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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Free Ibrahim

In southwestern Michigan, there has been a dull roar for some time about Ibrahim Parlak, a Turkish Kurd who immigrated to the United States in 1991 and received political asylum here on the grounds that he had "established a well-founded fear of persecution upon return to [his] homeland". Once he was here, he settled down to what would be an idyllic immigrant story: worked hard, opened a popular restaurant, made friends, became part of the community. Idyllic, that is, until last summer.

July 29, 2004, he was arrested by the Department of Homeland Security for being a "terrorist". He was charged with crimes related to his activities with a Kurdish separatist group while in Turkey -- the very grounds of his earlier being granted asylum.

The case seems absurd, but as Alex Kotlowitz wrote in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, "Sometimes the world changes on a dime, as it did on Sept. 11, and with the transformation of the present, the past, too, can suddenly take on a different hue. This, it seems, is what happened to Ibrahim Parlak." With the changes that September 11th brought -- most, in my opinion, extremely negative and damaging -- someone who was once a valued member of the community, who had been given asylum from torture for fighting for freedom, is redefined as a terrorist.

(I would point out that the success of the American Revolution hinged in part on terrorism, and that the power of the empire surely inspires terror worldwide, but that might get me in trouble. Wait -- did I just think that or write it?)

Unfortunately, his case is not going well. You can find out more information by reading the NYT article or by going to his website. Local citizens including Roger Ebert and Fr. Andrew Greeley have signed a petition attesting to Ibrahim's character. Some key facts about the case can be found here.

Honestly, I don't know what we can do about this. Perhaps writing your congressional representatives might help; if you live in southwestern Michigan, Fred Upton would be a good bet, as would Carl Levin or Deborah Stabenow, our senators. But I know that most readers of Gower Street come from other parts of America, and, often, other nations altogether; and I'm not entirely sure that there is anything that can be done against a massive, faceless system that is so assured of its own rightness that it does not allow for dissent or appeal.

I sincerely hope that Ibrahim is released, and likewise others in his situation. If nothing else, this travesty stands in witness to how deformed our national soul has become in the three and a half years since that fateful Tuesday in September.

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