On Sept 27, 2005, 16 year old Munir Mario Rashed was pulled out of his computer class & sent to his school’s main office where two FBI agents were waiting to question him about terrorism. What sparked the FBI’s interest in this young Arab-American student?
The Sacramento Bee reports that:
After the June arrest of suspects in a terrorist investigation in Lodi, the FBI received a complaint alleging not only that Rashed had the letters “PLO” on his binder, but that there were pictures of suicide bombers on his cell phone.
That prompted the FBI to act, said Karen Ernst, a special agent with the Sacramento office.
The agents asked him a series of questions, Rashed said, including whether he was born in the United States, whether he knew what “PLO” stood for and whether he was aware of the arrests in Lodi.
“I said of course I know. I said, ‘If you watch the news, you know.’ I told them in that school we read the newspaper every day,” he said.
He said Thursday the only pictures he has on his cell phone are ones of a mosque.
The Progressive reports:
In a private room, the agents asked the student to recount an incident that had occurred two years earlier in a math class. He told the agents that his teacher had reprimanded him for having scrawled the letters ‘PLO’ on his binder. The teacher said that anyone who supported the PLO was a terrorist.
During math class that spring, another student saw the letters “PLO” doodled on a piece of paper in Rashed’s three-ring binder. Rashed, whose grandfather came to the United States from the West Bank in the 1930s, said he told the student PLO stood for Palestine Liberation Organization.
“I was trying to explain what it means,” Rashed said Thursday. “The teacher butted in and said it’s a terrorist organization and anyone who supported them was a terrorist. I took offense to that. I don’t belong to the PLO, but I believe what they are doing is the right thing.
“I felt that I have the right to draw whatever I want,” Rashed said of the doodle. “When he put me on the spot, that hurt me.” link
The (totally separate) on-going Lodi, CA investigation of an alleged terrorist group has so far resulted in 2 deportations, charges of lying to the FBI against another man, & charges of lying to the FBI and material support for terrorism against his son. All named suspects are Pakistani, not Arabs & certainly not Palestinian. The PLO has not been on the US terrorist organization list since 1993. What other link beside religion — Islam — was the FBI following when they questioned Rashed? The (apparently non-existent) pictures of suicide bombers on his cell phone?
Ernst said the FBI agents did not violate policy. “We get calls every day from people on all kinds of stuff,” she said. “Anything related to possible terrorist information has to be reviewed and resolved as much as possible.”
In this case, Ernst said, the FBI’s interest was resolved. No further action has been taken.
In a letter to the school district, a civil rights lawyer charges the interview “was based purely on Munir’s political expression and occurred without his parents’ knowledge, chilling his right to free speech and violating school policy” and called “for an investigation and disciplinary action against any school employee who reported Munir to the FBI, claiming the allegation violated his rights of free speech. “
It’s unclear who turned Rashed in to the FBI. The family understandably suspects the teacher, who has since resigned, but it could easily have been a fellow student. Rashed lives in Elk Grove, CA, a rapidly gorwing community south of Sacramento.
Like many communities in Califirnia,
The growth brings rapid demographic changes. More than 80 languages are spoken in Elk Grove Unified, and last year more than 21 percent of students spoke limited English, compared with under 7 percent 15 years ago.
According to district figures, whites were 34 percent of the district’s students during the past school year. Asians, Pacific Islanders and Filipinos were 26 percent, Latinos were 20 percent and African Americans were 19 percent. Twenty years ago, whites were 70 percent of the population.
Mark Bandy, who, like his wife, Teresa, is an English teacher at Franklin High, graduated from Elk Grove High in 1983. Bandy said the school then had a subtle “everything-the-white-way-is-the-right-way” mentality.
“I’ve seen that change,” he said. “It’s made some people more outwardly bigoted, it’s made other people, like me, really think about things.”
Racial tensions have often turned ugly, with attacks on racial minorities & gays; vandalism including painting swastikas, KKK graffiti & racial epithets; and the arrest of two students in another Elk Grove High School, accused of plotting a Columbine style assault targeting specific minority students.
Whoever made the call, it would be difficult to separate this incident from the climate of bigotry which envelops so many of our communities.
In 2002, the Boston Globe editorialized in response to Ashcroft’s National Snitch program,
OPERATION TIPS – the Terrorism Information and Prevention System – is a scheme that Joseph Stalin would have appreciated. Plans for its pilot phase, to start in August, have Operation TIPS recruiting a million letter carriers, meter readers, cable technicians, and other workers with access to private homes as informants to report to the Justice Department any activities they think suspicious.
. . . It will be a nationwide program run by Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department. If it is allowed to start up and gather steam, it will begin in 10 cities and then expand everywhere, enrolling millions of Americans to spy on their neighbors. On the Web site of President Bush’s new Citizen Corps program, this assault on the Constitution is described without any hint of irony as “a national reporting system that allows these workers, whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize unusual events, to report suspicious activity.”
. . . For a bit of the shock therapy Ashcroft and his fellow travelers seem to need, they ought to consult some of the citizens in the former East Germany who discovered, when looking into their Stasi files, that under the former regime they had been spied upon for years by a husband or wife. Ashcroft’s informant corps is a vile idea not merely because it violates civil liberties in a narrow legal sense or because it will sabotage genuine efforts to prevent terrorism by overloading law enforcement officials with irrelevant reports about Americans who have nothing to do with terrorists. Operation TIPS should be stopped because it is utterly anti-American. It would give Stalin and the KGB a delayed triumph in the Cold War – in the name of the Bush
While TIPS was dropped after public outcry, the FBI still provides a convenient online form for neighborhood spies:
While the FBI continues to encourage the public to submit information regarding the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, this form may also be used to report any suspected criminal activity to the FBI.
This incident is pretty small in the face of the larger overall assault on our civil rights, but it holds up a mirror that reveals an ugly glimpse of the road this society may be heading down. Eyes & ears indeed!
I’m not feeling overly reassured today.