Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mysterious exclusion unraveled: she's married!

In a couple of days, it will be eleven years since Stanford PhD and distinguished Malaysian affordable housing architect Rahinah Ibrahim was arrested at SFO, told she was on the TSA no-fly list, and then excluded from visiting the United States. Since 2008, she's won a court order for disclosure of why she's barred, experienced lengthy government stalling, been forced by her visa denial to testify from abroad on videotape, been the beneficiary of a secret ruling, finally been told that her listing came because an FBI agent checked the wrong box, and then, once more, denied a visa because of "terrorist activities.

The determined investigative journalist Raymond Bonner has tried to untangle the complete, shameful, saga for ProPublica. Bonner is the reporter who first uncovered the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador in 1982. He's used to getting to the bottom of cover-ups. For this article, he wrangled the first extensive interview with Ibrahim about her long case.

And it turns out, this story is also about the inability of U.S. authorities to separate the activities of an accomplished woman who follows her faith by wearing the hijab from their doubts about her husband!

[Judge William] Alsup provided a hint to the answer in three sentences, easy to overlook in his 38-page opinion, and carefully crafted so as not to reveal any classified information. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, there are nine grounds for denying a person a visa. “Some of them go beyond whether the applicant herself poses a national security threat,” Alsup wrote. The judge did not list the nine grounds. But the immigration law is a public document. Eight of the categories apply to the applicant. One does not. The ninth basis for turning down a visa application is if the person “is the spouse” of a foreigner who has engaged in any terrorist-related activity in the preceding five years.

Thus, the basis for Ibrahim’s place on the watch lists would appear to be something the law purportedly abhors — guilt by association, or in this case, by marriage.

The U.S. government's suspicions of Ibrahim's husband Mustafa Kamal seem flimsy indeed.

While his wife was at Stanford, Kamal undertook several humanitarian missions to Mindanao, the predominately Muslim province in the Philippines. A civil war had been simmering there for nearly two decades, waged by Muslims seeking independence from, or at least greater autonomy in, the overwhelmingly Catholic country. The war had created more than 200,000 refugees. When Kamal visited for five days in 2003, providing food for widows and orphans, building wells and schools, restoring mosques, the province had become a front in the Bush Administration’s war on terrorism; CIA and FBI agents were all over the place. ...

Former FBI and CIA agents who were working in that area at the time told me that Kamal, by his mere presence in Mindanao doing humanitarian work, would have come to the attention of American intelligence.

There may be another reason Ibrahim ended up on the no-fly list. “Maybe they got the wrong wife,” said an American official who has followed the case closely.

As allowed in Islam, Kamal has two additional wives. It is not something Ibrahim or her husband try to hide. He lists his wives, and posts photos of the families on Facebook. Altogether, Kamal has 13 children. They often gather at Ibrahim’s house on holidays. “We are one big family,” she told me.

Kamal’s third wife, Kurais Abdullah Karim, a Filipina, could also be a cause of Ibrahim’s problems. A lecturer at the International University of Malaysia, Karim, is from Mindanao and is, as Kamal put it, a “humanitarian activist.” In addition to having her own blog, about fashion, and posting regularly on Instagram, she is an unabashed supporter of the Muslim liberation movement in Mindanao. ... (In 2014, the Philippine Government and the secessionist Muslims signed a peace treaty ending more than four decades of civil war.)

Kamal said he has never had any involvement with Jemaah Islamiyah, or any other terrorist organization. Malaysian intelligence and security agencies keep close tabs on Malaysians who go to Mindanao, American and European intelligence officials told me, but they do not have a file on Kamal or Ibrahim. If they did, she would not be allowed to be a professor, let alone dean, at the government university, current and former Malaysian officials said, a conclusion shared by American officials who have worked in Malaysia.

... The State Department still considers her ineligible under the terrorism category, and she will have to apply again for a waiver should she seek to come to the United States.

I find Ibrahim's persistence in seeking truth and redress through all this quite inspiring. Perhaps that sort of grit is what it takes for a girl from a rural village to become an internationally recognized architect.

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