Synopses & Reviews
Mohamed Ghorab had no hint one late spring morning in May 2004 that when he dropped his daughter off at school, his life would change forever. Federal agents and police surrounded him in front of terrified parents, teachers, and school children. They hustled him off to jail and eventually deported him. His wife, bewildered and astonished, was detained at the same time, . Moments later, agents raided the obscure Philadelphia mosque where Ghorab was imam, ransacking its simple interior and his house next door. Over the next several months, members of Ghorab's congregation would be arrested and detained, interrogated and watched. Many would be deported. Others would flee the neighborhood and the country as their lives became riddled with rumor. Informants seemed to be listening everywhere. Husbands were separated from wives. Children were torn from parents. The mosque collapsed in a sea of debt and anxiety. The neighborhood lost something essential — trust and community.
This was a jumpy and fearful time in the life of America following 9/11, as prize-winning reporter Stephan Salisbury well knew. But he did not anticipate the extremity of fear that emerged as he explored the aftermath of that virtually forgotten raid. Over time, the members of the mosque and the imam's family gradually opened up to him, giving Salisbury a unique opportunity to chronicle the demolition of lives and families, the spread of anti-immigrant hysteria, and its manipulation by the government. As he explores events centered on what he calls the poor streets of Frankford Valley in Philadelphia, or the empty streets of Brooklyn, or the fear-encrusted precincts of Lodi, California and beyond, Salisbury is constantly reminded of similar incidents in his own past — the paranoia and police activity that surrounded his political involvement in the 1960s, and the surveillance and informing that dogged his father, a well-known New York Times reporter and editor, for half a century. Salisbury weaves these strands together into a personal portrait of an America fracturing under the intense pressure of the war on terror — the Homeland in the time of Osama.
"In May 2004, the FBI and local Philadelphia police raided the Ansaarullah mosque and arrested its imam, Mohamed Ghorab, on the charges that his first marriage had been fraudulent; he was eventually deported to Egypt. The incident is the focus of Salisbury's harrowing but shapeless book, which examines the devastation of Philadelphia's Muslim community after the government investigation and anti-Arab hysteria after 9/11. A Pulitzer Prize winning staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Salisbury builds the text around the personal stories of the many people he interviewed over four years; along the way, he delivers harsh criticism of the government's investigative techniques and draws explicit parallels to his own family's experiences with government surveillance in the late 1960s. Though digressive and anecdotal, the text acquires cumulative power, especially in its vivid portrayals of Imam Ghorab, whom it follows from his childhood, and his wife, Meriem Moumen, who discovered religion as a single mother in her 20s. Their heartbreaking story gives this frequently diffuse text a human center. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This is a wrenching and outrageous story of our own shadow country conjured out of fear." Louise Erdrich, author of Shadow Tag
"Drawing on his own history as an antiwar dissident, Salisbury writes compassionately of the families destroyed and the lives ruined by government-orchestrated repression. This is a vital document for our times, lyrical to an extent unexpected in a political book, yet imbued with a fervor that at every turn is made just by dogged, scrupulous reporting." Ken Kalfus, author of The Commissariat of Enlightenment and A Disorder Peculiar to the Country
The haunting story of a how a mosque and its imam were destroyed in post-9/11 America, and a broader portrait of a nation fracturing under the pressures of fear and paranoia.
About the Author
Stephan Salisbury is the senior cultural writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he has been a reporter for three decades. He has covered everything from the Pennsylvania prison system, unrest in Ireland and Eastern Europe and the coup in Turkey to the culture wars in the United States and the disruptions of American life in the wake of 9/11. He has received numerous awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize as part of an Enquirer team investigating local election fraud in 1995. He is married to the painter Jennifer Baker; they have a daughter and a son.