Big doings took place in our neighborhood this morning. At least, they looked pretty big to those of us watching.
Into our normally quiet middle-class subdivision swooped at least five police cars and eight unmarked federal vehicles, including an old pimped-out Chevy Suburban. They swarmed around a single-story red brick ranch-style house where a Muslim family has been living for the past several months. The street in front of their home was closed for over two hours as immigration officials bustled about the property, eventually carrying out several trash bags full of items from the home. Then as quietly as they had arrived, they circled around and left, the pimped-out Suburban pulling up the rear of their little caravan.
Officially, that's as much as we know about this event. At least, that's as much as the police officer blocking the street would tell us. But we could plainly see two veiled Muslim women sitting on the curb, dressed from head to toe in their trademark black garb, their hands apparently restrained behind them. Several plainclothes agents stood silently nearby, their hands on their hips, presumably within pistol-snatching range should their suspects try to make a run for it.
I drove by and chatted with a couple of other neighbors, watching the scene silently unfolding, all of us inwardly sharing the same sense of curious concern about what our Muslim neighbors had been up to while living in our midst. Was this one of those sleeper cells we hear about from politicians? Were they running a spy ring? We have a mosque just down the street - are we living in the middle of a vast pit of Islamic conspirators?
Suspicions, secrets, suspense - but none of us wondered if the feds had mistakenly raided the wrong house, or were acting on false information.
Son of His Father
During the short amount of time the Muslim family has lived there, I've had the opportunity to meet both the husband of the family and a teenaged son. Stout and short, the father has a handshake the texture and rigidity of a wet noodle, with a personality to match. Not exactly bin Laden material, I uncharitably surmised.
Their high schooler used to walk around the neighborhood with his i-Pod, smoking a thin cigar, sporting a hustling swagger I haven't seen since I lived in Brooklyn. A couple of times, we'd struck up a surprisingly affable conversation when I'd be out for my own evening strolls. He told me about not liking our "ghetto" neighborhood - he apologized for being so blunt - and having been dragged down here from Iowa's farm country by his parents to attend his last year of high school at my alma mater. Slender, gregarious, and well-spoken, he'd left a girlfriend up in Iowa, who he missed terribly. They were madly in love, so he planned on heading back north as soon as he could.
Now, yes, our neighborhood is old - dating back to the late 1950's, and it's not as fancy as newer subdivisions in more popular towns. Plus, being dragged from your girlfriend's side to attend high school a thousand miles away isn't going to put any teenaged boy in a good mood about his new environs, so I chalked up the "ghetto" reference to youthful arrogance.
He told me his father is an engineer working for NASA who was transferred here about a year ago. His parents first lived in Fort Worth, but the crime in their neighborhood got so bad, they wanted to relocate. We have a mosque nearby, and his father's office is only 15 minutes away, so they came to our little corner of Arlington while they continued evaluating where they might want to purchase a permanent residence.
At least, that was his story.
After our first conversation, he asked if he could hug me, because "that's what my family does." I awkwardly complied. During our second conversation, I bluntly asked if he was Muslim. I figured this teenager would probably be a lot less inhibited by my question if I didn't dance around the politically-correct bush. And I was right - he readily responded that although he'd been raised in a Muslim home, he thought the people at our local mosque were crazy. I don't know if he meant "crazy" in the sense that they spent their time plotting ways to blow us all up, or just "crazy" because they ardently believed a faith that he didn't.
Taking advantage of his extroverted personality, I mentioned that these days aren't the best for American - Muslim relations, and he agreed, trying to set himself above the fray by claiming no allegiance to Islam. He loved everybody, he told me, and doesn't want to harm anybody no matter their faith. He spoke with the credible attitude of a teenager with more important things on his mind than politics and religion - probably the same carnal things most kids lust after but which their parents forbid. He claimed to barely know anything about the "Ground Zero mosque" controversy, and expressed ambivalence when I described it to him.
In Retrospect, Oddities Become Evidence
After this morning, who knows if I'll ever see him again? The cop whose squad car blocked the street let it slip that one - and possibly both - of the veiled women on the curb would be arrested. A neighbor claimed to have witnessed somebody delivering a truckload of computers to the house last week. Also last week, the teenaged son had been caught wandering through a distant neighbor's back yard. And this past Saturday, the family had piled an odd stack of barely-used household appliances, bikes, toys, and such on the curb for disposal. No garage sale or anything for items which looked too good to give away, let alone throw away. Might the family have been preparing to flee?
While before, I initially found talking about his family's faith with their teenaged son interesting, I suspect that if I see him again, it will be downright awkward. I've been checking local news sites, looking to see if anybody is reporting on what went down at the corner of Virginia Lane and Center Street this morning. But so far, nothing. When I looked up the police activity earlier today on our city's 911 website, which chronicles active calls, our immigration event wasn't listed. Maybe because the feds wanted to keep it mum?
Have I mentioned that the mosque down the street was where one of the conspirators for the 1993 World Trade Center attack used to worship?
On second thought, maybe I don't really want to know why the feds raided our neighbors' house this morning.