Translating Arabic Can Be An Offense

In an article for the Los Angeles Times, NYU professor Zachary Lochman speaks up on behalf of Mohammed Yousry, who, because he worked as a translator for a lawyer assigned to a terrorism case, is now charged with conspiracy to abet terrorism and faces up to 20 years in jail.

A gentle and unassuming man, Mohammed came to this country from Egypt 25 years ago. He and his wife (an evangelical Christian) had a daughter who would eventually graduate from a Baptist college. Mohammed became a U.S. citizen. When I first met him in 1995, he was a graduate student at NYU, paying his tuition and supporting his family by driving a taxi and by working as a translator of Arabic for journalists and lawyers. One of the lawyers who hired Mohammed was Lynne Stewart, among whose clients was Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind former spiritual guide of a radical Islamist organization in Egypt who is now serving a life sentence for plotting to blow up New York City landmarks.

When Mohammed began to discuss possible doctoral dissertation topics with me seven or eight years ago, I encouraged him to write a political biography of Abdel Rahman, partly because his employment as a translator for Stewart gave him unique access to the imprisoned cleric. Though a lifelong secularist and democrat who totally rejects Abdel Rahman’s extremist version of Islam, Mohammed started gathering material on the cleric for his dissertation, and even interviewed him about his ideas and political career during government-authorized prison visits with Stewart.

Mohammed’s diligence as a translator and an academic researcher would cost him dearly. In April 2002, he was arrested, along with Stewart and one of her paralegals. They were accused of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

Read the rest here.

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