A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb
Has post-9/11 fear created a not-so-brave new world of bullies and fools?
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The second terrorist manqué is Shawahar Matin Siraj, a 24-year-old Pakistani American, convicted of conspiring to bomb a NYC subway station. Kumar wryly questions the validity of “prosecut[ing] an individual as a bomber when there is no bomb on the scene.” The lead witness against the unsophisticated Siraj – who is caught on tape insisting on “No killing” and wants to “ask [his] mother’s permission” – was Osama Eldawoody, an Egyptian-born nuclear engineer. Eldawoody was paid $100,000 by the New York Police Department to spy on fellow mosque-goers in Brooklyn and Staten Island. He became an informant via the FBI who literally arrived at his front door because a neighbor reported “suspicious-looking packages on the doorway” (clothing purchased online). The unemployed Eldawoody just “wanted to help.”Skip to next paragraph
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Over and again, Kumar attempts to demonstrate that, as a character in Sir David Hare’s play “Stuff Happens” proclaims: “On September 11, America changed. Yes. It got much stupider.” Hasan Elahi, a California artist and teacher who was detained for questioning and endured a six-month FBI investigation, now uploads a constant stream of location-tracked, time-stamped photographs on his website TrackingTransience.net, in effect creating an irrefutable alibi for himself should he be picked up again.
Graduate student Mohamed Yousry, the court-appointed interpreter in the controversial conviction of blind Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, is serving his one-year-and-eight-months-sentence for having provided “material support” to terrorists by translating Sheik Omar’s Arabic words into English for defense attourney Lynne Stewart.
Art professor Steve Kurtz was illegally detained by the FBI on his way to the funeral home to bury his wife and investigated for bioterrorism stemming from a $256 purchase of harmless, legally-purchased bacteria for an art installation, “... and even his wife’s body [was] seized.”
Again and again, Kumar makes a case that the “red zone of a terrorist threat” has blinded post-9/11 courts to blatant injustice, condemnation without evidence, and even torture: “[T]his new definition of public interest, where the argument is made in terms of national security,” writes Kumar, “will trump all other claims every time.”
That national security threat at home, Kumar argues, keeps citizens distracted from the “greater horror of the other war [in Iraq] from our eyes.” We fail to see “[the] crying girl in front of us ... her dead parents, [her] father’s skull collapsed because he has been shot so many times.”
For Kumar, our failure to fully process such scenes becomes a “lesson in cultural awareness” : for the Iraqi family, the carnage is murder; for the US military, stopping the unfamiliar vehicle is potential self-preservation.
Kumar sums up: “the larger point is that the war on terror is obscuring from our sight the war in Iraq and its human cost.” Then he asks the most important question of all: “In the end ... who will teach the other to be human?”
Terry Hong writes a Smithsonian book blog, BookDragon, at http://bookdragon.si.edu/.