Three years, and it’s over. It’s finally over. Today in the Federal Courthouse in Albany Judge McAvoy sentenced Imam Yasin Aref and Mohammed Hossain to fifteen years each.
As we drove to the courthouse early this morning in order to avoid the hordes of media and crowds, a light snow was falling from the sky. My thoughts turned to that hot August night when it all began. The night the FBI knocked on our doors and asked my father to get the keys to the Mosque and come with them. Turns out they did not need the keys, they had already broken all the doors and locks and raided the Mosque.
My brother and I sat on the porch swing at one A.M. that warm night, worried and not understanding what was going on. We later found out that three men had been arrested, then one released. The next day in the morning my father was listening to NPR news when the story broke. He hurriedly got out of bed and we all headed to the Mosque. The entire street was lined with television crews from all over the world and the front of the Mosque was literally surrounded by crowds of media. So started the endless publicity blitz of Muslims involved in a “terror sting”. I should have known then how it would inevitably end.
In these three years my ideas and thoughts have dramatically changed. I no longer believe in the America of freedom, rights and ideals that I was taught in school. When 9-11 happened the covers came off and we saw the real America. The America that doesn’t believe in equality anymore, the one that doesn’t believe in immigrants following the American dream, the one that believes in illegal wiretapping, racial profiling, secret evidence, detainment and extaordinary rendition. An America that is a living nightmare of Aldous Huxley and 1984, twenty-five years late. It’s like a person that was transformed into an ugly cruel atavistic monster that forgot it’s own humanity.
My ideals of the Muslim community have also changed. I learned that unless it happened to them or theirs, most do not care. I learned that most believe everything they watch on television. And I learned that most Muslims are in denial that this is happening to us and are blindly pursuing Dunya oblivious to what goes on around them. Many people I believed in stepped back when the community was most in need and it was the community’s most despised and looked down upon that stood up. The inner-city African-American Muslims, the dirt poor, the recent immigrants, the teachers, the “non-religious”, the white peace “hippies”. These were the ones that stood up and held fast to the ideals of Islam. There were no Mosque organizations there, no Muslim students associations, no professionals, no lawyers and no doctors. In the end, it was the poor and oppressed who helped the poor and oppressed. Others just watched.
It is a hard lesson to learn. I suppose this is why these trials and hardships are sent to us, so God can find the pure.
Today Yasin Aref made an impassioned speech at the courthouse. He talked about how so-called evidence was elaborately presented in front of the United Nations and now three years later we know it was all lies, misinformation and fear. Just like the “evidence” brought against him. He asked the court why he would come to this country, bringing his wife and children, in order to harm it. He said he didn’t come here to hurt anyone. He came in the hopes of a better life for his children. So that they could finally live in safety and freedom. He talked about how the seven million Muslims in the U.S. are being targeted. They are all guilty and now have to prove they are human beings. He talked about how his fifteen-month old daughter Dulniyah is scared of him and cries when they bring her to visit him in the jail. His own daughter does not know him because she was born after he was detained and incarcerated. He talked about his wife and children and thanked the “back row of the court” of his supporters that came every day to his trial and are the ones helping his family. He said that he did nothing wrong and that he would happily have taken the death penalty if he had. He talked more of the “sting” and things supposedly attributed to him. Finally, he said he was not a terrorist. He was a human being.
The ACLU in a press conference after the sentencing said that history would prove them innocent. But it is little solace for the two men who left the court in despair, for the wives who were inconsolable and for the children who were left with their futures shattered.