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9/11 racial profiling: Where civil rights met national security

Lives Changed: A decade-long series of stories on those most directly affected by the 9/11 attacks.

Cameran Sadeq lost the life he'd built in America when racial profiling landed him in months of detention. His civil rights were sacrificed for perceived national security.

By / Staff writer / September 9, 2011

Cameran Sadeq takes Ibrahim – the youngest of his five children – on a picnic at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park. His immersion in family life today is the realization of a dream postponed by detention in the US, where civil rights were curtailed in the name of national security.

Clara Germani/The Christian Science Monitor

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Winnipeg, Manitoba

When the flutter of fingers over maroon prayer beads fails to expel intrusive memories, Cameran Sadeq seeks the high ground – literally. He heads for "Garbage Hill," a landfill that is one of the highest points of elevation in this prairie town.

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"I feel good there," Mr. Sadeq explains about how an uncluttered horizon makes him feel free, and can even put him in mind of "my back home" in Kurdish Iraq. "My problem is the pressure of [being stuck] in one place too long and [the feeling that I] speak but no one is listening."

Feeling entrapped and unheard plagues this refugee in traffic jams, waiting rooms, and even in the concrete-block walls of his apartment as his five dark-eyed children play jungle gym on his legs.

One of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds who fled Saddam Hussein's genocidal attacks in the 1980s and '90s (think "Chemical Ali"), Sadeq spent his early adulthood trying to find a safe home but being shunted into tight physical and mental spaces. While living at a refugee camp in Syria, he played dangerous hide-and-seek with Syrian police who beat him before he escaped to Lebanon; from a Lebanese refugee camp he was smuggled aboard a cramped and rickety boat across the Mediterranean to Cyprus; and languishing in a Cyprus prison for his illegal entry, he climbed a tree and refused to come down until United Nations officials came to hear his claims of refugee status – claims that, once heard, won him refuge in the United States.

But the fear of being entrapped and ignored seethes in him most when he talks of the 9/11 attacks and how the US recast him from welcome refugee to enemy; how a simple wrong turn on a Miami street caused authorities to detain him for months because – as a Middle Eastern Muslim man – he somehow resembled Al Qaeda's hijackers.

The 10th anniversary of 9/11, for Sadeq, is a reminder of a double betrayal: by fellow Muslims who attacked his new homeland and by Americans who turned the attack on the US into an attack on him.

Lives Changed: A decade-long series of stories on the recovery of those most directly affected by the 9/11 attacks.

1. A Queens schoolgirl whose parents were first responders: 2002, 2003

2. A window washer who escaped a stuck twin tower elevator: 2002, 2003

3. An investment banker who left his career to start a ground zero networking nonprofit: 2002, 2003

4. An Iraqi Kurd refugee recast as an enemy and detained because he looked like the hijackers: 2002, 2003, 2011

5. The widow of a passenger on hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 struggled to preserve - and enlarge- her family: 2002, 2003, 2011

6. A World Trade Center tenant who lost her address but added volunteerism to her career portfolio - 2002, 2003

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