Find this and many more articles on the Islamophobia issue: The Nation Magazine:
July 2-9 2012
My dad, Dr. Sami Al-Arian, was arrested by the FBI on trumped up charges, sending a chill through the local Muslim community. Yet we found support from unlikely allies.
Here's just an excerpt of the articles' ending:
... In November 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney created the “1 percent doctrine,” which held that if there is even “a 1 percent chance” that a threat is real, “we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” As policy, this has led to innocent Muslims being framed or entrapped in plots wholly manufactured by the FBI.
One of the most egregious cases took place in Albany, where a local imam—a Kurdish immigrant named Yassin Aref—found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The case began with a notebook, discovered in 2003 in the wreckage of a bombed-out encampment in Iraq. Aref’s name was on one of the pages, alongside the Kurdish word kak, which US authorities translated as “commander.” (It actually means “brother.”) With that, Aref was suddenly a government target. The FBI enlisted the help of Shahed Hussain, an informant facing deportation for fraud who has since been involved in several other sting operations throughout the Northeast. Hussain approached a friend of Aref’s, Mohammed Mosharref Hossain, and offered him a loan of $50,000. After giving him the money, Hussain told him it had come from the sale of a missile to be used in an attack against the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations. That, too, was part of the FBI sting.
Aref, knowing nothing about the supposed missile sale, was asked to witness the loan payment. The informant spoke in code, using the word chaudry—a common South Asian surname—to refer to the missile. Aref was arrested and, in March 2007, sentenced to fifteen years in prison on terror charges, including support for a foreign terrorist organization and money laundering.
“It’s fabricated police work,” says Andrew Shryock, a University of Michigan professor, regarding these types of prosecutions using government informants. “And the disturbing thing is not that it produces arrests but that the public tolerates it.”
Aref’s case galvanized peace activists in Albany, who held vigils and wrote letters to the judge calling for Aref’s release. Among them was Steve Downs, a former attorney for New York state, who volunteered in his defense. The day after Aref’s conviction, he visited his client in prison. “He looked at me and said, ‘I want to fire you as my lawyer,’” Downs told me, smiling. “But he said, ‘I want to hire you as my brother.’ He said, ...and I need family more than I need lawyers.’”
Downs and the Muslim Solidarity Committee, as the mostly non-Muslim Albany activists called themselves, raised thousands of dollars to help cover the rent for Aref’s wife and four children. Downs and others also drove Aref’s children to visit their father in prison, fourteen hours away in Indiana.
“I’m not sure I would’ve had the guts to do any of this by myself,” Downs says of the activism around Aref’s case, which drew strength from the number of people involved. Now 70 and retired, Downs says his profession long discouraged him from involvement in political causes, so that for twenty-eight years, he was in a “cocoon.” Today, he is glad to have broken free of it.
“When I was 3 years old, my father died in World War II,” he recalls. “He was a Navy doctor. Later, I asked my mom, ‘Why did he die?’ She would say, ‘Well, there was this war—the Nazis came to power in Germany.’ I would ask, ‘How did Hitler come to power if he was so bad?’ And she would say, ‘Because good people who could have stopped him didn’t do anything.’
“A lot of time growing up, I was angry at good people who didn’t do anything,” Downs says. “Until one day, I realized I was one of those people.”