Mohammed Irshaid has lived in the United States for 22 years. Now a civil engineer in New York, the Jordanian-born Irshaid, 41, went to college in Ohio at the University of Toledo; his three children are
American citizens, and he was close, he thought, to obtaining his long-cherished green card. As he was sitting in his office on the morning of Nov. 6, he was arrested by federal agents who told him his visa had
expired and implied that they had information linking him to a terrorist plot. Irshaid was ashamed to be led away in handcuffs in front of his co-workers. "It was absolutely the most humiliating thing to happen to me
in my life," he says.
MORE HUMILIATION was to follow. He was thrown into a cell in Passaic, N.J., with nearly three dozen other men. The men, all Muslims, asked to hold on to their food trays so they could observe the Ramadan fast and eat after sundown. The guard wasn't having any of it. "I don't care about f-king Ramadan," the turnkey said. The U.S. government never filed any charges against Irshaid. After three weeks, he was finally released. Irshaid says he was so happy he would have jumped for joy, had he not still been
shackled and chained in leg irons. "This doesn't change my love of America," he told NEWSWEEK. "But with all due respect to Mr. Ashcroft, if somebody wants to accuse you of something, they should tell you what it is."
Such stories are becoming uncomfortably commonplace. As innocent Muslim men swept up in the post-September 11 dragnet begin to emerge after being held in custody, often in secret, for weeks and months, they are telling embarrassing and sometimes horrifying tales of official indifference and, occasionally, abuse. Civil libertarians and a growing chorus of oped-page Cassandras are warning of a new McCarthyism and accusing Attorney General John Ashcroft of playing a modern-day Torquemada…
Feel as though they might as well have been sent to a Third World dungeon. On Sept. 18, Hasnain Javed, 20, a Pakistani national who lives with his aunt in Houston, was on his way back to Queensborough College in New York to study computer information systems. In Alabama, he was pulled off the bus by the federal Border Patrol, who discovered that Javed was carrying an expired visa. They sent him to a county jail in Wiggins, Miss., where he was put in a cell with 10 other inmates. What happened next was out of a
You knew it had to happen: In late January, The WB's family-values drama 7th Heaven will weigh in on the Sept. 11 attacks by airing an episode about religious intolerance. Inspired by an actual case in Arizona in which a Sikh was killed after being mistaken for a Muslim, 7th Heaven will tell the story of a Muslim girl who's victimized by her schoolmates.
Creator Brenda Hampton cast 10-year-old Muslim and first-time actress Ashley Solomon in the role. "The show is about prejudice, and I wanted to find a Muslim actor for the part," says Hampton, who insists Heaven is not out to preach. "Our policy is to try to be harmless rather than helpful, which is harder to do. Part of the story is how Mary (Jessica Biel) and Lucy (Beverley Mitchell) get a petition together to support their Muslim neighbors and stop the harassment. They make a lot of people aware of Muslim neighbors they never knew they had."
Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, issued the following statement in response to reports that the Justice Department is planning to loosen restrictions on the FBI's ability to monitor domestic groups, including religious organizations.
"The administration's race down the slippery slope of eroding constitutional safeguards seems to have no end in sight. I call on the Attorney General to immediately halt any efforts to unilaterally expand
surveillance authority and to consult with the Congress before implementing any further intrusions on our rights. Any government effort to utilize the same powers that allowed the FBI to wrongfully spy on the activities of civil rights organizations and disclose information on the private affairs of Martin Luther King, Jr. would constitute an embarrassing step backwards for civil liberties in this country.
"I hope it is clear to all that taking it upon himself to institute new rules to wiretap religious organizations, including places of worship, the Attorney General will do little to help us battle terrorism. Instead, it
will only alienate the groups we need to work with in fighting violence. Piece by piece, the Attorney General seems intent on dismantling the judicial system by unilaterally implementing a package of constitutionally
dubious practices that target specific ethnic and religious groups. It is time to take a 'time out' and work with the people's representatives before the government further erodes our precious rights."