Under Siege in America

The secret persecution of Middle Eastern and Muslim immigrants

By Alan Goodman

Revolutionary Worker #1129, December 2, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

On November 13: Asif Kazi, a 39-year-old accountant and Pakistani immigrant, is in his home in Chester, Pennsylvania. His wife, Palwasha Jalawam, is cooking breakfast. Suddenly, 30 FBI agents and a hazardous materials team kick down the door and hold Palwasha at gunpoint.

The FBI claimed Kazi was seen dumping a "suspicious substance, a cloudy white liquid" in "mysterious material." They ask him about his job, his knowledge of computers, and U.S. history. Kazi explains he was fixing a clogged sink, and took a silver-colored canister with leftover food in it, and used it to dump soapy water in his backyard. The FBI serves Asif Kazi with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury in Philadelphia.

"This is a young investigation, a new investigation," FBI spokeswoman Linda Vizi says. "We do not know where it's going to take us." Vizi said she "could not deny or confirm that this had anything to do with the events of September 11."

"I haven't had a parking ticket in my life. I'm shaking," said Kazi. "We watch The X-Files on television, but we never thought it would happen here."

In the wake of September 11, a wave of raids, detentions, disappearances, interrogation and marginalization has been unleashed against large sections of Middle Eastern immigrants in the United States.

Many people have left for work in the morning and never come home--picked up and detained in secret with no criminal charges. While Bush tells everyone to go about their normal business, thousands are being targeted and terrorized by the FBI, fired from their jobs, faced with the possibility of the death penalty in secret military courts, attacked by vigilantes, or detained in prison indefinitely without any criminal charges.

It's important to understand the full picture of what's going on, spread the word, and mobilize resistance to this whole repressive and fascist-like atmosphere.

Ongoing Detentions

As the RW reported in the article " 'Disappeared' in the USA" (11/11/01), it is known that over 1,100 people have been detained by the federal government, almost all of whom are not suspects in, and have no involvement with, the events of September 11.

Authorities continue to spread disinformation--suggesting people are being released, while refusing to disclose any facts about those detained. On November 8, the Justice Department announced they would no longer provide a tally of the number of people who have been rounded up--the last figure provided was 1,182 people locked up since September 11. White House propaganda chief and spinmeister Ari Fleischer said in early November that "the lion's share" of detainees had been released, but later admitted he had no numbers to base that on.

On October 29, a group of civil liberties, human rights, Arab American, public access and legal groups filed a demand under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for an accounting of those detained. Kate Martin, who signed the FOIA letter, said, "The secret detention of more than 800 people over the past few weeks is frighteningly close to the practice of 'disappearing' people in Latin America."

Attorney General John Ashcroft has justified these roundups saying, "Foreign terrorists who commit war crimes against the United States, in my judgment, are not entitled to and do not deserve the protections of the American Constitution."

Who is deciding who these "foreign terrorists" are, and how? Who are these people who have been demonized, swept up, and held in secret with no access to the most basic legal protections? According to the LA Times, "Nine weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, federal authorities said Thursday that they have found no evidence indicating that any of the roughly 1,200 people arrested in the United States played a role in the suicide hijacking plot."

Two men from India, who the NY Times said were the focus of much scrutiny, were arrested on an Amtrak train simply for possessing box cutters (!). Their other "suspicious" activities were that they paid for a train ticket with cash, had hair dye, and wired what authorities called "large amounts" of cash to India.

Another man in Minnosota, described in the press as a French Algerian man, was detained because his computer had references to crop dusting and chemical dispersal. It was widely reported that this man had told flight instructors at a Minnesota school that he only wanted to learn to fly a plane, not take off or land--it was the flight school that turned him in to the FBI. Later, FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted that the man had actually told the flight school officials just the opposite--that he wanted to take off and land jets, not fly them.

An ex-FBI counter-terrorism chief said, "I'm sure they've investigated these guys back to the day they were born: records checks, interview with everybody that knew them, going back to old neighborhoods and co-workers"--including investigations in the home countries of the detainees. But in all these cases, sources identified as "involved in the investigation" said "to date there are no connections" between these men and the Sept. 11 events. But "they act suspicious and you don't know why--it sends flags up." So these men remain imprisoned as "material witnesses."

The San Jose Mercury told the story of Samer Bishawi, who overstayed his visa while living in San Leandro. He was detained on his way home to Nablus, on the Palestinian West Bank, where his mother is gravely ill. He was questioned for 19 hours with his feet cuffed to a chair. He told the Mercury, "I asked them what did I do? The official told me, 'You did nothing--your people did.'" Bishawi has already lost 50 pounds in jail because he was not able to follow his Muslim diet. Bishawi's lawyer represents eight other men--from Yemen, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Tunisia, Syria and Israel--who overstayed work or tourist visas and were picked up and remain in jail.

An immigration attorney in New Jersey who represents several men who were questioned and are now jailed on immigration charges said investigators asked questions like, "What do you think of American civilization" and "Why do you pray five times a day?"

Secret Tribunals...and Bush's Appointed Executioners

On November 13, Bush announced the U.S. plan to conduct military tribunals for some of the accused. He alone will decide who should come before these courts. Military prosecutors and judges who decide the cases will report to him as "commander in chief," and will not be bound by any normal legal procedures. Cases will be heard in secret. Hearsay and other illegal evidence may be allowed. The "jury" will be appointed by Bush, and conviction will require only a two-thirds majority. These courts can impose the death penalty, and there is no right of appeal.

Right wing columnist William Safire--who has called for executing bin Laden to avoid the complications of a trial--wrote, "Not content with his previous decision to permit police to eavesdrop on a suspect's conversations with an attorney, Bush now strips the alien accused of even the limited rights afforded by a court martial. His kangaroo court can conceal evidence by citing national security, make up its own rules, find a defendant guilty even if a third of the officers disagree, and execute the alien with no review by any civilian court."

Alan Brinkley, a historian at Columbia University, said, "Habeas corpus is gone, trial by jury is gone. This is one of the most extraordinary assaults on civil liberties, albeit not of citizens, in our history." Many legal experts have interpreted Bush's order--which states that "any individual subject to this order shall not be privileged to seek any remedy...in any court of the United States, or any state thereof"--as a formal suspension of habeas corpus.

5000 Racially Profiled "Interviews"

Along with the announcement about military tribunals, the FBI disclosed plans to "interview" 5,000 Arab and Muslim men, ages 18 to 33, who entered the U.S. on tourist, student, and business visas since Jan. 1, 2000. NONE of these men are suspects in relation to the 9-11 attacks. They are being singled out solely because of what country they came from. Eight hundred of the targeted men are living in Michigan, most in the Detroit area.

The vice president of the Arab American Students Association at the University of Texas at Austin said this is "racial profiling at its most fundamental level."

The FBI has asked local police to help conduct some of these "interviews." Police in the U.S. are widely known for practicing routine racial profiling, brutality and murder. But after widespread exposure, and protest against, "DWB" stops and other racial profiling, even some police departments are objecting to this kind of massive interrogation of people based on nothing other than nationality. The (acting) Police Chief of Portland, Oregon, who is Black, told the FBI and press, "The law does not allow us to go out and arbitrarily interview people whose only offense is immigration or citizenship, and it doesn't give them authority to arbitrarily gather information on them." Charles Gorder, an assistant United States attorney in Portland, told the NY Times the interviews would be completed, with or without help from local police.

Restrictions on Travel

Two Pakistani-American students are flying back to the University of Florida from Boston on November 13. As they settle into their seats, a Delta Air Lines employee approaches one of them and asks for his identification and passport. The student shows the Delta employee his driver's license and says, "I am a U.S. citizen." The Delta employee then asks where he was born. He replies, "Connecticut." The employee then asked both students where their parents were born. Moments later both students are told they would not be allowed on the plane because they had engaged in "suspicious behavior." What was the "suspicious behavior"?--changing seats!

There have been many other instances of FWA (flying while Arab) racial profiling in airports and on planes--putting travel restrictions on Middle Eastern immigrants (see "Fear of Flying," RW #1121).

In another of many such incidents, the Oakland Tribune recounted the story of a Sikh man who was not allowed on a flight because National Airlines claims, "The pilot saw him make an obscene gesture." The man was taken from the airline's ticket counter and questioned for two hours. "They treated me like I was a criminal when all I did was show them my ticket." He was surrounded by SFPD and a police dog and repeatedly searched. And, in violation of his faith, he was asked to take off his turban.

The Council for American Islamic Relations said it has had more than 90 cases of racial profiling and harassment of airline passengers reported since September 11. The Sikh Media Watch and Resource Task Force says it has had so many calls about racial profiling at airports that it added a link at its web site to automate the process of documenting these abuses.

One Pakistani-American is suing United Airlines after the airline refused to let him fly from San Francisco to Philadelphia on September 22. The man was told that a United crew member saw him have "suspicious communications" with another passenger--he used his cell phone to call his wife and a company representative to straighten out a ticket mix-up.

Even a Republican congressman from California with a Lebanese last name--who was on official Congressional business--couldn't get on an Air France plane. According to the Associated Press, Congressman Darrell Issa, whose grandparents were Lebanese, was denied a seat on a flight from Washington, DC to Saudi Arabia on October 4.

Muslim and Arab people have also been targeted when traveling by bus or train. On 9/12, an Amtrak train in Providence, RI was stopped by local police who boarded the train and arrested a Sikh passenger for looking "suspicious." On 9/18, a Pakistani student was taken off a Greyhound bus by INS agents, detained, beaten by inmates while guards stood by, and not taken to a hospital until his aunt paid his $5,000 bail.

Foreign Students Targeted

Since September 11, law enforcement authorities have contacted university administrators across the country to get academic and other records of foreign students. A 9/28 AP story revealed what many students had been reporting: "The Bush administration is asking for access to student files of suspected terrorists at American universities; as it turns out, schools contacted by the FBI have already turned over files saying safety trumps privacy."

Meanwhile, California Senator Dianne Feinstein proposed legislation that would suspend all foreign student visas for six months. According to the Arizona Republic this would have "turned away an estimated 120,000 foreign students" from U.S. schools. Feinstein cited an incident where one of the hijackers involved in the 9-11 attack reportedly once registered at a California college but never ended up enrolling. Later Feinstein modified her proposal and introduced the Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001. According to activists, among the provisions of the bill is a moratorium on student visas from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Cuba, and North Korea, as well as other restrictions on student visas and more intrusive surveillance of the activities of foreign students.

On November 8, the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition held a protest at Feinstein's office against the attacks on foreign students. One student, whose family had been denied the ability to study in the U.S. because they are from Iran, said, "By denying visas, they are denying certain groups of people an opportunity for higher education and once they take away our rights, they can take away all of our rights."

Another protester exposed the SmartVisa cards element of the Feinstein bill, which would encode a foreign student's biometric information, along with other personal information. The protester told AsianWeek, "By making immigration information automated, [the government would be] setting up a way of controlling political dissidents..."

Calls for a Nation of Snitches

Official calls to spy on and report any "suspicious" activities, along with all the government measures to target and persecute Middle Eastern immigrants, have unleashed vigilante attacks. These attacks include the overtly racist murder of at least one Sikh man, and several suspicious deaths of other Sikh men soon after September 11. The following are just a few incidents from a list compiled by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund:

On 9/15/01, a gunman drove to a Mesa, AZ gas station and fired three shots, killing the station's owner, a Sikh man named Balbir Singh Sodhi. In a wild rampage, the gunman drove to another gas station and shot at the Lebanese-American owner, and then fired shots into the home of an Afghan family.

9/18/01, police found the body of an elderly Sikh man in an irrigation canal in Ceres, CA. His turban was gone, but his wallet was found on his person and no money was taken.

9/16/01, a Bridgeport, CT mosque was vandalized, phone lines were cut, and "You will all die" was written on the building.

9/16/01, a Pakistani man and friends were stopped by police after they left a Burger King in North Brunswick, NJ. Police told them, "You guys look like terrorists."

9/16/01, a Sikh grocery storeowner on Long Island, NY was shot and killed.

9/15/01, a Pakistani grocer in Dallas, TX was slain, police have not determined a motive.

Japanese Americans: We've seen this before

"I cannot forget that in World War 2 our people were struck. In the 1940s, 120,000 Japanese Americans were evacuated and put away in internment camps in isolated areas because of war hysteria, racism, and distrust. Today the same thing is happening to new targets: the Arabs, the Muslims, the South Asians or those who look like them. We must protect our Middle East and South Asian friends and neighbors."

Yuri Kochiyama, activist and former detainee
in a concentration camp, speaking at this year's
October 22 National Day of Protest
to Stop Police Brutality, in Oakland

"As we move forward toward an uncertain future, we remind you to not forget our Arab, Sikh and Muslim American brothers and sisters. We shall not forget the racism, ignorance and hatred that have been perpetrated on us. We remember the fear of standing out and being identified as the 'enemy'."

Letter from the San Francisco Japanese American
Citizens League (JACL)

JACL members in northern California have visited the Afghani district of Fremont, CA to express solidarity with people being persecuted, and have discussed their experiences in detention with Muslims in northern California mosques.

San Francisco Poet Laureate Janice Mirikitani, who was in a concentration camp with her family during World War 2, told the NY Times that when she reads that the government is detaining immigrants she says, "Oh, no. Not again. For me, and other Japanese-Americans, what we immediately felt was a great concern about what could happen to Afghan Americans or Arab Americans. It made us want to speak out and say, 'Never again.' "

Paul Osaki, executive director of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in San Francisco, whose parents were interned, told the NY Times, "We need to be vocal about it. We need to be reminders to America that this kind of thinking can get out of hand..." The Center has been showing an exhibition on the Japanese, German and Italian internment camps in the U.S., and is organizing outreach programs.

Then they came for...

A question for those who are watching their neighbors get rounded up and thinking that perhaps this is providing them with some security.

Where do you think all this is going?

A NY Times reporter interviewed people in Chattanooga, TN about what rights they were ready to give up after 9-11. Of those who supported some of the draconian attacks coming down on Arabs and Muslims, the reporter noted that "the mood changed when those interviewed were asked about proposals to issue national identification cards and give the authorities greater power to use electronic surveillance."

An engineer said, "If government accessed information on people's private lives and made it available, I'd have a problem." And a 53-year-old warehouse driver said, "I understand where Bush is coming from, given what happened, but I think somewhere down the line that will be taken advantage of and they'll get into people's business."

Pastor Martin Niedemeyer's quote from Germany is even more relevant today:

"First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."


Among the sources for this article:

"5,000 Immigrants May Be Questioned," Newsday 11/14/01

"Arabs Question Justice Dept. Plan," AP 11/16/01

"Ban on Student Visas Opposed by Educators," Arizona Republic 10/4/01

"Bush to Subject Terrorism Suspects to Military Trials," NY Times 11/14/01; "A Travesty of Justice," NY Times 11/16/01; and "Despite Some Concerns, Civil Liberties are Taking a Back Seat," NY Times 11/18/01

"FBI raids homes in Chester in probe," Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/14/01

"None Jailed Appear Linked to Attacks," LA Times 11/16/01

"Pakistani Man Barred from Flight Sues Airline"--SF Chronicle 10/30/01

"Some Call Feinstein Legislation 'Racist,' " and "Is It Safe to Fly?" AsianWeek 11/22/01.

"Visa Crackdown Leaves Detainees in Legal Limbo," SJ Mercury News 11/5/01

"World Trade Center and Pentagon Attacks: The Anti-Asian American Backlash"--compiled by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund www.aaldef.org

ACLU web site www.aclu.org

Organizations including the ACLU and the National Lawyer's Guild have prepared "Know Your Rights" brochures, advising people to refuse to say anything to agents to attempt to "interview" them. The NLG's Know Your Rights pamphlet is available, including in Arabic, at www.nlg.org.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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