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Saturday, August 14, 2004

A Bogeyman Next Door

On July 20, 2004 Kamran Shaikh was arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina. He raised the suspicions of the local authorities when he was spotted filming various buildings in the area surrounding the local bus station.

As Chisun Lee describes in his Village Voice article, Mr Shaikh is just a photography and videography fan. He is also a lawbreaker,- he made "false statements", in every-day English,- he lied about having a Green Card which in reality he does not hold. However, the media accounts of who he is would read drastically different to an uninitiated reader.
The man was arrested three weeks ago and ultimately charged with making "false statements"—telling authorities he had a green card when he actually does not. Lying about his immigration status was by no means angelic nor terribly bright. But press accounts this week—fueled by anonymous law enforcement speculation—made Kamran Shaikh’s fairly common violation seem like breaking news of people’s worst fears come true.

"Authorities probing whether Queens man is a . . .TERROR TOURIST," screamed the August 11 front cover of New York’s Daily News, the scariest words conveyed in two-inch tabloid type. Shaikh was arrested July 20, when local police spotted him videotaping his surroundings near a bus depot in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina.

It is interesting how assertions like those are fed to the media.

Authorities stopped just short of uttering blatant untruths, but their ominous initial remarks fanned a media furor. "These were not your normal tourist videos. This could turn out to be something legitimate and innocent, but it’s raised our suspicions, and we think there’s something else going on here. We don’t like the look of it," was the anonymous government quote the August 11 New York Times ran on the case.

In other words: This could be nothing, and there is no evidence that it is actually something. But we’re going to speculate wildly, anyway.

Well, Mr Shaikh could of course be a terror operative. But to this there is no evidence. But there is ample evidence to the incompetence of the investigative authorities. For instance, if it is true that they confused background conversation in Urdu,- which is Mr Shaikh's native language and which it is alleged is the language heard spoken in the video by Mr Shaikh's company on that day,- with a conversation in Arabic, then I suppose I don't even need to comment further on the subject of the investigators' incompetence.

It very much looks that in a politicized atmosphere of today, when both internal and external intelligence officers are under enormous pressure to produce findings of a certain variety, we need to take with a grain of salt everything they come up with. And we need to question them. And pressure them to become professional and act professionally, not politically.

Also, one need not forget that true terrorists are both savvy and resourceful. For instance, if they wanted a certain building filmed,- would you think they could not pay a white, all-American video operator to film it? We should consider possibilities for ourselves,- not just rely on what the officials tell us. They are not any smarter than us; oftentimes, they are not even better informed. Furthermore, if my experience at a government facility is worth anything, years spent in a government quasi-reality oftentimes dulls both the individual's ability to perceive reality outside and their professional skills.

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