- Detained Without Cause: Muslims’ Stories of Detention and Deportation in America After 9/11
Having arrived in the U.S. in 1994, Anser managed the trucking company he had founded in New Jersey while his wife, Uzma, cared for their three adolescent children and one infant in 2001. Although initially concerned when their immigration papers expired, the couple soon realized many of their friends carried outdated papers as well. On the day Anser was arrested, Uzma remembers that the kids came home from school and asked, “Was there a robbery or did the FBI come here?” (120): The house had been torn apart and their father was now missing. Anser was to be held for five months in a solitary confinement cell of Brooklyn’s high-security Metropolitan Detention Center. Introverted though she had been, Uzma, along with the children, became vocal, media-attracting activists who campaigned for Anser’s release throughout the seven months before he was deported. His crime: a social security card not authorized for work.
In Detained Without Cause, Irum Shiekh shares oral histories of several of the 1,200 Muslim people who the FBI detained and/or deported as Special Interest Cases—though it was the Immigration and Naturalization Service that officially charged them, for minor immigration violations—following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. By focusing on six of the over forty detainees and their families with whom she spoke between 2001 and 2003, Shiekh allows the reader to see, candidly, an aspect of recent U.S. history that is usually either sensationalized or invisible. In contrast to the court records, prison documents, media releases, government reports, and writings from human rights organizations about the prisoners, Shiekh allows several Special Interest Cases a chance to speak to the English-speaking people of the U.S., those whom they used to live among. Crafting a patiently well-balanced book, Shiekh relates Muslims’ experiences in the U.S. to historical U.S. prejudices: Eastern Europeans expelled in the 1910s, Japanese Americans interned during World War II, and Americans silenced by the McCarthy investigations in the 1950s. She also hopes to inspire students or progressive lawyers to reopen the Special Interest Cases and clear these individuals of their toxic association with September 11th, 2001.
Shiekh bases her book almost entirely on the oral histories she conducted with deportees and their families; she cites the extensive documentary research behind her investigation mainly to explore the broader context of the expulsions or to introduce individuals’ legal records. Shiekh conducted oral history research in the U.S., Pakistan, Egypt (the two countries, in addition to Turkey, to which the U.S. deported a majority of Muslims immediately following 9/11), and India, conducting her interviews in English, Urdu, and Punjabi. Using a non-linear format, she asked narrators to discuss experiential details, including the decision to immigrate, pre-9/11 life in the United States, the experience of imprisonment [End Page 358] and solitary confinement, deportation, and life back in the “home” country; as well as the individual, social, and global meanings of these events. Introducing a gendered perspective into research primarily about men, she recorded interviews in groups and/or individually with wives, children, parents, neighbors, and families of the deportees—indeed, she even notes the cities in which she stayed with the families—in order to understand their perspectives.
Shiekh’s presentation of the oral histories is innovative and compelling. Though she recorded, translated, and transcribed each of more than forty interviews, she wrote the six chapters in this book by visualizing the speakers’ oral history material. While she kept “the words, tone, and essence of the interviews intact,” she incorporated supplementary information directly into narrators’ chapters, including exploration of the speaker-researcher relationship, information from document-based research, and, in one case, the condensed story of a narrator’s cellmate (27). The particular style of each chapter is unique: In some, Shiekh created a linear chronology, as a husband and wife remember life...