Last week I joined Twitter. Oh boy! So far I’m following a go-slow strategy—don’t follow many people, try for quality. I hear it’s a medium for jokes, but I’ve not run into any yet.
As last week was a big Supreme Court week, I started with Adam Liptak, the New York Times legal reporter. He linked to some Atlantic articles and I started following The Atlantic. Finally, I added the young superstar Washington Post columnist, blogger, and twitterer Ezra Klein.
Klein follows 646 people. How does he manage? He wonders also. He says the time-suck/benefit ratio can get out of whack.
So here is tonight’s thread in and out of Twitter. Klein follows Kevin Drum, a writer for Mother Jones. On June 29, 2013 Drum had a piece about the No Fly List, and how U.S. citizen Rehan Motiwala suffered abuse because he landed on that list. The point of the article is to shed light on the lack of due process surrounding the No Fly List.
Rehan Motiwala, was born in Anaheim to Pakistani parents. He was a stellar student and graduated magna cum laude from UC Irvine with a degree in neurology. He enrolled in medical school at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. According to a Los Angeles Times article, after two years he began to lose interest and he traveled to Karachi where he joined with Tablighi Jamaat, a conservative Muslim missionary movement based in South Asia. Tablighi Jamaat is widely seen as peaceful and apolitical, but John Walker Lindh (convicted for aiding the Taliban against U.S. interests in Afghanistan) and some of the London subway bombers had connections with it. Motiwala went on a proselytizing mission to Indonesia, adopted traditional garb, and grew a long beard so he looks like Anwar Al-Awlaki. Then he tried to come home.
In Bankok airport airline officials refused to grant him a boarding pass. They would not tell him why. He wandered the airport for four days and slept on benches waiting for U.S. officials to arrive. When he refused to speak with them without a lawyer present, he was handed over to Thai officials and placed in a squalid and crowded holding cell at the airport for 10 days. "Do what you want with him," they said. Finally, after intervention by a Muslim American organization, he was allowed to board a flight for LAX. Upon landing in Los Angeles he was detained for another three hours of questioning. I don’t imagine anyone apologized.
What to make of this?
Motiwala’s story raises enough red flags; he seems like someone who should be watched. We think we’ve seen this movie before. And there was clearly some very close watching going on. Somehow between enrolling in medical school and traveling to Pakistan, and adopting traditional garb, he came to the attention of the U.S. authorities and he was placed on the No Fly list. Since he was able to travel to Pakistan, it seems he was placed on the No Fly list only after he left the country. How was this connection made? Did the NSA intercept his communications back home? Based on the Snowden revelations, that seems likely.
Here’s a creepy thing. If you google Rehan Motiwala, on the first page of hits is a You Tube video by Gilad Atzmon “a proud self-hating Jew” elaborating his conspiracy theories on Jewish identity politics and how Israel and AIPAC are the “biggest threat to world peace.” Right under the video it says “Rehan Motiwala liked 1 year ago.”
Be careful what you click on … you might land on a No Fly list.
This story, of course, nicely captures both the benefits and risks of all this electronic snooping our government is doing. On the one hand, it allowed them to take note of this young man, who should be watched because he seems to fit a pattern we think we’ve observed. On the other hand, the Tsarnaev brothers didn’t grow beards or don traditional garb. When someone performs missionary work with a conservative Muslim organization and adopts traditional garb, our prejudices are bound to lead us to be tremendously over inclusive in our profiling.
Surely Kevin Drum is right. Whatever we do about all this snooping business, we had better insist on lots of due process. And we should err on being accommodating and not more intrusive than necessary.
The TSA may offer a lesson. For a while, they made us feel like criminals even though their over-inclusiveness approximates 100%. They’ve learned to be friendly because their job depends on it. The No Fly list inconveniences fewer people and it’s a lot less over-inclusive. Yet, the list contains more than 10,000 people and is certainly way over inclusive. For example, Laura Poitras (one of the reporters who broke the Snowden leak) claims she is on the list. So that list better come with lots of due process protections attached. And the accommodations should be in an airport Hilton at government expense, not in a flea infested holding cell. And our government officials should bloody well show respect, or lose their jobs. Tweet that!