Of Pain and place

Documenting devastation near and far-of the body, the mind, and the soul

They told Fawad that earlier, UM president Donna Shalala (who is of Lebanese descent) met with Muslim students and told them to report any hostile calls or queries from FBI agents.

In the prayer room, Fawad noted with disapproval that his sisters do not feel welcome at the MSO.

He showed New Timeshow to pray, explaining that when kneeling with head to the ground, one is closest to God. Then he performed the ritual in earnest; it was his fifth and last of the day. On a whiteboard behind him someone had written an excerpt from the Koran: Whatever happens to us is the will of God. On his way back across campus, he shared his belief that Jews control the UM administration and that he doesn't feel completely comfortable expressing his pro-Palestinian views. As Fawad walked along South Dixie Highway, a man shouted something unintelligible at him from passing car. "Oh, my first comment," he muttered.

September 14

Fawad and his father were relaxing after returning home from the 183rd Street mosque where the imam, a Syrian-American electrical engineer named Abdul Hamid Samra, delivered the Friday-afternoon sermon. "Even if somebody is trying to harm you, trying to attack you," he had told about 100 men and a few women separated in a curtained-off area, "try to avoid this in a peaceful way." The Koran forbids the killing of innocents. If you kill one, you kill everyone.

"This is a shameful act!" exclaimed Fawad's father in his Urdu-inflected English, thrusting his hands toward a huge television. "These people must be punished," he added. But he believes the United States should refrain from the widespread bombing of Afghanistan or other countries because innocent people would be killed.

The previous day federal agents had knocked on the door of Hamid Siddiqui's Hialeah office. Fawad's 27-year-old brother Asad, who has an architectural engineering degree from the University of Texas, also was there. The agents apparently had received a tip that a shipment of explosives had arrived at the family-run company. "They asked us: “Do you have any bombs?'" recounted Asad. "We said, “No, but we have soil-density testing machines.' They asked, “Can we take a look at 'em'?" Asad said the agents left cordially after inspecting the machines.

Fawad, Asad, their 26-year-old sister Fatima, and 51-year-old mother Meena watched live coverage of President Bush's trip to the WTC site. "They are nut cases," declared Meena, referring to the hijackers. "I have anger for those who have committed this act. I want something to happen to them." But, she noted, "more suffering in the world, we don't want it."

Asad and Fawad concur with the "nut cases" description. But they also think the policies of their own nation are partly to blame.

"That did not even cross my mind," protested Fatima, her face surrounded by a large, creamy yellow scarf covering her hair and draping over her torso. "All I could think was, What kind of idiot would do this?" Fawad shook his head. "She's a girl. What does she know?" he joked. "She's oppressed. She has a thing on her head."

September 15

The song "An Instant Death" had just ended when DJ Muslim repeated one of his themes for the third time that night. "The homework assignment is to open up your encyclopedia and read the entry on Islam," he said. "I'm a little shaken, can you tell?" Then he told his listeners that he was going to continue his holy war to spread peace and love through South Florida.

--By Kirk Nielsen


Red Alert
They say we were taken completely off guard.

Since suicide hijackers bombed the World Trade Center and Pentagon, government officials have repeated in media reports that the country had been caught completely by surprise. U.S. intelligence officials have declared that they knew terror was planned but expected assaults on American interests in Europe -- not in New York City and Washington, D.C.

The truth, however, may be more complicated. While federal authorities likely had no intimate knowledge of the attack beforehand, the Federal Aviation Administration did warn top airline and airport security personnel of a "potential hijacking threat in the eastern United States" on December 8, 1998. An alert that was sent to aviation officials on a strict "need-to-know" basis states the FAA had "received information that unidentified individuals, who are associated with a terrorist organization, may be planning a hijacking at a metropolitan airport in the eastern United States."

That terrorist organization, the document indicates, may well have been al Qaeda, which is run by Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the New York and D.C. attacks. "We believe the threat is current," officials wrote in the alert. "There is a general increase in tensions in the Middle East, as well as the potential for retaliation for U.S. cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan, and the FAA recommends a high degree of vigilance."

Those missile strikes were ordered on August 20, 1998, by former President Bill Clinton and aimed at bin Laden in retaliation for the suicide bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Thirty members of bin Laden's organization were reportedly killed, but the prime target was missed.

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