Marching toward an American Police State - Part II
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Marching toward an American Police State - Part II

MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 3/22/2002: The above title was used to headline an article published on Wednesday, the same day we now learn the federal government was raiding Muslim homes and organizations in the Washington DC area. It's the way this is being done that should be of great concern to all Americans. Thus the importance of this first-hand and very credible account.


By Ayesha Ahmad and Neveen Salem,
IOL Washington Staff

WASHINGTON, March 21 (IslamOnline) - It seemed like an innocent delivery at first. At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, a deliveryman approached the home of Aysha Nudret Unus in Herndon, Va., bearing an appliance, accompanied by another man dressed in black.

An hour later, the man in black was banging at the door, demanding, "Open the door!" in a very loud voice.

"All I could see was the man in a black jacket," Unus said, speaking at a press conference on Thursday about her ordeal. "I could see the barrel of the gun [through the peephole] of the door."

Unus, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, yelled for her 19-year-old daughter, who was sleeping upstairs, to call 911 and "tell them someone is at the door with a gun."

Her daughter came downstairs and picked up the phone, but at that point, the man broke down the door and entered the house, pointing his gun at them. The two women are Muslim, and because they were in their home, neither were wearing her hijab - the Islamic head-covering women are required to wear in front of non-related males.

The man ordered Unus' daughter to drop the phone, and raise her hands. He then proceeded to handcuff them both, Unus said. Not until they were handcuffed and seated were they told that the man was an officer with a search warrant.

"I was actually relieved at the time," Unus said. "At least they are government people."

The invasion of the Unus' home was part of a series of federal raids conducted on Muslim homes and Muslim-owned businesses and institutions on Wednesday in a search for information based on alleged support for terrorist groups. Fourteen search warrants were issued for the Northern Virginia region, and one in Georgia; all the groups and individuals involved were Muslim.

Publicly the Customs Agency, which helped conduct the raids through the warrants issued by the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., was reported to have claimed that no one was handcuffed during any of the raids.

Unus' husband, Dr. Iqbal Unus, is the dean of students at the Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences in Leesburg, Va., which was also raided on Wednesday. Both were present at the press conference held Thursday at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Capitol Hill.

Unus also told reporters how she and her daughter were both photographed without their head-coverings, despite asking to be allowed to cover themselves; after one officer attempted to put the scarves on the two women, their handcuffs were removed and replaced in front so that they could don the scarves themselves.

When she showed her driver's license to the agents, they told her it was fake, before they checked it out and found it to be legitimate, she said.

"We feel the system has humiliated us," Unus said. "As American citizens, we feel we deserved better."

The Unus's home was one of several others invaded; Laura Jaghlit, also an American citizen and a schoolteacher in Fairfax, Va., whose home was also raided, told reporters she knew of at least six homes involved in the search.

Jaghlit, who came home on Wednesday afternoon to find her home turned upside down and her 62-year-old husband speaking with the supervisors of the federal agents who surrounded his house earlier that day, denounced the raid on her home as un-American and began to weep as she told her story.

"What happened to us yesterday was the most un-American thing I have ever seen in my life," said Jaghlit, whose father fought in World War II and whose brother died in the Vietnam War.

Jaghlit told reporters that federal agents targeted their home because of her and her husband's associations with organizations listed on the search warrant; her family's personal trust accounts were also mentioned in the warrant.

She told IslamOnline that agents told her family they "might even find Osama bin Laden in the basement," when they searched her house.

Muslim leaders at the press conference denounced the raids as serious civil rights infringements and a "fishing expedition" targeting Muslims and Arabs. Many expressed the concern that the "war on terrorism" has become what some Muslims have been saying all along - a war on Muslims.

"This is a sad day," said Mohamed Omeish, the president of Success Foundation, a non-profit humanitarian relief agency that was raided. "This war claims to be against terrorism, but it is against Muslims and Arabs. The track record of this administration does not show otherwise."

Louay Safi, director of research at the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), said that the raid shocked his organization; federal agents entered the building around 10 a.m. and kept the staff confined in a room for several hours without showing them the search warrant initially.

"My organization is a research organization," Safi said. "We are committed to reforming Islamic thought. and working. to integrate the Muslim community into the American system. We are very much surprised and even shocked at agents. looking for terrorist support [in our offices]."

Safi told IslamOnline after the press conference that the agents treated staff members like criminals.

"They were trying to intimidate us. They tried to take people's pictures without individual warrants. Without those warrants you cannot treat an individual like a criminal," Safi told IslamOnline.

"The fact of the matter is that they [the agents] do not realize that they are dealing with people who know their rights," he continued.

Safi told the press conference that such measures would only serve to further remove American Muslims from their community. "This effort to fight terrorism is heading now in the wrong direction," he said, decrying what he called the government's "attempt to alienate even the most moderate Muslim voices."

Shaker El-Sayed, head of the National Muslim Leadership Summit and of the American Muslim Foundation, whose offices were also swept because of their proximity to those of Success, also warned about the effects of the raids on the American Muslim community.

"This is a blatant harassment of respected Islamic institutions and families, and it sends a hostile and chilling message to the American Muslim community and contradicts President [George W.] Bush's repeated assertions that the war against terrorism is not a conflict with Islam," he said.

Abdulwahab Alkebsi, executive director of the Washington-based Islamic Institute, said that although his organization has stood by the president in his war on terror, these raids constitute harassment and raise serious civil rights concerns, making American Muslims feel targeted.

"If such raids and targeting of Muslims continues, the community will begin to feel as though they are part of the problem when in fact they have always cooperated and vowed to be a part of the solution," Alkebsi told IslamOnline after the conference.

"The American Muslim community, as law abiding and patriotic Americans are uniquely positioned to be able to help the government, but such a blatant disregard for their civil rights has made them victims twice over. once on September 11 and again now by our government."

Asked what the American Muslim community expects the U.S. government's next steps should be, Alkebsi had harsh words for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, demanding that he assume responsibility for the violations and put an immediate end to the targeting of Muslims.

"Ashcroft must call for an immediate halt to the sledgehammer approach to the 'war on terrorism'," he said.

He also called on Ashcroft to "stop the media circus," and to explain why media officials were told about and "practically invited" to the raids. IIIT staff also told IslamOnline that at least one television station was close at hand when their offices were raided.

A CAIR representative, Jason Erb, said that the destruction of civil liberties was not needed for the sake of security, calling the raids "a fishing expedition by federal authorities using McCarthy-like tactics in a search for evidence of wrongdoing that does not exist."

Alkebsi said the Federal Bureau of Investigation "categorically" denied any involvement with the raids; however, witnesses said that FBI agents were present, and media reports on Wednesday said that FBI agents were part of a team of about 150 law enforcement authorities who carried out the raids.

El-Sayed told reporters at the press conference that the Muslim groups were planning to meet to discuss the next step for both the organizations and the individuals whose civil rights were infringed upon. But he said that the government had so far not been responsive, turning a "blind eye and a deaf ear to our calls."

Erb, whose organization has been working for years as a champion of Muslim civil rights, said that the raids were the latest in a long line of measures that target Muslims and Arabs, including anti-immigration laws and secret evidence.

"We're tired of telling people in the government that we don't like [what's happening] and [then] not seeing any policy changes," he said.

Other groups that were raided included the FIQH Council of North America, a non-political religious organization which gave a religious ruling in October in support of Muslims joining the U.S. anti-terror effort, the Muslim World League, the International Islamic Relief Organization, and twenty-two other groups, including those mentioned above, some of which shared office space with each other.

All of the organizations subjected to the raids are well known and respected religious organizations in the U.S., as were the individuals whose homes were raided, and all have time and again denounced acts of terrorism. The organizations represented at the press conference asserted their innocence of the allegations stated in the warrant and reaffirmed their stance against terrorism and the killing of innocent civilians.

Muslim community leaders also stated that Friday's congregational prayer services would focus on how to mobilize American Muslims towards proactively seeking to ensure that the civil rights of all persons living in the U.S. are protected and enforced by the government.


March 21, 2002: As the director of Al-Hewar Center I share the concerns of Arab and Muslim Organizations over Virginia Raids yesterday. In particular, I wish to express my deep shock and dismay over the raid of the home and the offices of Drs. Taha Jaber Al-Alwani and Mona Abul-Fadl on March 20, 2002. Drs. Taha Jaber Al-Alwani and Mona Abul-Fadl are well-known and deeply respected throughout the community as moderate thinkers and writers. They have been members of the Advisory Board of Al-Hewar Center -- an organization dedicated to better understanding among cultures and civilizations through dialogue -- since it began 7 years ago.

Both of them have spoken at Al-Hewar Center on many occasions, always calling for moderation and supporting the values and principles of the American system. They have consistently spoken out against extremism of all kinds.

It is unclear what the government seeks to accomplish by treating such good American citizens and well-respected thinkers with such disrespect. Punishing good people hardly seems to be the direction in which the United States should proceed.

We must not allow suspicion, ignorance, and unfounded accusations to override our good sense or erode our freedoms.

Drs. Taha Jaber Al-Alwani and Mona Abul-Fadl should be accorded an immediate apology.

Sobhi Ghandour Executive Director, Al-Hewar Center

Comment on these article(s)

March 2002


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