Fahad Hashmi and The Firmest Pillar by Alejandra Cuéllar

Syed Fahad Hashmi, a graduate from Brooklyn College was arrested in London’s Heathrow airport on June 6th, 2006 and was deported to the United States eleven months later. He was charged on three counts of providing material support to Al Qaeda. His arrest is based on the testimony of Junaid Babar whom Fahad housed in his apartment in London for two weeks. Babar testified against him saying Fahad was aware and complicit in his intention of taking water proof socks and ponchos to a high ranking Al Qaeda official. Fahad Hashmi has been kept under strict administrative measures in 23-hour solitary confinement lockdown and 24-hour surveillance, including when he showers and goes to the bathroom, for nearly three years without facing trial. I attended a vigil organized by Theaters Against War, a group of activists who have been denouncing the civil rights violations done by the state.

This was a vigil organized three days before his trial.


I eye the myriad NYPD booths, all vigilant, turning heads as I run past them on Pear Street. I reach the Manhattan Correctional Facility -my backpack is soaked. There is a group of people gathered on the other side of the brown building, everyone holds an umbrella. I stand with them, next to me stands a man who wears a Muslim cap, a Taqiyah.

Do you have any relation to him? I ask the man. I am his father, oh, I recall his face from the documentary on the case. His mother is standing behind him by a fence in a green poncho, silent

A short woman with frazzled hair wearing a Kaffiyeh speaks: did you hear? he is sick. Is it a cold? someone says. No no, he has a urinary infection,

oh, his father asks, he’s not feeling well

Was he in a jacket? Another woman asks. No, he was not, the frazzled hair woman shakes her head with a sad smile. He was not, he was in his prison clothes, he sort of went like this- she puts her hands up and looks up at the sky. Like thanking or something.

He excused himself from the hearing because he was sick, and they asked if he wanted to go back to another cell that was closer, or back to his own. He said he wanted to go back to his own which was more familiar to him, she looks down with a slight smile

Will he be alright for the trial on Wednesday? I ask.

I don’t know, she looks up at me from under the sea of umbrellas: Do you not see? This is the whole point of it. She shrugs her shoulders and remains shrunk.

Where are you from? His father asks me.

Massachusetts? You came all the way from Massachusetts?

I am thanked, with grace by his father and the organizers, you came all the way from Massachusetts? That’s incredible, there’s a women who drove all the way from Washington, where is she? He looks around at the crowd. Thank you for being here

Brain Pickett goes on stage, the microphone just having been set up in a rush by tech people, the cameras circle around him. Brian is announcing the speakers, the performers, we’re welcoming you to the 81st vigil for Fahad Hashmi, welcome to the studio-

Opera singer starts she says, thank you for being here you can barely hear her when she speaks

She pierces the rain with high-pitched shrieks, thank you for supporting this cause she says and leaves the stage

Brain says thank you. Now, this is Fahad’s good friend, he is going to speak now, he tends to ground things really well welcome to the studio

His friend speaks, he says, I was going to recite a poem but I’m not inspired to do that under the rain, instead, I think the rain is very appropriate because this case is about water proof ponchos and socks, and here you all are holding your weapons against the rain, engaging in our jihad. Some people laugh, a woman holding a camera shakes her head looking down.

Even though we have spent so much of our energy doing this, we are not weak, we are made stronger, he says firm. Strong words, soaked in effort.

My brother, he was taken from me. Fahad’s brother goes up to speak he stands under the rain for a minute in silence before he starts. He is 12 miles from me, my brother, and the United States would rather have him tried in an island. They call him a terrorist I call him my brother, and we should all be concerned because next it can be your brother

Soaked, thank you for being here,

The frizzled haired woman whispers: They are making the jury anonymous, the jury will be accompanied, escorted by security forces in and out of the court room and will remain anonymous, this is happening because of the same violence, the same violent support this case has elicited from the public-so they say

Excuse me I’m a photographer from the New York Times ma’am, I just took your picture, can I have your name? The man in blue says to the woman in front of me. The New York Times, will later write about this vigil in an article “It is likely that the jurors will see in the gallery of the courtroom a significant number of the defendant’s supporters,” prosecutors write, “naturally leading to juror speculation that at least some of these spectators might share the defendant’s violent radical Islamic leanings.”

It is all because of you, a speaker says pointing at us, at the crowds because they are afraid of you and your militancy that they are protecting the jury

On my way to the vigil I picked up a wet copy of the Metro newspaper off the ground, the headline read in bold black letters:

What does this say about N.Y.?

Chilling reminder of the city’s coldheartedness as some two dozen walk past good samaritan as he lies bleeding on Queens sidewalk for more than an hour. Homeless man was killed protecting woman in Jamaica

“I think people are afraid to help,” said Lower Manhattan resident. Also, he was homeless. Maybe if he was wearing a suit, it would be a lot different.”

I think, also Fahad, he was Muslim. Maybe if he was wearing a different suit, it would be a lot different.

More than two dozen people were captured on surveillance camera footage released this weekend walking past him as he lay face down bleeding into the sidewalk. Homeless man left to die.

Before the correctional facility stand such imposing buildings, made of thick grey material, wide steps to fit crowds, fat columns to uphold hollow words engraved in capitals that read:


The Courts of the United States

-The city was morally commanding, every step of the way-

The subway ads begging my attention:

Which one is real? Not the one you think

There is an image of two guns, a red gun that looks like a toy gun, and a black gun. Which one is real? It is illegal to paint real guns to look like toy guns or buy or sell them, if you see or know anything about this call 311

Feeling Under the Weather?

Best thing to do is not get on the train

You will not be left alone. TAKE CARE. The staff or the police will be with you.

Sexual Harassment is a crime in the Subway

A crowded train is no excuse for improper touch. Do not stand for it or be afraid to speak up.

Did you hear, Judge Preska she’s a demon, she’s with them, she’s with the government. She hasn’t allowed them to change the Strict Administrative Measures, whispers the frazzled hair woman.

I haven’t spoken to my son in 5 months.

He’s been proven guilty before anything can happen, what message does this send? When the jury is to remain anonymous and be accompanied in and out of every secret entrance, what message does this send?

What ever happened to the right to assemble? Someone screams out.

His professor from Brooklyn College speaks, Dr. Jeanne Theoharis.

You know, she says, Fahad wrote a paper in my class. It was about the violation of the rights of Muslim people in the United States and he is living it today,

America, say it with me! Be true to what you say on paper, chant with me, be true to what you say on paper! Be true to what you say on paper! America, be true to what you say on paper!

And then what can you do when what it says on paper is this?

Which one do you think is true? Two guns, one is painted red the other is black, which one do you think is real, not the one you think, not the one you think,

And the question that lingered in my head when I walked over, what if he is guilty, in fact and you don’t know it? Your father, your brother, your mother, what then?

Nothing then. I walk over to drop a white flower in front of the correctional facility, candles won’t do under the rain.


On Tuesday April 27th, Fahad pleaded guilty on one count of material support. His sentencing will be on June 7th and he is faced with up to 15 years in jail, as opposed to the potential 70 years he risked by going on trial. “He made the best deal that was available under the circumstances,” David A. Ruhnke, one of his lawyers, said after the hearing. The best thing possible under the circumstances.

This entry was posted in Creative Writing, Disconnect Issue # 2 May 2010, Literary Non-fiction, On The War on Terror. Bookmark the permalink.

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