The whole curious affair began when Fatima Ali Rezah, a citizen of Algeria, refused to unveil for a driver’s license photo in Florida. The clerk, who didn’t follow society carefully, thought she was joking. She wasn’t. Her religion, she said, prohibited baring her face. The laws of the United States were irrelevant.
The clerk stared at her, puzzled. She was covered head to toe in black cloth and looked, he later told friends, like a large raisin. He was what is nowadays called a good ol’ boy, meaning someone with a Southern accent and common sense — that is, starkly unqualified for diplomacy.
He refused her request. A photo was supposed to identify, he said. This one wouldn’t. One black bag was like another. No, he said. And that was that. Or should have been.
With encouragement from the ACLU Fatima sued, and won on grounds of religions freedom. To insist on a photo would be discrimination, said the justices without noticeable rationality. DMV argued for separation of church and at least the state of Florida, but was told it applied only to conservative Christians.
Things snowballed. About seven thousand Mohammedans lived in Florida, most of them studying crop-dusting. Skeptics pointed out that they came from countries that didn’t have crops. The Moslems said this was because their crops hadn’t been dusted. The State Department accepted this explanation, saying it showed initiative and would result in self-sufficiency in vegetables in the Sahara.
Anyway, the Muslims all demanded photos of textiles on their licenses. The hooded look was in. One of the crop-dusting students, who was studying pesticide chemistry in night school, said he wanted a bagged photo too. Not to allow it would be sexual discrimination, he said. The courts agreed. Florida, they said, would not countenance special privilege.
Soon dark blobs were everywhere behind steering wheels. The police, notoriously insensitive, began referring to them as BBJs, for “Black Bag Jobs.” This led to agitation by the civil-rights apparatus. “Black” might offend African-Americans, “Bag” would damage the self-esteem of the digestively incontinent, and “Job” would cause intense distress, perhaps panic, among the welfare population. Besides, it was the name of a book of the Bible, and banned from public discourse.
But this was minor compared to what was coming.
Unexpectedly the black Muslims in the penitentiary at Calhoun filed suit, saying they wanted to wear bags too. The real reason was that they were engaged in ongoing warfare with the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist organization noted for its shankwork. Wearing masks, thought the incarcerated Muslims, would be a tactical advantage.
But they weren’t women, objected the warden, who didn’t read the papers and wasn’t aware of the unisex decision. The Muslims were irate. “Man, you discriminate because we be guys, just like we be black. Can’t nobody git no justice no how. Damn.”
This made no obvious sense and thus qualified for judicial review.
It got worse, or at least stranger. Months later the jailed faithful, no dummies, discovered that their beliefs required the wearing of gloves during fingerprinting. It was, they said, a tenet of their religion that had never been written down. Western civilization lacked respect for Oral Tradition, they said. This too began working its way through the courts.
Unaware of the searching revision of jurisprudence begun by her case, Fatima Ali Reza returned to Fort Myers, where she lived with her husband Abdul and three teenage daughters. They were in most respects a normal American family, except that they spoke English. Abdul was a branch manager at a local bank and gardened as a hobby. In the interest of economy, he had bought two tons of ammonium-nitrate fertilizer and kept it in the garage. The girls, good students, served as crossing guards at their school (where they became known as the Safety Rezahs.) Every morning Fatima made breakfast, made sure that Abdul had a clean towel, and got the girls off to school.
More trouble ensued. There were, as it turned out, implications for airport security. One Saturday at Miami International, the personnel at a security gate were strip-searching a 93-year-old woman in a wheel chair. Next in line, ignored by security, was a bearded Arab wearing a turban and carrying a briefcase marked “Bomb.”
A woman in line behind him repeatedly tried to get the attention of the security people. It took a while because the woman in the wheelchair was struggling, which distracted the searchers. Finally her gesticulation roused the suspicion of a supervisor.
“Don’t you see? He’s got a bomb. Do something. Search him.”
“Ma’am, we can’t profile. It’s illegal. We search at random.”
“Yes, but it says Bomb, for God’s sake. Look.”
The guard made a mental note to search the complaining woman, who had an Alabama accent and was therefore probably bigoted against Moslems. He explained to her that the man had a First-Amendment right to write anything he chose on his luggage. To suspect a Moslem male with a bomb of bad intentions was stereotyping, he said, bordered on racism, and could lead to prosecution for Hate Thought.
The woman was so infuriated that she stormed off, muttering that she was going to move back to the United States, if she could find it. Her luggage was never found among the debris.
National attention grew. Newsweek picked up the story, running a cover, “Mass Murderers: Victims or Martyrs?” Dr. Saxa Prolimet-Mantequilla, who taught Lesbianism and Tantric Symbology at Yale, argued that Muslims had a history of oppression in the West. Challenged, she made the peculiar assertion that Anglophone peoples had used Moslems in dark sacrifices and even in cannibalism; why, she said, nursery rhymes proved it.
Anyone but a reporter would have had the sense to let this on pass. One of them asked. Prolimet-Mantequilla answered:
“Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her Kurds in Hue. That’s cannibalism. Note that she says her Kurds. Indisputable evidence of slavery.”
The idea was silly enough that several campus organizations began campaigning for reparations for enslaved Kurds, correctly thinking that it would annoy their parents. The Atlantic solemnly picked up the story. Hillary Clinton was then running surreptitiously for president, hoping to finish off the country. She flew to Gainesville and said that she favored reparations for mistreated female Kurds of color. These came to be called Reparations H. Her approval rating rose to 76% among the functionally illiterate, which pundits said assured her the Democratic nomination.
Fatima Ali Rezah was blissfully unaware of all of this. She made supper for her husband, who was downtown renting a truck, and got the Safety Rezahs ready for bed. America after all was built on immigration.
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