Bright lights and four blank white walls around you. No magazines, no radio. Silence, all the time, except your thoughts, those voices in your head. This is the world for Uzair Paracha, alone for the last 30 months. Imprisoned in the MCC Isolation unit in the middle of crowded, noisy downtown New York City, Uzair has suffered terribly from this cruelty. He has lost 60 pounds. In June, the last time I heard from him, he wrote me that though he is only 25 years old, he no longer has the strength to stand.
With his dad Saifullah Paracha still in Guantanamo, after his abduction in Pakistan almost three years ago, the overall effect on the family has been traumatic. Can we imagine the pain, the anxiety? These men, previously clothing importers, do not deserve this inhuman treatment, whatever the real or imagined allegations. It is not right to destroy their minds. It is not right to torture them and their families. What does it require for Muslims to raise their voices? And yes, we may talk, we may complain and lament, but what about effective action on behalf of our brothers and their families? It is late but not too late to organize in the name of justice; zero tolerance for terror, zero tolerance for torture and oppression.
It has been four years since the horror of 9/11. The over 750 detainees I have known during this time have not all been classified as security risks; yet all have suffered, and so have their families, wounded with terrible loss. Have we provided enough support? Only in a few cases. As you know, there have been local defense committees for Professor Al Arian, Al Timimi, Anser Mahmood, Faruk Abdul Muti, for many other imams and activists as well as for simple immigration cases. But CAIR and ISNA and ICNA Relief 9/11 programs and South Asian Network and Muslim Civil Rights Center, etc are severely under-resourced for civil liberties protection and advocacy services.
As in Hurricane Katrina, those in charge of relief are not being given the resources (monies and lawyers) to protect the community as necessary. It is not the government that is failing to support emergency responders – it is not in its interest to do so – but it is the Muslim American community that does not seem to be providing sufficient support, sad to say.
Good citizenship requires us to defend our collective rights when under attack. But even more essentially, our deen surely requires us to protect the captives and the victimized. Then why do we not do more at this time of crisis? Each week, our Muslim newspapers and television stations might feature human rights campaigns; community members would put aside fear and write letters, hold rallies and write large quantities of letters to detainees as well as elected officials. Will our concerns be heard in Washington and around the world?
And we are losing our rights one by one. Last week, an appeals court ruled that former gang member and US citizen Jose Padilla can be held indefinitely by order of the President. Bright lights; four walls; loneliness; forever. While Padilla may or may not have trained with al Qaeda, according to secret evidence, the government has finally withdrawn its charges that he was preparing a dirty bomb. His lawyer will appeal further – but what chances will he have for justice when Bush appoints two new Judges to the Supreme Court? What chances do any of us have?
In the ruin of New Orleans, Americans could not avoid seeing the unequal treatment of the desperate, poor African American residents. President Bush has responded to this crisis by issuing an Executive Order suspending minimum wage for construction workers and others involved in the clean up and reconstruction. True to his extremist Republican ideology, Mr. Bush further impoverishes local workers in the name of "reducing tax costs" while Halliburton gets corporate welfare. God help us!
Recognize the crisis. Do not be fooled by election day lies, but make the best choice available. Even more important, make alliances internally and externally and plan for long-term development. For example, African Americans have long suffered from profiling, prejudice and oppression, but many have taken effective action. Immigrant Muslims can learn a lot from partnership with this community and other minorities. Moreover, socially and religiously conservative Muslims should learn to work hand in hand with more secular Muslims with the vision and skills to build a better world. And those with access to power should report back in such newspapers as this, so we all will benefit, insha’Allah. Or will the leaders merely be content to assemble for their Ramadan photo-op with the President?
Let us Muslims make plans locally and collectively to respond to these injustices. We should advocate on behalf of specific detainees; also for immigration reform and the protection of civil liberties. Write letters, visit prisoners and help with donations. And for the sake of your heart and soul, watch less television, and do not lose yourselves in the isolation unit of the imaginary. You may sit on your couch laughing at the show; but the knock on the door may come at any time; and it may be your last laugh.
Adem Carroll directs the civil liberties program of ICNA Relief, helping families affected by 9/11, including families of those who have been detained.
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