Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Did They Look Taliban?

(This post has been brought to you by the Department of Homeland Security.)

The other day I was getting café con leche from my favorite Hispanic restaurant in Journal Square when I witnessed something odd.

A Muslim couple (bearded man, woman wearing a headscarf) was standing outside on the street with a giant, battered suitcase on wheels. An older Muslim man in his 60s with a big white beard walked by. He was very devout -- I could tell by the prominent prayer bruise on his forehead.

The younger man approached him and began speaking in Arabic. Now, I know maybe five words in Arabic, but it was enough for me to notice that this guy was not a native speaker at all.

The older man immediately responded in perfect, unaccented American English: "I'm sorry, but I don't speak . . . " and he and the younger man started talking in English. It seemed the couple was looking for a certain mosque.

The most mysterious part of this whole occurrence was the older man. He looked more Egyptian than Pharoah, and from his advanced age it seemed unlikely he'd been born in the United States. But he spoke perfect English
. . . and no Arabic? Then how does he understand the prayers at the mosque?

Fast forward to today: I'm coming out of my favorite café con leche place again, and there's the Muslim couple on the street again, along with their ubiquitous battered suitcase.

I realized they were standing there probably because that building -- which is right next to the Hispanic restaurant -- has a mosque on the second floor. I also remembered that this was the mosque that was once the redoubt of the infamous Sheikh Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric who helped plan the first World Trade Center attack in 1993.

I don't know what this all means, but I'd like to think these three people were all inept American spies attempting to infiltrate the mosque, about 15 years too late. Sort of like when undercover cops show up at rock concerts to bust pot smokers, but you can spot them a mile away because they're wearing their big black shoes and white tube socks.

P.S. The title of this post was inspired by something that happened to a friend of mine shortly after 9/11. She was on an Amtrak train and a large family sitting nearby was making a lot of noise and creating a disturbance. She went to find a conductor to complain about the noise. When she finally found one, he demanded, "What did they look like? Did they look Taliban?"

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