With an MBA, bags of fertilizer in my garden, a former employee of a financial institution and a naturalized Pakistani-American, I bear an eerie resemblance to Faisal Shahzad, infamous NYC bomb plotter.
So naturally the FBI turned up at our door.
We did not know not to let them in. We were too terrified to be aware of our civil liberties, which include the right to having an attorney present at the time of questioning. As immigrants, fear is a familiar cloak. The flash of red and blue in the rear view mirror sets our hearts thudding. Maybe they’ll deport us for speeding, we wonder as we reach shakily for license and registration. We would never turn away a lawman because of our terror of any misstep. Certainly the draconian laws recently passed in Arizona only added to our ever-present anxiety. We consoled ourselves that as citizens, albeit naturalized ones, we had the right to due process. And then came Faisal Shahzad.
The federal agents asked why my parents were out of the country visiting Pakistan. Their tones were polite but cold, their aspects forbidding. My sister let them in. We have nothing to hide, she thought innocently.
Does your father go to the mosque? They asked.
Did terrorists contact you while you were in Pakistan last? They badgered.
My sister, eight months pregnant, tried to explain with some degree of equanimity that my father is an executive for a global IT consultancy, a government contractor. Asia is his area of responsibility—and expertise. This involves travel to Asia, including Pakistan where he has ancestral property, ties to family and friends, and where he has been involved in a sales contract with the Pakistani government.
But my sister stumbled over the mosque issue. As a Muslim man, attending Friday prayers is a religious requirement. It is a place where men are to convene, hear enjoinders of peace, goodwill toward all mankind and be reminded of their duties as fathers, brothers, sons, husbands and citizens. Yes, our father occasionally attends prayers at a mosque, but how do you admit this fact in the face of reports of nefarious recruiting activity at some mosques? Since when has admitting attendance of a place of worship been cause for recrimination and fear?
I tried to imagine my German-American friends undergoing similar lines of scrutiny. Did you have contact with the Nazis when you were eating bratwurst at Dusseldorf Airport? Have you or any of your family members been involved with concentration camps? When did you last attend Sunday mass?
I awake to nightmares of being shipped off to the sort of internment camps Japanese Americans were sent to in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. As Pakistani-Americans, we are now seen as threats to American National Security. Like the Japanese, we are racially easily identifiable. Most of us have telltale brown skins and features. We shop at halal stores or attend mosques. It would be so easy to corral and sequester us.
I wonder, did every Catholic family get interrogated after Timothy McVeigh (a baptized Catholic) orchestrated the Oklahoma City bombing?
We are taxpayers. We contribute to New Orleans rebuilding charities. We attend baseball games and buy hotdogs. But we are still seen as threats. Neighbors and colleagues who have known us for decades suddenly wonder whether we are sleepers.
All this suspicion because some guy-gone-mad Pakistani-American decided to take it upon himself to take revenge on America.
What for? That is not yet clear to any of us. What we know is, he has made life in this country a living hell for those of us who so closely follow its peaceful and generally inclusive tenets.
My father has lived here as a law-abiding citizen for 20 years, going through the prototypical immigrant cycle of struggle, toil and eventual success. He has two grandchildren born on this soil, raised on American beef and grain, and two grandchildren on the way, both of whom will also be able to run for President and Commander in Chief one day. The only time he’s terrifying is when he has his golf clubs in his hands and we’re playing for stakes.
Are we going to face questioning every time we leave the US to visit our families overseas? How many times will we be profiled? Our names alone warrant rejection from job interviews and for those of us who embrace headscarves, we are perpetually viewed as harboring evil public intent, the sorry subjects of a misogynistic religion.
Some algorithm of a computer driven by a combination of our ancestry and travel patterns has marked my family as suspect to authorities. As a result, we are now dealing with the anxiety of those who are viewed in this country as potential threats, despite having obeyed every law of the nation. Our profound beliefs in peace and lifelong actions as God-fearing, good people are now in question.
I am scared. We as a family are petrified. This is what our Pakistani-American dream has become.
If you are approached by the FBI, please be aware of your rights and civil liberties. The following links are instructional and are recommended for all Muslim-Americans who may be targeted for random questioning or profiling: