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A standard post-9/11 plot for American television. A One-Shot Character is introduced who is Middle Eastern and Muslim. The majority of the cast welcomes this new character with open arms, except for one. He's convinced that this new character is a terrorist, and will do whatever it takes to show the rest of the cast that his suspicions are correct. In doing so he invades the new character's privacy, and eventually learns An Aesop about being considerate of other cultures.

Alternately, a character is mistaken for a terrorist while acting suspiciously in an airport or on a plane. Most of the time it's a misunderstanding. Something or other will be Mistaken for Evidence (for example, the suspect will say something like "This party is gonna be the bomb!").

Unfortunately, this is Truth in Television (Real Life examples and personal anecdotes might double the page length or more). A number of people on airline flights have been discriminated against, including being forced off the plane, because the other passengers or pilots panicked and thought they were terrorists just based on their appearance or misunderstood actions (and there are reports of some who invoke this trope to test the waters or make it harder to find the ones with bombs). Sikhs and Orthodox Jews have to deal with this too.

Examples of Mistaken for Terrorist include:

Comic Books

  • A variation occurs in a Dork Tower strip with a "radical" "extremist" "black panther" named Huey. He's a white guy wearing a black furry panther costume.
  • Happens in the November 2011 issue of Knights of the Dinner Table when the group plays a real-life based Zombie Apocalypse game of Screams of Kachuloo. Brian's frequent Internet searches for bomb-making and the layout for the local mall (for the game) throws up red flags with Homeland Security. A more experienced member of the department sees that the address is in gamer-heavy Muncie, Indiana and calls off the team. They've been burned there before many times...
  • Happens to a young Arabian man in a issue of Power Girl as the plane he is in starts to fall from the sky as he uses his super powers to save the plane and its passengers. He mentions that the reason he never use his powers before was because he knew they would consider him a terrorist.

Films -- Live-Action

  • In Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, we see a POV Shot from a little old lady on the plane and Kumar looks like a terrorist - turban, beard, Evil Laugh. Then he lights up a bong in the restroom and people think he's got a stick of dynamite. He even says "it's only a bong" and people mistake him for saying "bomb."
  • Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back; the jewel thieves set Jay and Bob up as animal rights terrorists.
  • My Name Is Khan features a main character named Rizwan Khan, a Muslim American with Asperger's Syndrome living in post 9-11 America. He says to another character that he wants to tell the President, and the people, of the United States that his "name is Khan and that [he] is not a terrorist." When he repeats this to himself in a crowd gathered to meet President Bush, he is arrested, imprisoned, and tortured as a terrorist suspect. A Funny Aneurysm Moment occurred when Shahrukh Khan, the actor who played Rizwan was detained by Immigration offers at Newark Airport on August 14, 2009 and questioned for two hours.
  • Invoked in Crank. Chev Chelios gets revenge on an obnoxious taxi driver by dragging him out of his vehicle, then pointing at him and yelling "Al Qaeda!" Everyone in the street immediately dogpiles the man and beats him up.
  • In the 2008 film of Get Smart, when Maxwell is trying to scrap gum off his shoe with a match the plane passengers mistake it for a shoe-bomb. He says it's just Gum which is misheard as Gun.
  • In Flight Plan, Kyle Pratt mistakenly accuses a Middle Eastern man of kidnapping her daughter (although to be fair, his being Middle Eastern wasn't the only reason she thought he was guilty). He is later shown to have nothing to do with the girl's disappearance.
  • In The Dictator, Admiral-General Aladeen and his minion have an innocuous conversation while on a helicopter tour of New York, but the various snippets of English words they use (like miming the explosion of fireworks while talking about the Statue of Liberty) convince the tourists that they're terrorists. Which raises the question: Can a character be "mistaken" for a terrorist if he does actively aid and abet terrorists?

Live Action TV

  • Law and Order played with this: a family of Italian Americans considered their son's Muslim girlfriend's family potential terrorists. The girlfriend's family thought of her boyfriend's family as Mafiosos. Both lovers end up being murdered.
    • Another episode had two detectives invoke this trope intentionally on a pair of uncooperative Iranian nationals who refuse to cooperate with an investigation (they happen to work for the Embassy and can't be forced to answer questions or charged for impeding). The police resort to basically planting a camera filled with what would appear to be photos scouting a target for a terrorist attack in NYC. The District Attorney is not amused when he has to deal with the fallout from the State Department over the matter, but he and the police officers involved never face any lasting consequences over the incident.
  • There was a Degrassi the Next Generation episode where Hazel was harrassing a Muslim girl, even going and telling her to her face "Terrorist chic? So not in," in reference to her hijab. Paige calls her out on it, and she ends up prime suspect when someone vandalizes the Muslim girl's locker. Turns out Hazel is herself Somali and Muslim, and she was doing it precisely for this reason.
  • 30 Rock: Liz Lemon grasses up an Arab man to Homeland Security when she glimpses maps on the wall of his apartment and sees him running through an obstacle course. Turns out he was in training for The Amazing Race.
  • An episode of Wings had a few of the guys taking a plane for a trip only to end up landing in the middle of a cornfield. At one point Antonio goes exploring the field to look for help and comes back with the farmer behind him... with his hands raised while a shotgun is pointed at him.

 Antonio: "Joe, would you tell this man I am *not* a Libyan terrorist?"

  • From the first episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie Amaar is talking to his mom over the cellphone at the airport. With this dialogue, it's somewhat understandable they were mistaken:

 "I don't care if dad thinks this is suicide. I'm on a mission from god. It's not like a dropped a bomb on him"

  • Without a Trace, "In Extremis." A Saudi Arabian doctor goes missing, and a lot of people automatically assume he's a terrorist. As it turns out, some of his acquaintances are, but he's trying to stop them. He's killed by a FBI sniper at the end of the episode as soon as they get a clear shot. He was heard talking about blowing up a building by a passing woman, but he is actually talking about how the home stadium of the sports team he's talking about should be demolished because they never win.
  • Twenty Four has two rather tragic examples on Day 2. Reza Nair is the biggest example - CTU initially suspects him of financing terrorist operations, although it turns out he's being framed by his white, blonde, all-American fiancee, who turns out to be the real terrorist. She murders Reza when he finds out. Later in the season, Yusef Auda is an intelligence agent from the Middle East who initially seems like an untrustworthy character but ends up as a fairly awesome ally for Jack Bauer... only to get beaten to death by angry racist Americans who do, in fact, mistake him for terrorist.
  • In an episode of Titus the titular character was on a plane with his family after his mother's funeral. Mimicking a real life epiphany Christopher had years earlier, he caused a commotion that worried the other passengers. It didn't help when over-indulgent Dave came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his head and Tommy on his knees shouting "Allah" "a la king" (he was correcting a steward's grammer regarding a chicken dish).
  • Cami from Bones has freaked out over the suspicion that Arastoo is a terrorist twice. Despite knowing he has served as a translator for the US Military in Iraq. The first time her fear was a little understandable, but the second after she supposedly learned her lesson from the first?
  • In an episode of Chuck involving Chuck choosing new Intersect agents, one of the candidates looked Middle Eastern and had a large beard, and also happened to be an explosives expert. He signed up to be an Intersect agent because was not happy about being constantly assigned to be The Mole in terrorist organizations and was sick to death of being surrounded by nothing but sand all the time.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • American Dad episode "Homeland Insecurity" when ultra-conservative Stan Smith assumes the new Iranian neighbors are terrorists. He turns his house into a detention camp where he puts the Iranians and eventually all of the other neighbors into captivity.
  • South Park episode "The Snuke." Were Cartman automatically assumes that a new boy at school is a terrorist because he's Muslim. While there does turn out to be a terrorist plot going on in town, it is in fact it's a Russian working for the British.
  • The Simpsons episode "Mypods and Boomsticks". Similar to South Park's "The Snuke", Homer assumes Bart's new Muslim friend (even almost sharing the same name) and his parents are terrorists.
  • One episode of Minoriteam featured the group going on a trip in their civilian identities. The Indian Dave Raj, however, slept in, and was forced to transform into his super-powered self, Nonstop, and hop on his flying carpet to get to the airport on time. Nonstop wears a turban and has a long beard. You can probably figure out the rest on your own.