During Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, it was striking to hear him declare that “we are a nation of Christians and Muslims”–indicating that both have the right to live and practice their religions in America, free from discrimination.
However, for Arabs and Muslims who have faced racism, religious discrimination, and unjustified arrests and detention under the auspices of “fighting terrorism,” the Obama’s administration’s commitment to the “war on terror” would seem to be in contradiction with that idea.
This contradiction is exemplified in cases like Fahad Hashmi.
Hashmi is a 29-year-old Pakistani man who received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Brooklyn College in 2003 and his master’s degree in international relations from London Metropolitan University in 2006.
In 2004, he allowed an acquaintance, Junaid Babar, to stay at his London apartment for two weeks. While there, Babar kept raincoats and waterproof socks in his luggage, which the U.S. alleges he later gave to a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.
Simply because of this–raincoats and socks–Hashmi was arrested by British police at London’s Heathrow Airport on June 6, 2006, and charged with providing material support to al-Qaeda. He was not accused of providing money or resources to al-Qaeda, or personally giving anything at all to any member of al-Qaeda, or o being a terrorist himself. Yet he was held in the general prison population of Belmarsh Prison in England for 11 months, and then extradited to the United States, where he has been held in solitary confinement for over a year.
Fahad has been subject to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), which are designed to prevent crimes from being planned from within prisons. Although he is not charged with any acts of violence, nor has he been accused of attempting to contact any terrorists while in prison, he has been forced to endure a 23-hour-a-day lockdown; is only allowed one visit from an immediate family member per week, with no physical contact permitted; and is not allowed contact with anyone else other than his lawyer and prison officials.
The SAMs also prohibit Fahad’s family members from passing any messages between him and his friends, restrict what reading material he is permitted to see, and dictate that he may not listen to or watch the news or participate in group prayer.
At a hearing on January 23, a judge heard a motion to improve the conditions of Fahad’s imprisonment by increasing his visitation rights to two hours per week, allowing him to participate in communal prayer, and granting him access to exercise and recreation facilities.
Negotiations about visitation rights are ongoing, but the other requests were denied since the court had already ruled that the government’s “security concerns” were justified, and the SAMs have already been extended for a second year.
During this hearing, the prosecution claimed that Fahad was practicing shadow-boxing and martial arts in his cell, and that, when asked by a guard what he was doing, Fahad replied, “Practicing for you.” Prosecutors said that when he was asked to stop, he refused. This example was used to demonstrate that Fahad is, in fact, a “security risk.”
However, Fahad says that he was never told to stop, and that he didn’t say that he was practicing to attack the guards–but instead, that the guards taunted him by asking if he was practicing for them. There are videotapes of this incident that could easily be used to clarify what really happened, but the tapes are not being made available to the court.
Around 40 supporters attended Fahad’s latest hearing, including members of the Brooklyn College Islamic Society, the Muslim Justice Initiative/Free Fahad Campaign, Fahad’s family and friends, and political activists.
Given the court’s intransigence in spite of the weak evidence against Fahad and strong support for him, it is clear that we must raise the profile of this case and amplify our outrage. Even while we celebrate victories like the closing of the U.S. prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, it is crucial that we fight the domestic repercussions of the “war on terror,” which are still ongoing.
Taking a stand against the profiling of Arabs and Muslims is more urgent than ever, and justice for Fahad Hashmi is a fight we should be able to win.
Doug Singsen contributed to this article.
ALANA SMITH writes for the Socialist Worker.