View From Lodi, CA: Nightline's Immigrants-As-Victims Agenda
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I didn't watch the July 13 Nightline special that focused on Lodi.

But I did review the transcript carefully. I also read every word the Lodi News-Sentinel published about the television show. And like everyone else in town, I have followed the details of the arrests of five local men on federal charges as they unfolded. [Nightline Focuses on Terror Investigation in Lodi, Layla Bohm, Lodi News-Sentinel, July 14, 2005, (Cached version)]

Despite all the publicity, serious unresolved issues remain.

And until they are confronted, we are spinning our wheels.

To begin more or less at the beginning, when the arrests occurred, a prominent and respected community leader, Taj Khan, spoke out in defense of the suspects.

Khan insisted that the two imams committed "no immigration violations" and are "decent, honest and sincere…" [Raids Stun Close-Knit Pakistani Community, Emily Bazar and Christina Jewett. Sacramento Bee, June 8, 2005]

Since we now know that the imams overstayed their visas and at least one of them, Muhammad Adil Khan, encouraged Pakistanis to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban it its efforts to kill Americans, an apology from Khan for his misjudgments would go a long way toward restoring unity in Lodi.

But instead of admitting his mistake—which could have happened to anyone— Khan is holding the line.

In his July 16th column, Khan insists that imams' immigration violations are "minor crimes" and that the significance of the lies told by Umer and Hamid Hayat to federal officials have been "tremendously hyped up."

What Khan fails to acknowledge is that Adil Khan has agreed to be deported rather than face trial. Nor does Khan [Taj] mention that the alleged lies told to the F.B.I. by the Hayats were not about parking tickets but about whether or not Hamid trained in an al-Queda camp. [Media Convict Before Guilt is Established, Taj Khan, Lodi News-Sentinel, July 16th]

And what about the F.B.I.'s role?

The Nightline segment, ominously titled "The Hunt," gave the impression that the agency has been overly vigorous in building its case.

During the show's introduction a clip aired of a Lodian who claimed the F.B.I. followed him and "almost ran over" his cousin, Usama.

The F.B.I.'s plight: it's damned if it does and damned if it doesn't.

In June, the Washington Post reported that Justice Department Inspector Glenn A. Fine concluded that the F.B.I. missed at least five chances to apprehend two of the 9/11 suicide hijackers after they entered the U.S. in 2000.

Fine determined that the F.B.I. was guilty of "significant failure" and "widespread and longstanding deficiencies."  

In response to the 371-page document, the F.B.I. announced: "Today, preventing terrorist attacks is the top priority in every FBI office and division, and no terrorism lead goes unaddressed."[Pre-9/11 Missteps by F.B.I. Detailed, By Dan Eggen,  Washington Post, June 10th]

Although the F.B.I. has been trailing suspects by vehicle since the days of John Dillinger, Pakistanis in Lodi resent being singled out despite the agency's renewed commitment to homeland security.

What troubles me is the feeling I get that innocent Muslims are blaming Americans for the awkward spot they find themselves in.

If only, many seem to be saying, Americans were less racist these conflicts would resolve themselves.

And if the F.B.I. were not so zealous, then Muslims and Christians could live in harmony.

If hard-liners like me were more forgiving of immigration violations, then everything would be fine.

If you think I am exaggerating, consider that Adil Khan's immigration attorney, Saad Ahmad, said that his client agreed to deportation not because his visa had expired but because of death threats.

Get it…it's our fault.

Not surprisingly, the "threats" are unsubstantiated. And Lodi Police Chief Jerry Adams and F.B.I. representative John Cauthen are unaware of any incidents. [Former Lodi Imam Leaving Due To Threats, Attorney Says, Layla Bohm, Lodi News-Sentinel, July 20, 2005]

Sorry, Americans are not to blame. The Muslim dilemma is created by a small but dangerous number of Muslims.

On July 8th, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote an editorial in response to the London bombings titled "If It's A Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution."

Wrote Friedman:

"either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists - if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings - or the West is going to do it for them. And the West will do it in a rough, crude way - by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent."

The job of rooting out terrorists must fall to mainstream Muslims since, as Friedman notes, "to this day no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden."

France has already adopted the measures Friedman warns of.

On July 12, terrorism analyst Daniel Pipes reported in the New York Sun that France permits

"interrogation without a lawyer, lengthy pre-trial incarcerations, and evidence acquired under dubious circumstances." [Weak Brits, Tough French,]

If there should be another attack on the U.S., Muslims in America would certainly face increased scrutiny.

One of the subjects on the Nightline program, Tasleem Ali, has been a good friend of mine since she was a student at Lodi High School. I know her parents and her four siblings.

The Alis are wonderful, caring people. If people like them are hurt by tougher policies, then I'm saddened.

But to keep innocent Muslims like the Alis out of harms way, Islamic leaders have to become pro-active in sharing information with U.S. officials about potential suspects even if that means turning in their own.

Muslims shouldn't point the finger at us. Instead, they must do their own housecleaning.


Oh, how I wish I had been able to counsell my friend and rock solid young woman Tasleem Ali before she fell prey to those slick "Nightline" reporters, Ted Koppel and Brian Rooney.

"Nightline" was determined to paint the Pakistani community in Lodi as victims.

But in so doing, the television show did not help the broad Pakistani cause of generating more understanding and sympathy [to those who deserve it] toward them.

Here is what I would have advised Ali.

  • First and foremost, NO WHINING!

  • Second, immediately, no matter what the question to you may be, begin by saying, "Since the arrests my friends and family have talked about the importance of reporting promptly to the F.B.I. any suspicious activities even if this means turning in lifelong friends and family."

  • Third, when questioned about the F.B.I. and its procedures, say, "If it helps root out terrorism, the F.B.I. can follow me all day and all night. I have nothing to hide and totally support the F.B.I. in all its efforts."

  • Fourth, when asked about being detained at airports, say, "I have seen airline captains in full uniform questioned and patted down. If they are subjected to that type of search, who am I to object?"

Unfortunately, I'm too late to help Ali. But this script is good indefinitely for any other Muslims who may feel put upon.

I recommend that it be memorized.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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