9/11 enemies are still hiding in plain sight

Mark Steyn

September 10, 2006 BY MARK STEYN SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST I suppose my I’ll-never-forget-where-I-was recollections are pretty typical: a half-curious pricking up of the ears when they cut into the morning show on the radio with breaking news about a plane hitting the World Trade Center — it sounded like a twin-prop or Lear jet — and then the slow realization when the second plane hit that something bigger was going on. My editor called from London a few seconds later, and I switched on the TV. But, even in the midst of unprecedented forms of mass slaughter, humdrum routine goes on for the rest of us: I was having some furniture delivered that morning, and the guy interrupted me to ask where I wanted one of the pieces to go, and when I turned back to the screen only one of the smoking towers was still there. “What happened?” I said. “It fell down,” the delivery guy shrugged, and ambled back to his work. He was sort of right. It fell down, but it burned for another 100 days, as America’s rage did — for some. For others, it was already fading, the “day that everything changed” already lapsing back into the feeble passivity of one of those weird one-time-only “tragedies,” after which everything goes back to the way it was. What was taking place that Tuesday morning was, as a lot of people said, “unimaginable.” But once it happened, once we no longer had to imagine it, my main memory of that day is of how quickly the mind leapt forward to encompass the new reality. When the second plane hit, it was obvious not just that this was no accident but also that it would be impossible to find two commercial airline pilots willing to fly, even at the point of a gun, their jets into skyscrapers. Which meant that, at the moment of impact, these flights must have been in the hands of terrorists who’d trained as pilots presumably for the purpose of this mission: They had acquired at least basic skills in a profession that would guarantee a good life anywhere on the planet; they could be pulling down six-figure salaries instead of Manhattan skyscrapers. But instead they went to pilot school to make one flight one time one-way, into a tall building. And halfway across the world, on the streets of Ramallah, people filled the streets and cheered and passed out candy. They celebrated at Concordia University in Montreal, and in northern England and in Scandinavia, too, but I didn’t find that out until e-mail from readers began coming through later in the day. In Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his colleagues followed events on the Arabic Service of the BBC. (Not all the BBC’s output is in Arabic; it just sounds like it is.) As the years go by, it’s these curious examples of cultural interconnectedness that stay with me. “Interconnectedness” is the word used by the late Edward Said, the New York-based Palestinian grievance-monger and eminent America-disparager: A couple of weeks after 9/11, the professor deplored the tendency of commentators to separate cultures into what he called “sealed-off entities,” when in reality Western civilization and the Muslim world are so “intertwined” that it was impossible to “draw the line” between them. National Review’s Rich Lowry was unimpressed. “The line seems pretty clear,” he said. “Developing mass commercial aviation and soaring skyscrapers was the West’s idea; slashing the throats of stewardesses and flying the planes into the skyscrapers was radical Islam’s idea.” Very true. But that may be the only “interconnectedness” a large part of the world is interested in: state-of-the-art technology in the service of ancient hatreds. Edward Said was right: There are no more “sealed-off entities.” The “modern world” and the “primitive world” are more like those overlaid area codes the phone company’s so partial to. So a man can roar “Allahu Akhbar!” as he plows his jet into an office building. Even the most primitive parts of the map aren’t that “sealed off” these days. After all, why were they listening to the BBC’s Arabic Service in Afghanistan? Afghanistan isn’t an Arabic-speaking country. They parly-voo the old Pushtun and Dari and Turkmen and whatnot. But on Sept. 11, 2001, the nation was, in effect, under colonial occupation by thousands of Arab and other foreign jihadists. We think of the badlands of the Afghan-Pakistani border as a remote region of isolated peoples whose rituals have been unchanged for centuries. Yet the truth is that these village tribal cultures have been wholly subverted by Saudi money and ideology. The House of Saud’s toxic kingdom, a land where the beheading schedule is computerized, may be a more apt emblem of the way an “interconnected” world is heading than we like to think. One man in the Twin Towers that Tuesday morning must have understood. John O’Neill, a dogged counter-terrorism guy with a whiff of the old-school G-man about him, had just quit the FBI and started work as head of security at the World Trade Center. He made it downstairs where the confabs with rescue workers were punctuated by the thud of bodies from the first jumpers landing on the lobby roof. In the plaza outside, body pieces fell randomly over chairs set up for a lunchtime concert. In the final moments of his life, O’Neill must have felt his world come full circle. Six years earlier (as vividly recounted in Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower) he’d organized the capture in Pakistan of Ramzi Yousef, the man behind the first World Trade Center bombing and a terrorist who’d planned to crash a plane into CIA headquarters. In the New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote: “The failure to prevent Sept. 11 was not a failure of intelligence or coordination. It was a failure of imagination.” That’s not really true. Islamist terrorists had indicated their interest in U.S. landmarks, and were known to have plans to hijack planes to fly into them. But men like John O’Neill could never quite get the full attention of a somnolent federal bureaucracy. The terrorists must have banked on that: After all, they took their pilot-training classes in America, apparently confident that, even if anyone noticed the uptick in Arab enrollments at U.S. flight schools, a squeamish culture of political correctness would ensure nothing was done about it. Five years on, half America has retreated to the laziest old tropes, filtering the new struggle through the most drearily cobwebbed prisms: All dramatic national events are JFK-type conspiracies, all wars are Vietnam quagmires. Meanwhile, Ramzi Yousef’s successors make their ambitions as plain as he did: They want to acquire nuclear technology in order to kill even more of us. And, given that free societies tend naturally toward a Katrina mentality of doing nothing until it happens, one morning we will wake up to another day like the “day that changed everything.” Sept. 11 was less “a failure of imagination” than an ability to see that America’s enemies were hiding in plain sight. They still are. © Mark Steyn 2006 

Blair to Haaretz: Western leaders see the danger of Islamic extremism, but our public still does not

Posted in Islam. Comments Off on Blair to Haaretz: Western leaders see the danger of Islamic extremism, but our public still does not

Muslims Immigrating to U.S. in ‘Surprising’ Numbers…

More Muslims Arrive in U.S., After 9/11 Dip

America’s newest Muslims arrive in the afternoon crunch at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Their planes land from Dubai, Casablanca and Karachi. They stand in line, clasping documents. They emerge, sometimes hours later, steering their carts toward a flock of relatives, a stream of cabs, a new life.

This was the path for Nur Fatima, a Pakistani woman who moved to Brooklyn six months ago and promptly shed her hijab. Through the same doors walked Nora Elhainy, a Moroccan who sells electronics in Queens, and Ahmed Youssef, an Egyptian who settled in Jersey City, where he gives the call to prayer at a palatial mosque.

“I got freedom in this country,” said Ms. Fatima, 25. “Freedom of everything. Freedom of thought.”

The events of Sept. 11 transformed life for Muslims in the United States, and the flow of immigrants from countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Morocco thinned sharply.

But five years later, as the United States wrestles with questions of terrorism, civil liberties and immigration control, Muslims appear to be moving here again in surprising numbers, according to statistics collected by the Department of Homeland Security and the Census Bureau.

Immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia are planting new roots in states from Virginia to Texas to California.

In 2005, more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent United States residents — nearly 96,000 — than in any year in the previous two decades.

More than 40,000 of them were admitted last year, the highest annual number since the terrorist attacks, according to data on 22 countries provided by the Department of Homeland Security.

Many have made the journey unbowed by tales of immigrant hardship, and despite their own opposition to American policy in the Middle East. They come seeking the same promise that has drawn foreigners to the United States for many decades, according to a range of experts and immigrants: economic opportunity and political freedom.

Those lures, both powerful and familiar, have been enough to conquer fears that America is an inhospitable place for Muslims.

“America has always been the promised land for Muslims and non-Muslims,” said Behzad Yaghmaian, an Iranian exile and author of “Embracing the Infidel: Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey West.” “Despite Muslims’ opposition to America’s foreign policy, they still come here because the United States offers what they’re missing at home.”

For Ms. Fatima, it was the freedom to dress as she chose and work as a security guard. For Mr. Youssef, it was the chance to earn a master’s degree.

He came in spite of the deep misgivings that he and many other Egyptians have about the war in Iraq and the Bush administration. In America, he said, one needs to distinguish between the government and the people.

“Who am I dealing with, Bush or the American public?” he said. “Am I dealing with my future in Egypt or my future here?”

Muslims have been settling in the United States in significant numbers since the mid-1960’s, after immigration quotas that favored Eastern Europeans were lifted. Spacious mosques opened in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York as a new, highly educated Muslim population took hold.

Over the next three decades, the story of Muslim migration to the United States was marked by growth and prosperity. A larger percentage of immigrants from Muslim countries have graduate degrees than other American residents, and their average salary is about 20 percent higher, according to census data.

But Sept. 11 altered the course of Muslim life in America. Mosques were vandalized. Hate crimes rose. Deportation proceedings began against thousands of men.

Some Muslims changed their names to avoid job discrimination, making Mohammed “Moe,” and Osama “Sam.” Scores of families left for Canada.

Yet this period also produced something strikingly positive, in the eyes of many Muslims: they began to mobilize politically and socially. Across the country, grass-roots groups expanded to educate Muslims on civil rights, register them to vote and lobby against new federal policies such as the Patriot Act.

“There was the option of becoming introverted or extroverted,” said Agha Saeed, national chairman of the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections, an umbrella organization in Newark, Calif. “We became extroverted.”

In some ways, new Muslim immigrants may be better off in the post-9/11 America they encounter today, say Muslim leaders: Islamic centers are more organized, and resources like English instruction and free legal help are more accessible.

But outside these newly organized mosques, life remains strained for many Muslims. To avoid taunts, women are often warned not to wear head scarves in public, as was Rubab Razvi, 21, a Pakistani who arrived in Brooklyn nine months ago. (She ignored the advice, even though people stare at her on the bus, she said.) Muslims continue to endure long waits at airports, where they are often tagged for questioning.

To some longtime immigrants, the life embraced by newcomers will never compare to the peaceful era that came before.

“They haven’t seen the America pre-9/11,” said Khwaja Mizan Hassan, 42, who left Bangladesh 30 years ago. He rose to become the president of Jamaica Muslim Center, a mosque in Queens, and has a comfortable job with the New York City Department of Probation.

But after Sept. 11, he was stopped at Kennedy Airport because his name matched one on a watch list.

A Drop, Then a Surge

Up to six million Muslims live in the United States, by some estimates. While the Census Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security do not track religion, both provide statistics on immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries. It is presumed that many of these immigrants are Muslim, but people of other faiths, such as Iraqi Chaldeans and Egyptian Copts, have also come in appreciable numbers.

Immigration from these regions slowed considerably after Sept. 11. Fewer people were issued green cards and nonimmigrant visas. By 2003, the number of immigrants arriving from 22 Muslim countries had declined by more than a third. For students, tourists and other nonimmigrants from these countries, the drop was even more dramatic, with total visits down by nearly half.

The falloff affected immigrants from across the post-9/11 world as America tightened its borders, but it was most pronounced among those moving here from Pakistan, Morocco, Iran and other Muslim nations.

Several factors might explain the drop: more visa applications were rejected due to heightened security procedures, said officials at the State Department and Department of Homeland Security; and fewer people applied for visas.

But starting in 2004, the numbers rebounded. The tally of people coming to live in the United States from Bangladesh, Turkey, Algeria and other Muslim countries rose by 20 percent, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data.

The uptick was also notable among foreigners with nonimmigrant visas. More than 55,000 Indonesians, for instance, were issued those visas last year, compared with roughly 36,000 in 2002.

The rise does not reflect relaxed security measures, but a higher number of visa applications and greater efficiency in processing them, said Chris Bentley, a spokesman for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of Homeland Security.

Like other immigrants, Muslims find their way to the United States in myriad ways: they come as refugees, or as students and tourists. Others arrive with immigrant visas secured by relatives here. A lucky few win the green-card lottery.

Ahmed Youssef, 29, never thought he would be among the winners. But in 2003, Mr. Youssef, who taught Arabic in Egypt, was one of 50,000 people randomly chosen from 9.5 million applicants around the world.

As he prepared to leave Benha, a city north of Cairo, some friends asked him how he could move to a country that is “killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he recalled. But others who had been to the United States encouraged him to go.

He arrived in May 2005, and he found work loading hot dog carts from sunrise to sundown. He shared an apartment in Washington Heights with other Egyptians, but for the first month, he never saw his neighborhood in daylight.

“I joked to my roommates, ‘When am I going to see America?’ ” said Mr. Youssef, a slight man with thinning black hair and an easy smile.

Only three months later, when he began selling hot dogs on Seventh Avenue, did Mr. Youssef discover his new country.

He missed hearing the call to prayer, and thought nothing of unrolling his prayer rug beside his cart until other vendors warned him against it. He could be mistaken for an extremist, they told him.

Eventually, Mr. Youssef found a job as the secretary of the Islamic Center of Jersey City. He plans to apply to a master’s program at Columbia University, specializing in Arabic. For now, he lives in a spare room above the mosque. Near his bed, he keeps a daily log of his prayers. If he makes them on time, he writes “Correct” in Arabic. “I am much better off here than selling hot dogs,” he said.

Awash in American Flags

Nur Fatima landed in Midwood, Brooklyn, at a propitious time. Had she come three years earlier, she would have seen a neighborhood in crisis.

Hundreds of Pakistani immigrants disappeared after being asked to register with the government. Thirty shops closed along a stretch of Coney Island Avenue known as Little Pakistan. The number of new Urdu-speaking pupils at the local elementary school, Public School 217, dropped by half in the 2002-3 school year.

But then Little Pakistan got organized. A local businessman, Moe Razvi, converted a former antique store into a community center offering legal advice, computer classes and English instruction. Local Muslim leaders began meeting with federal agents to soothe relations.

The annual Pakistan Independence Day parade is now awash in American flags.

It is a transformation seen in Muslim immigrant communities around the nation.

“They have to prove that they are living here as Muslim Americans rather than living as Pakistanis and Egyptians and other nationalities,” said Zahid H. Bukhari, the director of the American Muslim Studies Program at Georgetown University.

Ms. Fatima arrived in Brooklyn from Pakistan in March with an immigrant visa. She began by taking English classes at Mr. Razvi’s center, the Council of Peoples Organization.

She has heard stories of the neighborhood’s former plight but sees a different picture.

“This is a land of opportunity,” Ms. Fatima said. “There is equality for everyone.”

Five days after she came to Brooklyn, Ms. Fatima removed her head scarf, which she had been wearing since she was 10. She began to change her thinking, she said: She liked living in a country where people respected the privacy of others and did not interfere with their religious or social choices.

“I came to the United States because I want to improve myself,” she said. “This is a second birth for me.”

Paintball imams spread militancy

The Sunday Times September 10, 2006

Paintball imams spread militancy

Activity days are ‘front’ to recruit young Muslims

THE party of youths pulled on their blue overalls, snapped shut their visors and, taking aim with their paintball guns, prepared for four hours of licensed mayhem.

But the men who pursued each other last Sunday morning through the wooded grounds of Delta Force’s paintballing park near Congleton, Cheshire, had little in common with the stag parties and company teams nearby.

Instead of listening to corporate pep talks between sessions, the young Asian men were instructed by an imam dressed in fatigues on the need to unite Muslims worldwide in an international empire.

One senior member of the group, who is a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT), which Tony Blair has proposed should be banned, insisted that devout Muslims should refuse to vote in British elections.

HT, a group that preaches against the existence of Israel, has been described as a “conveyor belt to terrorism” by critics even within the Muslim community, though it says it eschews violence. It is banned in several Arab countries, and banned by the National Union of Students from British university campuses.

The day before, in an unrelated operation, police had raided a Muslim school, set in woodland near Crowborough, East Sussex, in an investigation into alleged terrorist training camps in Britain.

There have also been fears that terrorist training camps were being held in the Lake District and north Wales, and the terrorists Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer went on a whitewater rafting “bonding” trip in Wales before the London bombings of July 2005.

Undercover Sunday Times reporters were present last Sunday to witness first-hand the early stages of the radicalisation of young Asians by Islamic militants.

The reporters watched 10 youths, in their late teens or early twenties, arrive and were invited to join the session. During a lull in the game, they were approached by an imam, Ahsraf Bader, 34, who was with the group.

Bader, wearing a fleece jacket and jeans, described Osama Bin Laden as a “Muslim brother” and said it was the “responsibility” of every Muslim to bring back the caliphate, or a pan-Islamic government.

Kasim Shafiq, a senior member of the group and who said that he was a member of HT, declared that Muslims should not vote in British elections. “Our own shahadah [creed] tells us that the authority and law do not belong to the non-Muslims, so why are we going to vote for non-Muslims?” he said.

Shafiq, 27, an IT specialist, added: “If you think that you can win power, if you look at the logistics of how this country works . . . you’ve got to change the [minds and opinions of the] whole of the cabinet towards Islam, you’ve got to change the whole of the army towards Islam, then you will gain power.”

The group organising the paintballing activity, the Cheetham Hill Youth Forum, states it is a community body that works on social problems in the inner-city district of Manchester.

The 15-strong paintballing party arrived in a silver Mercedes, a dark blue VW Polo and a Vauxhall Astra at the venue in Brereton Green, Congleton, which was used by a party of Manchester United players, including Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, earlier this year. They were expecting 40 to turn up but the absentees had been delayed at an HT conference, held the previous evening in London.

The course, named Zulu Wood, was muddy and the forest was strewn with barrels and mock ancient statues, with sheds to serve as bunkers.

The Asian group paid no attention to the 300 or so other players at the six-acre site, although they kept their voices down when, at the end of a game, the winning team called “Allahu Akbar [God is great]”.

During one game, a player said: “I’ve been shot.” His team-mate replied: “Don’t worry, the shahid [martyr] never dies.”

The leaders of the group questioned the undercover reporters about their backgrounds and, once satisfied about their credentials, appeared eager to win them over to their beliefs.

“Leave me your number and next time I am in the area [east London] I’ll call you and show you the brothers around there,” said Shafiq. “They do a lot of paintballing and . . . hiking. They call themselves the East London Youth Forum.”

The London forum was described this weekend by Hanif Qadir, a moderate Muslim leader linked to the Waltham Forest Islamic Association mosque, as a “front” organisation for HT. He said HT targeted “vulnerable young teenagers” with “inflammatory leaflets”. He added: “They can’t see the damage they cause to the Muslim community. If you want sharia [Islamic law] , then go and ask for it in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.”

Shafiq described the activities of the Cheetham Hill Youth Forum: “It’s off our own backs. There’s me, five, six of us brothers. And we thought, just engage in something, I suppose.

“Obviously at a young age that’s the best time to speak to the Muslims, because when they get older, obviously it’s much harder to try and get them to practise Islam than when they’re younger.”

He said that while he was a member of HT, the youth forum was supposed to be independent of the organisation. Blair announced after the London bombings last year that he was considering banning HT.

Shafiq said the authorities were using the fear of terrorism to pressure Muslims to integrate: “Right now there is this big integration thing going on at the moment, isn’t it. And they use this terror thing as a way to make the Muslims integrate with the western way.”

Afzal Khan, a former lord mayor of Manchester, said HT’s message was damaging to Muslims: “HT’s message of not participating in voting is wrong.

“We are here [in Britain] as a small minority and we have to live with the majority. If they want to live under an Islamic caliphate, they should take this idea to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. and go and create it over there.”

Bader, who lives near the Eccles and Salford mosque in Manchester, said it was the imams’ duty to give political advice: “They have to, akhi [brother], this is their responsibility. Politics is something you can’t separate.”

He was scathing about the compromises made by mainstream imams in Britain: “Imams here, they get paid to be secular. They are here to survive. Islam is not their priority. Islam is second, which means all those things we want to talk on, they will not.”

One young Asian, who has taken part in past events organised by the Cheetham Hill Youth Forum, said it was a sophisticated recruitment operation. “They organised paintballing, five-a-side football and other social events to persuade parents to let their sons go off with them,” he said.

“The kids’ fathers have little idea what their sons are getting up to because they work 18 hours per day as taxi drivers, and the mothers are uneducated. Many of the HT leaders have jobs in the corporate world, so they borrow bonding techniques used on management courses.”

Taji Mustapha, a spokesman for HT, said the Cheetham Hill Youth Forum and the East London Youth Forum were not members of his organisation and had no links with it. “Cheetham Hill Youth Forum is not a front for HT. If HT is doing something illegal, then I’ll deal with it,” he said.

Shafiq and Bader declined to speak when approached this weekend.

Additional reporting: Philip Cardy