US Customs Destroys Musician's Rare Flutes for Being 'Ecological Threat'

US Customs Destroys Musician's Rare Flutes for Being 'Ecological Threat'

Boujemaa Razgui, a famed Moroccan flutist who regularly performs in Boston, was passing through New York’s John F. Kennedy airport on his way elsewhere packing eleven of his handmade Berber flutes he uses to perform. Mistaking them for bamboo, US Customs destroyed them. 

Razgui’s flutes were in his luggage, which was taken out of his sight while he was transferring flights. He continued on his way to Boston from New York, and did not discover his flutes missing until he went home. When he called his airline, he was told to speak to Customs, who matter-of-factly notified him that all his flutes – which he was bringing to Boston to perform with – were destroyed. At no point during his time in New York was Razgui asked about the flutes or notified that they might be problematic.

According to Foreign Policy, which contacted US Customs, the agency will not apologize and believes that the flutes were destroyed for good reason – namely, that they were “an ecological threat.” “The fresh bamboo canes were seized and destroyed in accordance with established protocols to prevent the introduction of plant pathogens into the United States,” one official told the magazine, without indicating that the Customs officials knew what the flutes were when they were destroyed. 

Razgui naturally is devastated, and his performances in Boston are up in the air. “This is my life,” he told the Boston Globe, explaining that there are little more than a dozen of these flutes in the United States and that “I fly with them in and out all the time and this is the first time there has been a problem.” He called the situation “horrible,” as he was told to rely on Washington’s bureaucracy and send a letter to the Department of Agriculture about his flutes. “I don’t know what to do,” he sighed.

By far the strangest bit of this story is how there is absolutely no indication that U.S. Customs knew that it was destroying a set of flutes and not “fresh bamboo canes.” Moreover, nothing Razgui said over the phone to agents clarified to them what had happened. Razgui does not have the flutes, but Customs also insists it did not destroy any instruments, but only reeds that Razgui had purchased in Morocco to make more flutes, according to CNN. It highlights how dangerous the lack of communication between Customs/TSA/assorted security officials and travelers can be for the individual property rights of individuals. 

Razgui has not mentioned the potential of legal action to recover the cost of his flutes, traditional Moroccan instruments called nays (and a shorter version called a kawala). He does, however, now consider himself unemployed. Having had to cancel a concert on New Year’s Eve, it is unclear whether he will be able to make it to any of the venues that booked him. “I don’t have a job,” he lamented to CNN, noting that he needs his instruments to support his family.