"When the Nazis came for the communists I did not speak out; As I was not a communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I did not speak out; I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; As I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I did not speak out; As I was not a Jew. When they came for me, There was no one left to speak out." Rev. Martin Niemoller 1892 - 1984
NEW YORK — On Martin Luther King Day, January 18th, about 200 people gathered outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) at 150 Park Row in Manhattan for the 12th vigil for Syed Fahad Hashmi. It marked his 1,322 day in detention and his 812th day under the Special Administrative Measures (SAMs). There were people there from the CUNY Law School, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, the Muslim Justice Initiative, Brooklyn for Peace, and the Hashmi family and friends. Syed Fahad Hashmi is an American citizen of Muslim descent. He came to this country with his family, from Pakistan, when he was 3 years old and became a naturalized citizen when he was 11. He is being held at the MCC while awaiting trial for 2 counts of providing and conspiring to give material support to Al Qaida and 2 counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods and services to Al Qaida. The goods in question are waterproof sox and ponchos which Hashmi claims he knew nothing about. He is facing 70 years in prison.
Under the SAMs, imposed by the Attorney General, Hashmi is in extreme solitary confinement. He sees no other prisoners, he is monitored by camera constantly (including when showering or using the toilet), he can see a member of his immediate family for an hour twice a month and these visits are frequently cancelled by the prison. This extreme sensory deprivation is recognized as psychological torture because it destroys people mentally and emotionally. He has no access to news. He also cannot know what the case against him consists of, making it impossible to participate in his own defense. His lawyer, Sean Mahr, has some of the information but he is not allowed to discuss it with Hashmi.
Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author, Chris Hedges wrote (Truthdig 12/28/09):
…his plight illustrates that the gravest threat we face is not from Islamic extremists, but the codification of draconian procedures that deny Americans basic civil liberties and due process. Hashmi would be a better person to tell you this but he is not allowed to speak.
This corruption of our legal system, if history is any guide, will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists, or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive. Hashmi endures what many others, who are not Muslim, will endure later. Radical activists in the environmental, globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements – who are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism – have discovered that his fate is their fate.
The vigil began with a dramatic presentation by members of Theaters Against War (THAW) performing in an original skit illustrating the history of civil rights and liberties in the US. This was followed by a speech by Prof. Jeanne Theoharis, a scholar of the civil rights movement, who taught Hashmi at Brooklyn College. She said that it was very appropriate that we were meeting on King’s birthday outside the MCC because this is where civil rights violations are happening today. King did not shrink from unpopular causes. In 1967 he spoke at Riverside Church in NYC opposing the Vietnam war. Before doing so he was warned by his allies that he would lose friends and access to politicians – including the President. He said he had to speak because fundamental rights were at stake. The day after the speech he was condemned in the press and he was never invited to the White House again. Prof. Theoharis ended by leading the group in a chant using Dr. King’s words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The next speaker was Chris Hedges. He said that the current presentation of King is frozen in 1963. In the last year of his life he spoke more like Malcolm X, saying that many people carry within them an “unconscious racism”. This has led to a stripping of civil liberties because we see others as less than human. And it will not stop there. There is likely to be another terrorist attack because there are people in the Middle East who hate us because we are killing them. Stand up now because if you don’t you may not be able to do so later.
Tony award winning actor, Bill Irwin, who has appeared at several vigils, also read from King’s 1967 Riverside Church speech. King states that he was saddened by his associates questioning him about the wisdom of being on the path of both peace and civil rights – saddened that they did not see the connection.
Then peace activist and Nobel prize nominee Cindy Sheehan spoke. She was wearing an “Arrest Bush” shirt and pointed out that King made that speech exactly a year before he was assassinated, and on the same date, years later, that her son Casey was killed in Iraq. She reminded everyone that in the same speech King called the US the “biggest purveyor of violence” in the world. She said that the “Patriot Act and the US Constitution cannot simultaneously exist” and we need, what King called, “a revolution of values”. She came to NY from Washington, DC where she protested the use of drones which are killing civilians in the Middle East. She added that things will not change until we recognize that other people’s lives are as important as ours and we all have the same existential right to exist.
The MC, Brian Pickett, then introduced Mohammad Siddiqui, the brother of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently on trial in NY for attempting to kill FBI agents while being held in a prison in Afghanistan. He said that she is not being held on terror charges, she is accused of wrestling 15 men for a gun which doesn’t have her finger prints on it. The trial is an orchestrated drama, he added. They are not speaking of her March ’03 5 year abduction which included her 3 children, 2 of which are still missing. She is the symbol of a nation (Pakistan). He asked people to come and observe the trial.
The next speaker said that his uncle and cousin are both in prison on terror charges – one at Guantanamo and one at a supermax prison in the US. His uncle, he said, was badly tortured. He hoped that people would look into their case.
Folksinger Dar Williams then sang. She said that major movements can grow from small groups and she quoted Norman Mailer, “Democracy is fragile”.
The vigil ended with everyone spontaneously singing “We Shall Overcome”. The vigils will continue every other Monday night from 6 to 7 PM. The next one will be on February 8th, outside the MCC at 150 Park Row.
In discussing the case against Syed Fahad Hashmi, Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights said (Truthdig 12/28/09):
“The prosecutions case against Hashmi, an outspoken activist within the Muslim community, abridges his First Amendment rights and threatens the First Amendment rights of others. While Hashmi’s political and religious beliefs, speech and associations are constitutionally protected, the government has been given wide latitude by the court to use them as evidence of his frame of mind and, by extension, intent. The material support charges against him depend on criminalization of association. This could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of others, particularly in activist and Muslim communities.”