Book Review: Patriot Acts
A new book tells the stories of innocent Americans who were mistreated by their government—and their fellow citizens—in the wake of 9/11.
As the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks arrives, we will rightfully hear much from the families of the victims and others whose lives were directly affected by the events of that day. But it's also important to reflect on the stories of those whose lives were changed by the attacks in the days, months, and years that followed. Patriot Acts, compiled and edited by Alia Malek, a civil rights lawyer and advocate for American Muslims, contains a series of particularly moving reflections. Published by Voice of Witness, a non-profit human rights organization founded by author Dave Eggers, Patriot Acts translates a collection of oral histories into a cohesive and digestible book.
Malek, a former lawyer for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, writes in the introduction, "What I saw happen in this country after 9/11, initially from my perch as a lawyer, made quite clear for me that our ignorance of the American lives and experiences of certain groups had facilitated a backlash and a slide into xenophobic and nativist behavior that betrayed the very values I had joined the DOJ to protect."
Malek included the story of Adama Bah, a Muslim woman who had immigrated to New York City from New Guinea as a child. In 2003, the federal government arrested Bah on suspicions that she was a suicide bomber and initiated deportation proceedings. The government has yet to explain or give evidence as to why they suspected that Bah was a terrorist. The day of her arrest, Bah had an epiphany: "I didn't know I wasn't American until I was sixteen and in handcuffs." During her incarceration, Bah experienced a particularly invasive check for weapons that left her devastated. "I sat at the corner of the shower and held myself and cried. I was thinking, I cannot believe what I just went through." She spent six weeks locked up at a New York area juvenile detention center before being released. At her release, Bah says that an officer at the detention center shouted at her, "Arrest that fucking nigger terrorist." Bah spent another three years under house arrest before eventually receiving asylum, allowing her to stay in America because of the likelihood of her suffering genital mutilation in her home country.