May 5, the day that changed Aliakbar and Shahla Afshari's lives, began like most others. They shared coffee, dropped their 12-year-old son off at Cheat Lake Middle School here, then drove to their laboratories at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency that studies workplace hazards.
But that afternoon, their managers pulled the Afsharis aside and delivered a stunning message: they had failed secret background checks and were being fired. No explanations were offered and no appeals allowed. They were escorted to the door and told not to return.
Mrs. Afshari, a woman not prone to emotional flourishes, says she stood in the parking lot and wept. "I just wanted to know why," she said.
Seven months later, the Afsharis, Shiite Muslims who came from Iran 18 years ago to study, then stayed to build careers and raise three children, still have no answers.
They have been told they were fired for national security reasons that remain secret. When their lawyer requested the documents used to justify the action, he was told none existed. When he asked for copies of the agency's policies relating to the background checks, he received a generic personnel handbook.
Without any official explanations of why they failed their background checks, they came up with their own theory: their attendance, more than five years ago, at two conventions of a Persian student association that has come under F.B.I. scrutiny, once with a man who was later investigated by the bureau.
The Afsharis' case comes at time when immigrants from many nations, but particularly Islamic ones, are facing tougher scrutiny from government agencies.
Unable to clear their names or find new employment in their field, the Afsharis on Thursday resorted to that most American of recourses: they sued the institute and its parent agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, demanding back pay and reinstatement or the chance to appeal. [...] The Afsharis contend that their only link to the student group under federal scrutiny, the Muslim Students Association (Persian Speaking Group), is that they took their children to national conventions in Chicago in December 1998 and Washington in December 1999.
Senior officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including the former director Louis J. Freeh, have said the group, sometimes referred to by the Farsi name Anjoman Islamie, is made up largely of anti-American fanatics, maintains close ties to the government of Iran and has been used as a front for Iranian intelligence. But it is not on the State Department's list of banned foreign terrorist organizations, and it operates openly in the United States.
So let's see:
Apparently, now the government has decided that it should investigate people on the basis of their years-ago attendance of an entirely legal convention of an entirely legal organization, and that on the basis that they attended said convention of said organiztion, fire them.
Well, I suppose that's not terribly surprising. After all, they've been purging Democrats from Justice and Defense -- albeit in more legal and aboveboard ways than this. One wonders how long it will be before the administration decides that everyone who is not one of the Republican faithful is some sort of terrorist risk. How long it will be before it mandates that all state organs, whether federal, state or municipal, must administer loyalty oaths, making people swear allegiance to Our Glorious Leader and everything for which he stands one nation under Dubya with liberty and justice for the Republican faithful and everyone else can just go to hell. (Or federal prisons, which are a reasonable facsimile thereof.)Posted by iain at December 13, 2004 12:32 PM