[Marxism] The nightmare of Ansar Mahmood

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jun 6 08:49:19 MDT 2004

NY Times, June 6, 2004
A 9/11 Lesson: Don't Photograph the Water

HUDSON, N.Y. - On a cloudless autumn day three years ago, Ansar Mahmood, 
a pizza deliveryman for a Domino's near here, took a few hours off from 
work to snap pictures of the Hudson River amid the foliage, to send home 
to his family in Pakistan.

Mr. Mahmood had seen the view from a customer's house on Rossman Avenue, 
but was told it was even better up the street. So up he went, to a bluff 
overlooking the river and the Catskill Mountains next to some 
official-looking buildings. He said he knocked on a door and asked an 
employee to take his picture. "He said, 'Of course, of course,' " Mr. 
Mahmood recalled.

That moment marked the end of Mr. Mahmood's brief American dream, as he 
stumbled into a vortex of fear, politics and deportation proceedings.

The official-looking buildings turned out to be a water-treatment plant 
for the city of Hudson. The crisp afternoon fell exactly four weeks 
after Sept. 11, when the nation was panicked at the possibility of more 
terror attacks, including poisoned drinking water.

And Mr. Mahmood - who had hit the ultimate jackpot for a young Pakistani 
when he won a green card through a lottery - was suddenly from the wrong 
part of the world.

Any notion that Mr. Mahmood was tied to terrorism quickly evaporated 
into the fluorescent ether of the Hudson police station. But he was soon 
charged with helping Pakistani friends whose visas had expired, an 
offense that led to his detention and pending deportation.

With his arrest, Mr. Mahmood became part of the wave of Arab and Muslim 
aliens and citizens who were detained for questioning in the two months 
after Sept. 11. A United States Department of Justice report estimates 
that 1,200 people were rounded up, but advocates for the detainees say 
the number was much higher. Like Mr. Mahmood, many were then prosecuted 
for immigration violations or past crimes.

But the moment also thrust him into the embrace of a local community of 
peace activists who took up his cause with a gritty intensity.

They circulated petitions and propelled Mr. Mahmood's story into a 
number of national media outlets. They strategized in weekly meetings 
and button-holed politicians in an effort to prevent his deportation, 
recently winning letters of support from seven United States senators, 
including Hillary Rodham Clinton.

They became so fond of Mr. Mahmood, a slight 26-year-old with a 
searching gaze and a quick grin, that they have traveled hours, 
individually and as a group, to visit him at a detention center outside 
Buffalo. One supporter awaits his call every Thursday between 2 and 4 
p.m. Another sent him a copy of the Emily Dickinson poem "Hope Is the 
Thing With Feathers."

"We started doing this from an abstract, idealistic point of view - that 
they can't pull someone off the streets of Hudson, that it was racial 
profiling - and all of that is still important," said Susan Davies, a 
supporter who prodded her fellow advocates from the nearby Chatham Peace 
Initiative to rally around Mr. Mahmood.

"But since then we've gotten to know Ansar very well," she added. "He's 
very spiritual and loves beauty and that's why he took that picture that 
got him into trouble in the first place."

When Mr. Mahmood returned to the Domino's in Greenport later that 
evening, on Oct. 9, two police officers were waiting for him. (A 
treatment plant worker had reported him after he left.) The next 24 
hours, he said, were a frightening blur.

He was handcuffed and placed in a holding area at the police station, in 
Hudson. There he was questioned by a stream of federal agents who had 
converged on this quiet city in Columbia County, a popular antiques 
center 109 miles north of New York City.

They wanted to know why he was interested in the water-treatment 
facility, what connection he had to the World Trade Center attack. Mr. 
Mahmood recalled explaining that he did not even know that there was a 
water-treatment plant.

Eventually, the investigators found that he was just a hapless immigrant 
taking pictures. As Senator Charles E. Schumer wrote in March, calling 
for his release, Mr. Mahmood was "cleared by the F.B.I. of any suspected 
terrorist activity, including tampering with the water supply."

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/06/nyregion/06hudson.html
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