Well-wrought investigative report about six young Arab-Americans from western New York who stumbled into terrorism.
NPR correspondent Temple-Raston (Justice on the Grass: Three Rwandan Journalists, Their Trial for War Crimes, and a Nation’s Quest for Redemption, 2005, etc.) delves deeply into the lives of these residents of Lackawanna, a former steel-mill town near Buffalo populated largely by Yemenis. First arriving in the 1950s, the immigrants were noted for their ability to withstand the heat of the steel furnaces. By the early 1960s, Lackawanna had the second-largest Yemeni community (after Detroit) in the United States. But with the closing of the mills in the ’70s, the town began to suffer the effects of urban blight, and its disaffected youth found American ways more compelling than Arab tradition. Following the October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, a swashbuckler named Kamel Derwish came to town, bragging about his brave exploits in Bosnia. He galvanized a group of youth from the Lackawanna mosque who met regularly to discuss Islam. Susceptible to Derwish’s subtle exhortations to become more committed Muslims, they read revolutionary tomes, trekked to Pakistan to study at a madrasa, then found themselves reluctant recruits at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001, just months before “something big” was to occur. The camps were rough, and soon the Americans balked and wanted to return. After 9/11, the local FBI, which had been listening to phone calls and spying on the Lackawanna “terrorist cell,” went after the men, now terrified and in hiding, and charged them with sedition. Were they guilty, or simply alienated youth? Temple-Raston does a fair, impartial job of laying out the essential civil-rights issues here.
An elegant examination of how the rules of justice have changed since 9/11.