Pro-Muslim-beat reporter Neil MacFarquhar nabbed Friday's front page with a less-than-enlightening story about a Muslim immigrant community in Lodi, CA in fear of the government ("Echoes of Terror Case Haunt California Pakistanis").
"Khalid Farooq has shunned the low-slung yellow bungalow that serves as the Pakistani community's mosque here for nearly two years, ever since a father and son who worshiped there were arrested on suspicion of being foot soldiers for Al Qaeda."
"If he runs an errand at someplace like Wal-Mart, away from the neat, tree-lined streets that constitute the heart of Lodi's Pakistani neighborhood, Mr. Farooq trades his traditional baggy clothes for standard American attire, he said, as often as four times in one day.
"'Something has changed in the air; it's a scary time,' said Mr. Farooq, who first arrived to work in the flat, black fields that surround this town 25 years ago. 'We don't want to talk; we're all afraid.'
"The tide of fear rolled in and has never quite receded after an informant incriminated two Lodi men, Umer Hayat, an ice cream truck driver, and his son Hamid, who were arrested in June 2005. Their trial ended a year ago with the younger Mr. Hayat, 24, convicted of providing material support for terrorism by attending a training camp in Pakistan. His lawyers recently began seeking a new trial based on arguments that the jury was tainted.
"Members of the Pakistani community here distrust one another almost as much as they do outsiders. Even now, residents with evidence of sudden wealth, like a new car, are immediately rumored to be on the F.B.I.'s payroll. Anything connected to the government is inherently suspect.
"Some people have stopped home visits by social service agencies; others have balked at writing their Social Security numbers on government documents. Some residents returning from Pakistan avoid including their Lodi addresses on their United States customs forms."
MacFarquhar's sympathy, as usual, seems misplaced and overdone, given that the FBI got a terror conviction out of its investigation of Hamid Hayat that stood up in court. He also manages to almost completely avoid using the term Muslim (just once, in the middle of the story), even while discussing rivalries between mosques in the community.
"The case against Hamid Hayat was built around his confessions as well as testimony from the informant, who was paid about $225,000 after telling the Federal Bureau of Investigation the somewhat improbable story that Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, once visited the Lodi mosque.
"Nobody in the Pakistani community here seems to believe that the Hayats, both American citizens, were guilty of anything beyond bad judgment. Even the prosecutor in the case, McGregor W. Scott, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of California, while endorsing the conviction, has expressed regret about using the Qaeda label.
"But that hardly dilutes the sense of fear and isolation. Lodi, a city of 62,000 people 72 miles east of San Francisco, is something of an anomaly among Pakistani immigrants."
Perhaps if the immigrants in Lodi were more willing to smoke out potential terror threats in their midst, thatsense of isolationwould dissipate.