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Collateral Damage

“Surviving Surveillance, Catering to America”: A mother copes with the unjust arrest and incarceration of her son.

Shahina Parveen is the mother of Shahawar Matin Siraj, who was convicted in 2007 of allegedly conspiring to plant bombs in a Manhattan subway.

Shahina maintains her son, Matin, is in prison for a crime he never committed. Human Rights Watch said in its 2014 report that Matin was a victim of the New York Police Department’s “sting operation” or entrapment, where police informants encourage vulnerable targets to commit acts of terrorism.

Martin R. Stolar, a member of Siraj’s legal team, said on the day of sentencing in 2007:

“…. It makes him a symbol of the war on terror rather than sentencing of an individual human being. It’s unfortunate that the New York City Police Department created a crime in order to solve it and claim a victory in the war on terror. And the sentence of 30 years is draconian…

Watch Shahina talk about the family’s ordeal since her son Matin’s arrest.

The Siraj family left Pakistan in 1999. Shahina and her husband sought asylum in the United States to avoid the rising intolerance towards minority communities, including the Ismaili community to which she and her family belonged.

When they first came to the U.S., Shahina’s English was limited. Her husband has physical disabilities. Her daughter was too young to work. Matin, who was 16 years old then and with a low IQ, engaged in random low-wage jobs to support the family. Eventually, he worked in his Uncle’s Islamic bookstore in Brooklyn.

“I always knew where he was, he never went anywhere without one of us knowing. He was naive and too trusting of others,” Shahina said.

As a result of Matin’s arrest, the rest of the family were also arrested and detained.Their bank accounts were frozen. Undeterred, Shahina began to work in her brother-in-law’s Brooklyn bookstore. To survive, she cooked for, and catered to, America

Shahina, her son, and the entire family are the collateral damage of the war on terror. Suspect and demonized, Muslims in America like the Siraj family are widely perceived as untrustworthy. Since 9/11, there have been many documented cases of civil rights abuses against Muslim Americans. The destruction of families and communities is profound.

The surveillance, entrapment and imprisonment of one person, like Shahina Parveen’s son Matin, ripples throughout the society. The result is a directed slow violence against, and a slow erasure of, community.

The short film “Surviving Surveillance, Catering to America” focuses on how Shahina Parveen and her family endured their son’s surveillance, entrapment, detention and imprisonment; and how she persists today.

The film will premiere at the Museum of the Moving Image on May 19, 2017 with a panel discussion to follow. Click here for more details.

Watch Shahina cook her popular beef biryani here.