Phantoms of Liberty and its Victims

“To those who pit Americans against immigrants and citizens against noncitizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.”

So said Attorney General John Ashcroft. But later went ahead and authored the USA Patriot Act which some call the “old wish-list of the FBI that it wanted stuffed into this Bill” encouraging law enforcement agencies to do what Ashcroft himself has categorically denounced above.

However, one Senator made history by standing up alone and opposing the Act … one vote against 99 – the first ever in the United States Senate.

“There is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists; where the police were allowed to search your home at any time for any reason; where the government was entitled to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications; where people could be held in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they were up to no good. But that would not be a country in which we would want to live, and it would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die. In short, that country would not be America.” Senator Russ Feingold’s lone voice rang out on Capitol Hill.

Now, Feingold is again alone in demanding that  Ashcroft’s Justice Department (which oversees FBI & INS) at least provide basic information about the detainees: “They detained over 1,200 people. We don’t know for sure if they all have lawyers. We’ve never been given the names of all the people. We don’t know what they’ve been charged with. We do know this: Not a single one of the 1,200 has been charged with terrorist activity. And yet over 400 of them have been deported.

“Now these are people that maybe, of course, have some kind of minor immigration violations, but that wasn’t the basis on which they were dragged in. They were dragged in on the basis that they had something to do with terrorism; these are serious abuses of civil liberties of people who did absolutely nothing wrong with regard to terrorism issue, and that is something that the Justice Department and the Bush Administration should account for,” demands Feingold.
Ahsanullah Khan a.k.a Bobby Khan is an advocate for the Pakistani and Arab community in Brooklyn. A longtime pro-democracy activist in Pakistan since the 1980s, he was arrested some 40 times and still has 3 bullets lodged in his body. As a well-known and much revered volunteer, Bobby has seen first-hand how his fellow Pakistanis have been hunted down, detained, de-humanized and later deported since 9/11. Refuting  feel good press reports on how well the 131 deported in the middle of the night on June 26 in a US Army plane were treated, he says “I have received phone calls from Pakistan by some of them who tell me that they were kept shackled during the flight with 30 guards on board, each pointing a gun at them. They were not allowed to go to the bathroom nor given food, just cookies. All their earthly possessions (money, jewelry, documents) were seized before being deported. According to Immigration rules, each deportee is entitled to $100, all they got was Rs 500!”

Particularly tragic is the case of a 60-year-old homeless and jobless Pakistani who was arrested from a mosque and kept in jail for seven months, “His petition for legal permanent status (Green Card) was pending. No one from our Consulate came to his rescue,” says Bobby who recalls that at least 100 people in his neighborhood in Brooklyn alone were picked up en masse and for months nobody knew why, where and who had taken them away.”

Then there is the case of a 8-month pregnant Pakistani wife who suffered incursion by the police in their home, arresting her husband, throwing things around, beating up everyone in sight while abusing and cursing as her husband was dragged off without being allowed to even put on his shoes: “the police here have no respect for women…this poor pregnant woman was attacked 3-4 times and she fell down…I’ve heard no Pakistani official here talk about what she has gone through…our community has raised money for her and her baby because her husband has been deported…we pay for her monthly rent and bills,” a bitter Bobby declares.

But in the next sentence he himself gives the reason: “Actually the Pakistani community is very scared and wants to keep its distance…for fear they too may be targeted, they opt to ignore the sufferings of others.”

How true! The other day, I met a Pakistani-American woman (we frequent the same desi take-out) who is the director of a local mosque here and is meant to be doing great charitable deeds. When I told her about the several hundred detentions and deportations, she gave me a blank look and moved away. People like her don’t want to rock the boat…they live in their own petty little comfort zones.

Yasmin who spoke with her brother hours before he was deported along with the 130 others, is a sister who deserves to be saluted. For five long years she has supported her older brother Mohd Safdar in the hope he would settle down one day. “My brother  had now started a new job,” she says softly. Mother of a 5-year-old , Yasmin is doing her residency in a Harlem hospital. She has worked very hard to get through all the medical exams and has the last one coming soon. “All the pressure of the past 7 months when my brother was in jail has completely bogged me down and I don’t feel well anymore. My son has been neglected and we are in very poor financial state due to thousands of dollars I have spent on my brother’s attorneys and credit card debts which keep mounting up all the time.”

Safdar, 39, contracted what is called a ‘paper marriage’ with an American citizen in the hope he could become legal. While he has a work permit and his family had hired an attorney to help him retain his legal status here, he made a very unwise move, “He decided to live with his 3 other Pakistani friends whom I didn’t approve of. They moved to Long Island and got a house right in front of a church after 9/11. Their landlady reported them to the police who came and picked them up.”

 For full two months, she did not know where her brother was and the lawyer she hired was a Pakistani by the name of Qamar who turned out to be a real cad: “he ripped us and even threatened to blackmail us if we didn’t pay him more money!”
Praising the unstilted support she has received from her husband and his family, Yasmin has now been forced to leave Harlem and move to Long Island, “we’re American citizens but feel so scared that the FBI may now come after us.”

Their American friends tell the couple that the Arab terrorists have ruined their lives,
” No, Osama bin Laden and his crew have dealt us a deeper blow…they have crippled our chances forever to live like decent Pakistani-Americans. They have ruined us for  generations to come,” says Yasmin.

Leave a comment