[Marxism] The nightmare of Ansar Mahmood
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
By LISA W. FODERARO
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.
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
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."
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