The case of Mohammed K. and Ali M.

How the US authorities have been treating Arabs and Arab-looking people after September 11 2001. By Florian Barisch

Islam and Christianity are not peaceful religions - at any rate, neither is as peaceful as Buddhism is. Throughout history, people of both confessions have been fighting each other or other religions. The Christian world is now calmer than the Islamic one: There has not been a major war in Europe for 60 years. No war has taken place on American soil since the 19th century; US forces have, however, intervened in other countries - in Muslim ones, among others. A great many people in the Arab world feel provoked and frustrated because of America's foreign policy, which they view as being directed against Islam. The problem of political terrorism has arisen, in part, as a result of US foreign policy. 19 Arab men hijacked four passenger planes in the United States on September 11th, 2001, and steered them into the towers of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed near the town of Shanksville in Pennsylvania.

Following September 11th, the American authorities have begun discriminating against Arab citizens, or even against Arab-looking people. Attacks against Arabs or Arab-looking citizens have increased several times since the terrorist attacks.

Mohammed K. is one of those Arab citizens. He came to the United States from Pakistan 20 years ago in search of a better life. Until last year, he had lived in New York along with his wife and kids. Mohammed obtained the US citizenship ten years ago. He had never committed a crime and was not known to the police or the authorities.

In January 2002, his life changed dramatically. Over the previous years, the friendly Pakistani had written articles for an American magazine. They were critical of President Bush and of the American policy towards the Islamic world. But Mohammed was also shocked of the September 11th attacks.

On a nice day in January 2002, he travelled to New Mexico with a friend of his, Ali M. They had a break on a hill, from where they enjoyed a fine view of the countryside. During the afternoon, a police car passed the place where they were resting, and stopped. A couple of minutes later, Mohammed and his friend Ali walked to the police car and asked one of the two cops in it to take a photograph of them. The two of them stood next to each other by the side of the road, while the policeman took a photograph of them. A water treatment plant happened to be in the background; the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory was also in the area. The cop in the car became suspicious and called the FBI. Minutes later, the two Pakistani friends were arrested and their belongings, including their camera, were seized. They have been deported to Guantanamo Bay.

Mohammed and Ali have not been out of prison since. They have been detained without charge for more than three years. They were not allowed to see a lawyer and have been treated poorly in prison. The two men have even been beaten and have been subjected to sleep deprivation. Mohammed and Ali are not the only men of Arab or Islamic origin who have been discriminated against, detained, interrogated and who have been ill-treated. The situation of Arab-looking citizens around the country has deteriorated. Many are leaving the country for Canada. This flow has, however, slowed down in recent months.

What is happening in the US at present is a form of xenophobia. Many Americans seem to be incapable of differentiating between Arab-looking citizens (or immigrants from such countries) and terrorists. Even the authorities are unable, or unwilling, to differentiate. Many young men of Islamic origin have become tangled up in the anti-Islamic net which has been deployed in America - most of them are innocent. Even though this form of xenophobia might be understandable as there are definitely some terrorists in the United States, people should do everything to differentiate between normal Muslims and radical Islamic terrorists, a tiny minority.

The American way of treating Muslims is unacceptable. People are unable to say whether this group of Muslims or that has a legitimate right to be here or anywhere else in Europe or the US. People should learn to differentiate. Discriminating against Arabs, or against people of such an appearance, is unacceptable - and Guantanamo Bay is a disgrace!

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