Mohamed’s Ghosts by Stephan Salisbury: a book review

Salisbury’s book, Mohamed’s Ghosts is a book that talks about the New America that recently rediscovered its ghosts of a not-far-away past. The New America emerged just after the attacks of 9/11. It is an America that is tracking down alleged terrorists, foiling up bombs, arresting and deporting thousands of men from South Asian and Middle Easterner descent.

Salisbury, in this investigative and thorough compilation, brings to the readers painful stories of humiliation, harassment, injustice, forced deportation and serious human rights abuses.

While conducting his survey and study, Salisbury, a journalist by profession, remembered his own ordeal as a young, enthusiastic student of the 60s involved in the antiwar student movement that flourished during this period on many American campuses. Salisbury draws powerful parallels between the treatment and plights of the dissident students, mainly white from the middle class, and the new threat that appeared in the post 9/11 world, dominantly posed by Muslim young men. The target is different but the methods are the same: wiretaps, informants surveillance and disruption. Salisbury even goes further back in time to the generation of his father, Harrison Salisbury, a prominent New York Times reporter who all his life was haunted by the allegations that he was a German spy.

Is it an American specialty to squeeze the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in their  society and direct its wrath, persecution and discrimination against them? The Afro-Americans were and are still one of these groups, the communists under the McCarthyism era, the anti-war militants during the Vietnam war, and now against the Iraq war and of course the Arab and Muslims communities after 9/11.

The new policy of “zero tolerance” traced down and practiced by the American agencies such as the FBI, ICE and INS, is well personified in the example of Mohamed Ghorab. He was the Imam of the Ansarullah Mosque in Philadelphia. This case, portrayed as a minor immigration fraud, suddenly became a horror story filled with abuse of power, systematic racism, imprisonment and deportation. Salisbury documents his facts by mentioning that:”Since 1997, according to a Human Rights Watch report issued in July 2007, almost 700,000 legal immigrants convicted of minor crimes had been deported, therefore separating an estimated 1.6 million children and adults, including US citizens and lawful permanent residents, from their non-citizen family members.”

Those figures are troubling and were always justified by one thing: “National Security”. Salisbury attempts to understand why such fierceness is directed against the leaders of the Ansarullah mosque. Why did the FBI infiltrated the mosque with several informants, arrested the Imam and some of his followers, spread rumors and suspicion among the neighbors and worshippers? The mosque finally shut down after scrambling under financial debt. It is the same fate that awaited other Muslim places of worship across America, from California to New York passing by Florida and other states. The same tactics were widely used, thus sending a chilling effect among the Muslim population. The consequences will undoubtedly be marked down in the dark pages of American history.

Imam Ghorab, Ated Idais and many others are considered as collateral damage in the war on terror. Their guilt or innocence seems to become irrelevant. The security of the New America has no price even if this price is the human rights of its own citizens.

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