Neighbors or Enemies? > Living with Hate

New York and New Jersey

Waheed Khalid

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Human rights activist and former mosque president

After 9/11, there were not many detainees from around here because it is an affluent community, but we heard stories, like the bad experiences people had flying. Someone made a wrong turn in Florida; he was fingerprinted and interrogated for two hours. People lost their jobs and never found another. Many people are still jobless.

I feel like I’m still back in Pakistan, where you are put in jail with no recourse. You have no rights, you can’t pick up phone and call the White House. For every incident we hear about, there are a dozen more we don’t hear about.

I was taking meals every day to 400 inmates in Passaic County Jail. Now people are learning the truth about it, understanding the deceptive statements made by the government.

I was always very aggressive in offering assistance wherever it was needed. But I could see that many people were scared, mostly because they were concerned that someone would come after the mosque. Since then people have become even more reluctant to participate in organizing activities or raising funds.

If the service is offered, the community will participate. But if the leadership is scared they don’t come. I’m seeing that happening everywhere. There is a reluctance that was never seen in the past.

More and more people are reluctant to speak up. Nobody disputes we are a target, not because we have done anything wrong but because we have a different cultural and religious background.

The government has seized the assets of Muslim charities, but it has not brought a case against them yet. So money we gave because of our religious obligation as Muslims is sitting there after being seized by the government.

My son is a physician in Hartford, Connecticut. Two or three months after 9/11 he tried to wire $100 to his mother-in-law. Western Union called him back to ask questions about where the money was going and why, which they said they were required to do by the FBI. He got scared and called me. I told him to tell them to go to hell – to tell them, if you have questions, send them to me in writing.

Things have to change, because people won’t indefinitely accept the measures the government has taken. Many of us have been around the area and talked about what was going on. Now people are starting to stand up and question.

There used to be hardly any Pakistanis in jail. Now it is not uncommon. In the mid-1980s, they kept issuing visas so people could come and stay. Pakistanis, Indians – especially [people working in] the Gulf – came here on visitors visas. People came in and worked as cab drivers, twelve hours a day, seven days a week, sharing rooms.

Many people have left. Over Christmas, many people filed for asylum in Canada – but when they returned they were arrested.