Muslim in America: Living Dangerously

Revolutionary Worker #1169, October 6, 2002, posted at

What'd you think's the latest thing they've served them out with? Ear trumpets for listening through keyholes! My little girl brought one home the other night--tried it out on our sitting room door, and reckoned she could hear twice as much as with her ear to the hole. Of course it's only a toy, mind you. Still, gives 'em the right idea, eh?"

1984, George Orwell

A recent incident in Florida brings to mind how children in the book 1984 were raised to be snitches for "Big Brother."

On September 12, three men, Ayman Gheith, Kambiz Butt, and Omar Choudhary, took time out from their drive south from Chicago to stop for breakfast in Calhoun, Georgia. As they sat and talked, a woman, Eunice Stone, and her son sat in the booth next to them, listening.

The men, on their way to take up medical training at Larkin Community Hospital in Miami, were discussing their trip. They talked about getting one of the men's cars down from Chicago--pretty normal, mundane stuff. But these men were traveling in post-9/11 America. An increasingly repressive climate and racial profiling by the government has worked to train people to see Middle Eastern and South Asian people as possible "terrorists." And so when Eunice Stone saw three "Arab- looking" men, one wearing a Muslim Kufi cap, she imagined something entirely different than reality.

Stone would later tell the press she became alarmed when the talk supposedly turned to a "plot." She said she overheard them say, "If they mourned September 11, what will they think about September the 13th?" When the three men discussed plans for moving their car, what Stone heard was, "Do you think that will bring it down. Well if it doesn't I have contacts who can bring it down."

Stone and her son followed the men outside and wrote down the license plate numbers of the three men's cars. She then called the Georgia State Patrol. Based on Stone's flimsy suspicion, a whole chain of events was set into motion, putting the three men in the gunsights of government agents.

The Georgia State Patrol forwarded the report to the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center in Atlanta--a post-9/11 "anti-terror" entity created in the state. They in turn issued a "Be On the Lookout" (BOLO) order for three "Middle Eastern-looking" men. By 11 a.m. the next day, the order made its way to Florida's "Regional Domestic Security Task Force"--the state's anti-terrorism outfit.

Thirteen hours later, at 2 a.m., the police stopped the three men outside a toll booth near Naples, Florida on a stretch of south Florida highway known as Alligator Alley. As a pretext for the stops, the cops claimed one of the cars ran a toll booth without paying.

In fact, a videotape of the toll gate would later show that in reality, neither of the two cars in which these three men were traveling had failed to stop and pay at the toll gate.

Later, in an interview on CNN, Omar Choudhary said, "When we got pulled over... rather than the officer approaching us, they said, `Get out of the car. Get on your knees and put your hands behind your back...' Three squad cars were behind me. I knew that it wasn't just going to be an average, you know, pull-over."

The police went into a frenzy. A 21-mile stretch of I-75 was shut down. The Miami-Dade County bomb squad was called in. Cops used ropes to open the doors of the two cars. A remote-controlled robot was dispatched to check the vehicles. Medical equipment sticking out of one of the men's backpack was deemed extremely suspicious. Police proceeded to blow it up, in case it contained explosives.

Ayman Gheith is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jordan, Omar Choudhary is a U.S. citizen born in Detroit and Kambiz Butt, originally from Pakistan, has a valid visa. The three are medical students who had returned recently from the Caribbean island of Dominica, where they attended Ross Medical School.

After the men were taken into custody, they were separated and interrogated by the FBI. They were asked where they were born, how long they'd been U.S. citizens, what they thought about the U.S., what they thought about 9/11. Ayman Gheith told CNN they were also asked, "What business do you have in Miami? Who are your friends? They asked me about 100 people. Do you know this person? Do you know that person?"

As all this went on, the men were never told why they were being held. And it was 17 hours before the authorities, admitting they had had nothing on the three men, had to let them go.

Promoting aNation of Snitches

This whole story was played out on TV as live "breaking news" on "suspected terrorists." And meanwhile, politicians and law enforcement officials stepped up to turn the whole incident into a big promotion of snitching.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush told the press, "I'm very proud of law enforcement officers across the state that responded very well, and the citizen in Georgia deserves high praise as well." Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham chirped in, telling the Cox News Service that "this is exactly the kind of citizen involvement that this war on terrorism is going to require as we seek to protect our homeland."

Authorities also floated out the idea that perhaps the whole incident was the fault of the three students--that they deliberately provoked the woman as a "hoax." And this was dutifully repeated in the media. Leveling the threat of prosecution, the director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was quoted in the New York Times saying, "We're looking into seeing what laws might be applicable. These people are going to learn a lesson." But this too was a deliberate lie. The three men stated flat out that there had been no such joking, and no mention of 9/11.

Another indignity came when the men were told that now, because of security concerns, they will not be allowed to enroll in the residency program at Larkin Hospital. The head of that institution, in a remarkable bit of cowardice, claimed their presence would interfere with the hospital's ability to provide care.

This whole incident exposes the larger agenda behind things like the Justice Department's "TIPS" program, which under the pretense of "being vigilant against terrorists" seeks to enlist UPS drivers, utility people, train conductors and many others in an effort to become a sprawling network of "eyes and ears" for law enforcement.

In the name of "stopping terrorism" a whole repressive climate has been created and people are being "primed" to hear certain things--even if they are not even said! Ashcroft and the whole Bush regime have created a whole atmosphere in which people are supposed to see certain types of people as "posing a danger" and then they're supposed to snoop and snitch on them.

The incident in Florida exposes what the "political atmosphere" that Ashcroft, Bush, et al have created means for ordinary people--a climate in which people will be afraid to speak out, raise criticisms, questions, etc. even in casual conversation in public places, for fear that, among other things, they might become the victims of the kind of thing that happened to the three men in Florida.

What if this incident hadn't ended in the three men eventually being released? What if they had been shot and killed as they got out of their car, "making a suspicious move"--something that's happened to so many young Black men. What if they'd been jailed as "material witnesses," ripped away from their families, and denied basic legal rights? What if they'd been deported? These are all things that have happened to Middle Eastern people living in the U.S. who have been picked up since 9/11 on suspicions that have rarely come to anything.

All the "hotlines" and the "TIPS" program, that gear people up to "turn in suspected terrorists," are meant to strengthen the U.S.' ability to wage war and inflict horrible death on people all over in the world. The government's "Homeland Security" has nothing to do with people's safety. It is about the U.S. having a secure base from which it can project and protect its worldwide oppressive empire.

Ayman Gheith told CNN, "Because it is against us today, tomorrow it could be against you. Whether you be white or Black, it doesn't make a difference. Because injustice is injustice."

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