TThe ridiculous, counter-productive and democracy-destroying witch hunts of American muslims is far from over, much less free of long-term consequences, as The Nation documents in a special issue.
From Laila Al-Arian's article "When your father is accused of terrorism."
Aref, knowing nothing about the supposed missile sale, was asked to witness the loan payment. The informant spoke in code, using the word chaudry-a common South Asian surname-to refer to the missile. Aref was arrested and, in March 2007, sentenced to fifteen years in prison on terror charges, including support for a foreign terrorist organization and money laundering.
"It's fabricated police work," says Andrew Shryock, a University of Michigan professor, regarding these types of prosecutions using government informants. "And the disturbing thing is not that it produces arrests but that the public tolerates it."
Aref's case galvanized peace activists in Albany, who held vigils and wrote letters to the judge calling for Aref's release. Among them was Steve Downs, a former attorney for New York state, who volunteered in his defense. The day after Aref's conviction, he visited his client in prison. "He looked at me and said, 'I want to fire you as my lawyer,'" Downs told me, smiling. "But he said, 'I want to hire you as my brother.' He said, 'I don't have any family in this country, and I need family more than I need lawyers.'"
Downs and the Muslim Solidarity Committee, as the mostly non-Muslim Albany activists called themselves, raised thousands of dollars to help cover the rent for Aref's wife and four children. Downs and others also drove Aref's children to visit their father in prison, fourteen hours away in Indiana.
"I'm not sure I would've had the guts to do any of this by myself," Downs says of the activism around Aref's case, which drew strength from the number of people involved. Now 70 and retired, Downs says his profession long discouraged him from involvement in political causes, so that for twenty-eight years, he was in a "cocoon." Today, he is glad to have broken free of it.
"When I was 3 years old, my father died in World War II," he recalls. "He was a Navy doctor. Later, I asked my mom, 'Why did he die?' She would say, 'Well, there was this war-the Nazis came to power in Germany.' I would ask, 'How did Hitler come to power if he was so bad?' And she would say, 'Because good people who could have stopped him didn't do anything.'
"A lot of time growing up, I was angry at good people who didn't do anything," Downs says. "Until one day, I realized I was one of those people."