Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Salisbury explores the reprisals against Muslim communities in Philadelphia and beyond since the beginning of the War on Terror.
The author focuses on two events: the closing of a Philadelphia mosque, Ansaarullah Islamic Society, after the arrest of its imam, Mohamed Ghorab, in 2004 by the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the IRS; and government hostility toward anti-Vietnam War activists when the author was a Columbia University student in the late-1960s. According to the government, the enemy had to be sought out and destroyed, but in both cases the question remained: What/who was the enemy? Many crackdowns against Muslim communities had occurred since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, for which “experts” had at first “speculated with great assurance that Muslim extremists were responsible,” even though it was the work of a white, right-wing Christian, Timothy McVeigh. Following 9/11, pent-up anti-immigrant hostility and aggressive patriotism exploded in nation-wide “kill the ragheads” fever, resulting in random shootings, arson, beatings and removal of entire communities—all well-documented by Salisbury. The backlash overwhelmed Ghorab, an Egyptian immigrant and mechanical engineer who had started a mosque of several hundred in a working-class community in Philadelphia on the strength on his peaceful commitment to Islam. He had overstayed his visa, gotten entangled in a messy divorce from an American and was deported to Egypt in 2005, mostly on the government’s flimsy argument that “[y]ou don’t know what we know.” Salisbury surveys the sinister aspects of Att. Gen. John Ashcroft’s PENTTBOM dragnet and juxtaposes these strategies against the FBI’s COINTELPRO program of surveillance and the planting of informers amid antiwar activism of the late-’60s. Both operations, writes the author, proved damaging to civil rights and democracy.
A solid journalistic exposé.