- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) — The friction between the West and the Islamic world will get worse if there's a war in Iraq and it will become very difficult for Muslims to live in the United States, says Ejaz Haider, a leading Pakistani journalist and Brookings scholar who was temporarily detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Arrested outside the Brookings Institution in Washington on Tuesday, Haider was released only after Brookings President and former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott spoke with a senior State Department official — Assistant Secretary Christine Rocca — and requested her to get him out of the INS cell.

"On four separate occasions — sometimes publicly, sometimes privately — I had to talk to the Pakistan government to get journalists released. I never thought I will see the day when I had to approach my own government to have them release a journalist," says Stephen P. Cohen, head of the Brookings South Asia program for which Haider worked.

In an interview with United Press International, Haider says the incident has so unnerved him that he is planning to return to Pakistan before his scheduled departure in March this year.

Q: How do you feel about your detention?

A: Very upset, not just because this has happened to me but because it has happened to hundreds of other people and is likely to happen to hundreds of others in future as well. It is a faulty policy, bad at both ends. It's something that needs to be seriously reviewed.

Q: Well, the policy aims at protecting the United States against possible terrorist attacks and that's what the INS says it is doing. So what's wrong with it?

A: The entire policy essentially discriminates against the Islamic world itself. It runs contrary to the U.S. government objective to reach out to the Islamic world. On the one hand, they are asking this question "Why do they hate us," and on the other they have this policy that undermines their objective.

Q: Do you think the intention is to discourage Muslims from visiting America or living here?

A: I wouldn't go to the extent of saying that. There's a lot of opposition within the government to this policy. That may be the case with some of the ideologues, but that's not what the majority of the Americans want. But if that's what the policy is, then we are facing a dangerous situation.

Q: What impact has the detention had on you?

A: I am very upset. It was like, a kind of violation of my privacy, an assault on my dignity. I have a good reason to feel that way.

Q: But the INS says that its action was legally justified because you did violate a U.S. law by not registering within 40 days of your arrival in the United States. What do you say?

A: Legally right? I don't think they were legally right. I don't think the INS has explained its policy very well. They keep putting countries on and off the list. When I came Pakistan was not on the list (of countries whose adult male nationals are required to register) and I checked with the INS and the State Department. And they told me I did not have to register. So I just forgot all about it and got busy with my work. If I was detained like this, you can imagine how a common person would feel who does not have the kind of (support that I do).

Q: How long did they keep you in detention?

A: Four or five hours. They fingerprinted and photographed me and locked me up in a cell.

Q: Did the two INS officers who came to arrest you show you the warrant?

A: No, they asked me my name, showed me their IDs. They then asked me why I hadn't gone for the second interview. (Note: The first interview was done on Haider's entry to the United States at Washington's Dulles International Airport.) I told them I had checked with the INS help line. I also had recorded the conversation I had with the INS person on my computer. They came to my office. I took a printout, and gave it to them. The printout had the name of the person I had spoken with.

Q: Were there other Pakistanis and Muslims in the cell?

A: They did bring in some Hispanics but there were no Pakistanis. But I did see some graffiti on one of the walls, in Urdu (the language of Pakistan), some names, so they obviously had kept Pakistanis before.

Q: Did they apologize to you?

A: One of them said that I should not take it personally because they were just doing their job, but they did not say they made a mistake.

Q: When did you enter the United States?

A: On Oct. 22. At the Dulles airport they did ask me to register within 40 days.

Q: Then why didn't you?

A: When I contacted the INS for a second interview, they said there was no need to do so.

Q: Are you registered now?

A: On Tuesday, when they released me, they gave me an appointment letter. I went to the INS office in Arlington (Va.) on Wednesday where they registered me again.

Q: So now you don't have to register until next year?

A: I don't intend to stay until next year. My term at Brookings expires at the end of March but I am planning to go as soon as possible.

Q: Why?

A: I got a lot of support from my friends, from Brookings, but this is not the kind of system that I would like to put up with.

UPI: Do you think it will get worse?

Haider: I think it will, in combination with various other factors, particularly if there is a war in Iraq. Then there will be a backlash, and we will get into chain of actions and reactions and that's going to make the matter worse.

UPI: Were you ever affiliated with any Islamic or Muslim organization?

A: I have never been associated with any group. I am seen in Pakistan as a liberal person, opposed to religious extremism.

Q: So why don't you want to live longer in a country which believes in and practices liberal values?

A: I wouldn't want to live here because I don't think any Pakistani will feel welcome in this country anymore.

Q: Do you see a large-scale deportation of Pakistanis in the near future?

A: The INS policy is already forcing Pakistanis to leave. They may not need to deport Pakistanis. If the intention is to discourage Muslims from coming here, it is a successful policy.

Q: Do you see the repercussions of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as curbing civil liberties?

A: There are people in the United States who are against such policies. There have been earlier moments when American governments have tried to curb civil liberties but the American society has fought back. This may happen again. But if there are further terrorist attacks anywhere in the world, it will be difficult for non-white Americans to live here. Hate crimes will go up.

Q: You have visited America before. What has changed, if anything?

A: This was my sixth visit. I was at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champagne. I have attended various conferences, but this not the America I had visited before.

Q: Is it true that Strobe Talbott had to intervene to get you released?

A: Strobe Talbott, who is Brookings' president, called Assistant Secretary of State Christine Rocca. The entire system was mobilized, otherwise why would they let me go? When the Pakistan Embassy got to know of it I was almost out of the INS center, but the Pakistani foreign minister did broach this issue with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

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