslims by advocates of this endless war on terror- and who if not the government and its hysterical militarist supporters have been responsible for instigating that?

  • LDRider says:

    Wonder if this would happen to Joshua Bell. His (in re some of these comments, the ironically named Gibson Stradivarius) violin is made of agricultural products. Wonder if Customs would destroy a four million dollar work of art.

  • David H. says:

    And if you can’t play the instrument you are carrying, it can be destroyed? Hardly a reasonable solution. What’s next? A Stradivari being smashed to pieces by a US customs nitwit?

    • bjeanyb says:

      That is not beyond the scope of what’s possible. Based on this story, I imagine any thing, any item that has a component part made of material that originated in something that grew, whether plant or animal, could be declared an agricultural product by an ignorant or vindictive TSA or customs employee.

  • Ergo says:

    I once had a roll of Scotch tape seized because there was a possibility that I could use it to tie up the airplane crew! My job requires travel, but I sometimes refuse offers because the inevitable hassles make me physically ill. I am convinced that the TSA has become a haven for bullies, psychopaths and the ignorant.

  • George D. says:

    Congress has made the TSA position a “low paying job” and has written laws that forbid the TSA employees from Union Representation and also forbids them from striking. The employees have a very low moral and the only power they have is over those crossing into the USA. And they exercise that power frequently. Especially at large airports where they know passengers are on a tight time schedule and in need of catching a flight.

    I don’t know how the flutes were packed, but if they were just rolled up in a cloth, it would leave the agent in a position of declaring them as simple bamboo cuttings. If they were placed in individual flute hard cases, then there would be a grand argument they were indeed instruments. Razgui should have demanded someone higher up make a ruling. And also an appeal. TSA can hold the instruments until after the appeal.

  • J.P. Travis says:

    I find it interesting that the discussion of an example of government tyranny and stupidity is immediately sidetracked by another stupid troll hollering “Racism!” This is how they subjugate us – they keep us distracted with ancillary issues. Don’t be distracted, people. Race is irrelevant. The government thugs threaten us all.

  • @nitwillow says:

    Concerned Citizen, I don’t know who you are. Tell us, who is this “most reliable source of all”? I’d have thought Mr Razgui would be pretty reliable.

  • Doug P says:

    I don’t know whether to scream or cry. Contact New York Lawyers for the Arts. They may be able to help.

  • bjeanyb says:

    Has anyone opened a petition asking for an explanation? This is a horrible story, makes me ashamed to be an American. If I had children or grandchildren, I would be looking for a way to emigrate.

  • John M says:

    Whoa here….#1 The nut at the gate should have got a senior manager involved. #2 These were instruments local to this mans’ homeland, hand made, (and knowing musicians they were loved, fine tuned, not infected and revered by him). #3 Import regulations have a job to do, it’s not like he was smuggling a ton of raw product for the black market. They could have impounded (hate that word but..) and researched the issue, instead they take away a mans livelihood. Shame on the gatekeepers and some of you political insects posting here.

  • figarosi says:

    The out-of-control hysteria about this is astounding and many posters obviously need medication. The Customs and Border Protection public citation on the importation of bamboo was given here early on. It is easily found with Google. It said, in the simplist possible terms, that the importation of fresh bamboo, capable of reproduction, is prohibited. Does anyone not understand that simple statement? A stick of bamboo, one of nature’s most persistent plants, that can be stuck in the ground will grow and reproduce. It does, however, exempt any article manufactured from bamboo. If you are bringing in fresh bamboo sticks – something that has not been visibly transformed – it should, under the law, be destroyed. If you are bringing in bamboo sticks with a variety of holes in them but not otherwise carved, you should bring along published information about these “instruments” – the more the better – to prove your case that these have been manufactured. Be ready to play them if requested. Again, a bamboo stick is subject to distruction. If a musician is carryig bamboo sticks that has been “manufactured” into a musical instrument he should be able to show that and not expect any Customs officer to automatically know what a “ney” is.

    Customs routinely pays claims for goods damaged during inspection. You do not need an attorney and can do that yourself with documentation about the use, value, etc. It would be better, however, to bring that documentation with you when you first arrive and save the headache. Gibson is another story entirely.

    • ed says:

      Even a cursory inspection of the flutes would have made clear that they were not raw bamboo.

      No one is arguing that the raw bamboo sticks should not have been confiscated or destroyed.

      Don’t confuse the two (unless you want to join those Customs Agents and argue the unarguable).

  • David K. says:

    The agent didn’t need to destroy the instruments, but he seemed to need the satisfaction just of destroying something unique/custom, taking something personal and precious away from a musician who quite possibly wasn’t a lawbreaker by nature. It appears the agent is employed in a position he’s not at all fit for. The warped agent could have been the one out of hundreds that would allow for a reasonable, rational solution to this situation, any other agent and this injustice probably would never occurred. Borderline psychotic agent?

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    It’s not just plant-based items. I have 3 beautiful bows with tortoiseshell frogs, from 2 makers in 2 countries. I am unable to travel to meet the makers, both of whom are quite elderly, because I would have only two choices, both highly unpleasant. Either sell them all overseas, never to see again, or have them smashed in front of me. I have been advised by Customs ( several decades ago!) that no papers would let me bring them home.

    One of the bows was made specifically for me. As I was underage at the time, it was all done by correspondence. So sad…

  • Mewman says:

    The person who made the decision to smash the instruments was an ignorant thug, plain and simple!

  • It is I only says:

    They must have been “weapons of mass destruction”?

  • Emmit Hertz says:

    Speaking as a luthier and musician, the motive of the customs agent in question is obvious: He is jealous of our Freedom.

  • AnnF says:

    Disgusting. How boorish can you get? I could understand a low-level employee being uncertain about the regulations and how they apply, but there should be some kind of appeal process before priceless cultural items are destroyed.

  • Serbo-Canadian in Macau says:

    Never again.

    In 2002, I was going to a conference in Ann Arbor and flying from Oslo through Amsterdam through Newark. I had gold plated nail clippers which were a gift from a very dear person who is no longer. They were carried through security at Oslo and Amsterdam. In Newark they were snatched out of my bag and thrown onto a pile of other impounded object eerily reminiscent of glasses at Auschwitz. I felt extremely hurt and powerless.

    On the way back to Europe, I was waiting at Newark again, when they offered first hotel, rebooking, and 300 dollars for giving up seat on an overbooked flight, then 500 dollars, and then 800 dollars. And yet, not for a second did I consider staying in the US a single minute longer than I had to. I wanted out of there and I knew it was going to be the last time I have set foot in that despicable locality.

    I am never going back to the US. As far as I am concerned all 330 million of them can burn in a massive extinction, just as long as the calamity stops at the borders of Canada and Mexico.

  • Lloyd says:

    So based on the Customs agents’ logic, these flutes could have been planted in the ground to grow more flutes that would have upset our ecosystem. We sure employ real geniuses at customs.

  • @CBPNewYorkCity is commenting now and responding to some questions I’ve posed on Twitter. They say there were no instruments, only fresh bamboo canes.


  • Adam says:

    What happened to this musician Is unacceptable and wrong. I wish him the best, and hope he is able to get this situation ironed out soon. As for those who claim that racism is alive in this country today, I agree. There is a racism against white people. There are scholarships for college that are exclusively for African American citizens. There are programs available for solely Hispanic illegal immigrants that do not exist for the rest of us. There have been many times I have been with African Americans, Hispanics or Asians at the wrong time and been implicated in a crime solely to avoid the appearance of racism. Before you band wagoners start preaching about the evils of American racism in the world today, Look at the new victims of racism and the panty waists that have to blame their failures on an evil that no longer exists on a comment thread that causes nothing but grief and hatred.

  • Richard Gilmore says:

    I gave up trying to find a comment from a lawyer-type person out there. Someone tell me where such a comment is.

  • Ehud Avni says:

    The NY Times & The Boston Globe!! ROFL Those 2 liberal rags are part of the problem.Well, maybe only one of them will be when John W. Henry assumes control of the BG.

  • Lloyd Miller says:

    This is ENVIRONMENTALISM running out of control. The instruments are probably made out of rare wood and violate the ban on importing such things.

  • Rob S says:

    He didn’t care enough about his flutes to collect his belongings until the next day?

  • Frank says:

    Wow. This is the first I have heard this so it clearly is not receiving the attention it deserves in the US. Of course, these things generally do go unpublicized, as the news and the American public are too busy arguing much like the albeit multi-viewed but perhaps lacking ability to focus on the point responses to this story. Rather than covering things like this, our media is too busy arguing about whether or not universal health care is evil. Notice how in these comments the conversation quickly loses the point which was and is that we had no right to commit these actions, AND how this man was treated by one man or two men or three men or women, all of whom, like it or not, DO represent not only the US customs, but the US as a whole, and every citizen in it. And for that I am embarrassed, and disgusted, and downright pissed off. And we will hear of more instances like this, as this was not the first nor the last. And as long as we remain unable to focus on the issue itself instead of always trying to bring our own agendas into everything as the responders to this story do, the contemptuous bastards in this world will continue to get away with it, and we will find ourselves living more and more in a country that is unfamiliar to us.

    As an American I offer my sincere apologies to this man and to the world that we could be so stupid and downright abusive to a guest in our country.

  • mc1171611 says:

    Submit, serf!!

    Welcome to the U.S.S.A.

  • mbl says:

    It just gets worse and worse. This country’s starting to resemble the former Soviet Union. Increasingly, many performers just don’t want to come here anymore. (Just saw an interview w/the remaining members of Monty Python and they are doing a show in Europe but stated they were planning on coming to the USA.)

  • John Buckley McQuaid says:

    Were the instruments insured? If so – were they defined as instruments on the policy?

  • Kay B. Day says:

    Sigh. Lacey. Progressives block any reform. This is at least the third time something like this has happened. Really does pay to read what Congress does instead of relying on pop pundits.

  • Lindley says:

    Okay, this is just one of those WTF? moments. I don’t know what was going through those Customs agent’s heads. I don’t know what kind of memo or meeting or reprimand someone got that kicked it off. I do know that labeling some bamboo flutes “agricultural products” is beyond weird and I don’t know whether there was racism involved or not. It’s just WTF?. Hopefully there will be enough pressure on the State that the poor guy will get some kind of compensation and/or apology… and maybe even have it result in some practical guidelines and training provided to US Customs Agents to avoid this kind of problem in the future.

  • Kay says:

    Glad I don’t live in the US, I would not live there if you paid me.

  • Richard says:

    Appalling, but inevitable when those employed clearly enjoy pushing others around.

    How could a decent, considerate person do such a thing? It requires an excessive meanness of spirit and minimal intelligence, to do such a thing.

    TSA? Truly serious arseholes.

  • Dave Roth says:

    Clothes are made from cotton, maybe we should get naked and burn our clothes as we cross the border.